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Header-Lent-Historically and Practically

 

Lent is a 40-day preparation for Easter, a period reminiscent of the 40 years the Israelites wondered in the desert, and of the 40 days Our Lord Jesus Christ prayed and fasted in the wilderness.

On both accounts, and in view of the Lord’s redemptive passion and death, Lent is a period marked by a spirit of penance, something for which Our Lady of Fatima insistently asked in her apparitions to three shepherd children in Portugal, 1917.

 

History and Facts

Though there are indications that the custom of a 40-days’ fast before Easter goes back to the apostles, there is no conclusive evidence. Nevertheless, by the year 339 history records St. Athanasius encouraging his hearers to keep a 40-days’ fast, a custom he claimed was being practiced all over Europe.

In the Middle-Ages, the Church-ascribed Lenten fast was severe, including all forty days, and the consumption of meat and dairy forbidden. Throughout the centuries there have been consecutive relaxations, following a better understanding of different human needs.

Today, though still binding for Catholics under pain of serious sin, the Lenten precept is mild requiring abstinence from meat only on Ash Wednesdays and all Lenten Fridays, including Good Friday. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, there is also a fast added to the abstinence from meat. This fast consists of two small meals (not to equal a full one), and a full meal.

Beginning with Ash-Wednesday, Lent involves forty weekdays excluding Sundays (the practical application being that everything we “give up,” we can have on Sundays).


Spirit of penance, the practical “ropes” for the spiritual life

The Catholic Church, in her genius for using matter to convey a spiritual message, begins Lent by using ashes, a custom retroactive to the Middle Ages when penitents poured blessed ashes on their heads to show sorrow for sin–in turn, a practice as ancient as the Old Testament. 

Ash Wednesday and the ceremony of receiving blessed cinder is generally respected, and esteemed, remaining popular today. Even lax Catholics attend, and wear the cross-like smudge with pride. 

On Ash Wednesday “all we sinners” stand in line in a packed church, patiently waiting our turn to be blessed with the ashes and hear the words, “You are dust and to dust you shall return”; or the more modern version of, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. ” The traditional version, being in line with the theme of ashes, is more to the point. 

Another great, popular practice is “giving up” something. In honor of the penitential nature of the 40 days ahead, we relinquish a fond item or habit: candy, coffee, smoking, etc…indeed, a wholesome, holy habit. 

But just as any habit can become so habitual we no longer remember the reason for first adopting it, or the deeper meaning of the exercise, so with holy habits. 

Mother Church never recommends anything on a whim, but intends all for our present good and ultimate salvation. Thus, the reason for giving up something we like is to help discipline our weak natures. Discipline strengthens the will and helps turn it to the practice of virtue. Indeed, mother Church teaches that mortification and sacrifice are indispensable for salvation. 

Just as a soldier is not made by thinking of becoming one, but by lifting the weights, strapping on the boots, and marching the march, so with the spiritual-combat.

Two aspects to penance

There are two aspects to salutary penance, a “negative” aspect and a “positive” aspect.

The “negative” or “taking away” aspect involves letting go of something, such as the above mentioned. But just as important as sacrificing a material good is sacrificing a spiritual ill, such as a sin, a fault or working on a particular defect like cursing, bickering, a short temper, etc.

Just as crucial is to practice some “positive” or “putting in” penance: attending Mass more than once a week, visiting the sick or lonely, volunteering time at the parish, reading a good spiritual book or praying a Rosary with the family.

A good priest once recommended we look at Lent as the Spring Cleaning of our year. Thus keeping Lent makes for a good program for a good life. Lent is a time to re-read the “owner’s manual”, to tune our “engines”, and to refurbish our “vehicles” not only for the journey of 40 days, but for the journey of life, the right life–and the right eternity.

 


 

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Books recommended for Lent:

  • The Spiritual Combat by Don Lorenzo Scupoli
  • Characters of the Passion by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
  • The Mystical City of God by Sister Maria of Agreda

 

 

Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for November 18, 2019

Better a few staunch and sincere Catholics, than many compli...

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November 18

 

Better a few staunch and sincere Catholics,
than many compliant with the enemies of the Church
and conformed to the foes of our Faith.

St. Peter Canisius


DEFEND Our Lady's HONOR !

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

During the French Revolution, the Sisters of the Visitation...

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St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

Born on August 29, 1769 in the French city of Grenoble, Rose Philippine was baptized in the Church of St. Louis. She was educated at the Convent of the Visitation of Ste. Marie d'en Haut and, against her father’s wishes, became a novice there when she was eighteen years old. However, the French Revolution caused much disruption for the nuns, and when the Sisters of the Visitation were expelled from their convents, Rose returned home.

She cared for the sick and the poor, helped fugitive priests, visited prisons, and taught children. Some time after the Revolution ended, she unsuccessfully tried to reestablish the Visitation community, and ultimately gave the convent to St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, foundress of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and joined the Order. When the Bishop of New Orleans, William Du Bourg, requested nuns for his thriving diocese in Louisiana, Rose and four other nuns made the trip to America in 1818.

Rose and the nuns were sent to Missouri, pioneers of the New World. There, as well in neighboring states, they established multiple schools, built a convent, an orphanage, a mission school for Indian girls, a boarding academy and a novitiate for her Order. However, the strenuous and difficult regime of work for her apostolate took its toll on her body. She died in St. Charles, Missouri in 1852 after spending more than 30 years as a pioneer in the evangelization of the New World. She was canonized in 1988. Rose was truly devoted to God, and prayed in her every spare moment. Because of this, the Indians began to call her “Quah-kah-ka-num-ad,” or "Woman-Who-Prays-Always."

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared stan...

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The Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

Born in 1814, Alphonse Ratisbonne was from a family of wealthy, well-known Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. In 1827, Alphonse’s older brother, Thèodore, converted to Catholicism and entered the priesthood, thus breaking with his anti-Catholic family whose hopes now lay in the young Alphonse. At 27, Alphonse was intelligent and well mannered. He had already finished his law degree, and decided to travel to Italy before marrying and assuming his responsibilities in the family business. However, God had other plans for him.

While in Rome, Alphonse visited works of art, and strictly out of cultural curiosity, a few Catholic churches. These visits hardened his anti-Catholic stance, and nourished his profound hatred for the Church. He also called on an old schoolmate and close friend, Gustave de Bussières.

Gustave was a Protestant and several times had tried, in vain, to win Alphonse over to his religious convictions. Alphonse was introduced to Gustave’s brother, Baron de Bussières, who had recently converted to Catholicism and become a close friend of Father Thèodore Ratisbonne. Because of the Baron’s Catholicism and closeness with his turncoat brother, Alphonse greatly disliked him.

On the eve of his departure, Alphonse reluctantly fulfilled his social obligation to leave his calling card at the Baron’s house as a farewell gesture.

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Hoping to avoid a meeting, Alphonse intended to leave his card discreetly and depart straight away, but was instead shown into the house. The Baron greeted the young Jew warmly, and before long, had persuaded him to remain a few more days in Rome. Inspired by grace, the Baron insisted Alphonse accept a Miraculous Medal and copy down a beautiful prayer: the Memorare. Alphonse could hardly contain his anger at his host’s boldness of proposing these things to him, but decided to take everything good-heartedly, planning to later describe the Baron as an eccentric.

During Alphonse’s stay, the Baron’s close friend, Count de La Ferronays, former French ambassador to the Holy See and a man of great virtue and piety, died quite suddenly. On the eve of his death, the Baron had asked the Count to pray the Memorare one hundred times for Alphonse’s conversion. It is possible that he offered his life to God for the conversion of the young Jewish banker.

A few days later, the Baron went to the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte to arrange for his friend’s funeral. Alphonse reluctantly went with him, all the while making violent criticisms of the Church and mocking Catholic practices. When they arrived, the Baron entered the sacristy to arrange the funeral while Alphonse remained in the church.

When the Baron returned just a few minutes later, the young man was gone. He searched the church, and soon discovered his young friend kneeling close to an altar, weeping.  Alphonse himself tells us what happened in those few minutes he waited for the Baron: “I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as she is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to her. The Virgin made a gesture with her hand indicating I was to kneel.”

When de Bussières talked to Alphonse, he no longer found a Jew, but a convert who ardently desired baptism. The news of such an unexpected conversion immediately spread and caused a great commotion throughout Europe, and Pope Gregory XVI received the young convert, paternally. He ordered a detailed investigation with the rigor required by canon law, and concluded that the occurrence was a truly authentic miracle. 

Alphonse took the name Maria Alphonse at baptism, and, wishing to become a priest, was ordained a Jesuit in 1847. After some time, and at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, he left the Jesuits and joined his brother Thèodore in founding the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. Father Theodore spread his congregation throughout France and England, while Father Maria Alphonse went to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, he established a house of the congregation on the plot of land where the praetorium of Pilate had formerly stood.

The two brothers died in 1884, both famed and well-loved for their exceptional virtues.  

By Armando Santos  

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In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar"

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