Just Poking Around This Lent

I got it my head to create a replica of the Crown of Thorns this Lent. You know, like the one Christ wore in His Passion and Crucifixion. Living in the desert we have lots of prickly things and thorns in abundance. I started with the trimmings from the beautiful bougainvillea bush; pretty to look at but thorns like crazy. After poking myself more times than I can remember, I decided to soak them in water for a couple days and see if that made the branches a little more pliable. This was barely helpful and did not lessen the impact of the thorns. I attempted to “plait a crown.” It proved to be much more difficult and painful than expected. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I can tell you, I certainly have gained a deeper appreciation for what Christ felt.

Next, I went to the Ocotillo to add some additional menacing thorns. Ocotillos have thorns about every ¼” and scream back off to any passerby. I remember backing up into this common desert monster as I picked weeds once, and I was practically impaled. It took a bit of time to extricate myself as every thorn in my vicinity caught hold of my clothing, and hair. Creating this mockup of the crown was no easy task. I was pricked so many times that if there would have been toxin present, I would be dead by now. The Roman soldiers had to be tough as nails and have hands like steel gloves to have weaved so quickly this instrument of torture. It boggles my mind that they just whipped up a crown on the fly, to crush on the head of our Lord and Savior. Their cruelty was legendary.

When we were in Paris a few years back, we found out on the plane that there would be a veneration of the Crown of Thorns at Notre Dame at three pm. We ran from the hotel to get there in time for this once in a lifetime experience. The crown was encased in a kind of plastic tube to protect it. It is hard to imagine that since that time, the great cathedral has suffered such a devastating fire. Neither of us will ever forget that experience of being so close to the Crown of Thorns, so close to the weapon that caused more Precious Blood to fall from our Savior’s head in his self-gift for our salvation.

Take some time in your day, every day, to consider the veracity of love required to undergo this singular event for our salvation. The infinite love that God has for each and every one of us pulsed through his veins. I read once that it was not the nails that held him fast to the Cross, it was His Love for us that kept Him there. Think about it. He was God. Nothing could have ever restrained the God-Man. “He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Ph 2:8) He willingly submitted to this insane torture and humiliation. This innocent Lamb chose pain for our gain…and we can’t be bothered with Church, or consistent prayer, or this whole Lent thing.

In this short video Mark Hart cuts to the chase on what transpired in that horrific, salvific event. Watch here and then ponder anew each time you make the sign of the Cross, each time you want to blow off Mass, each time you choose evil over good. We all screw up. We all sin. Jesus knew it all and still said “yes” to the Cross, despite our continued faults and failings.

We can live our lives as if the Cross were only a tall tale and this is all there is- life sucks and then you die. Or you can enter into this holy and mysterious gift of love, which was given for you that you might live and live abundantly now and for eternity. I choose the latter.

What say you pilgrim?

Do You Smell That?

Listening to Relevant Radio today, Fr Richard Simon spoke about the need to be truly repentant for our sins. Sure, we say we are sorry and might even feel bad, but he suggests substituting the word “failed” instead of “sinned.”

“Bless me Father for I have failed…”

 Now that sheds a whole new light on the matter. He proposes, that until we “hear” what we are admitting in our sinfulness, and deeply ponder the impact on our own soul and those we sin against, we are likely to continue repeating them. It is necessary to discern how our actions or inaction effects the recipient of them and how they offend God who is all good. Interesting perspective.

It is about ownership. I have sinned when I failed to love rightly, to give generously, to listen tenderly, to offer patience instead of sarcasm and so on.


I choose wrongly. I choose self over other. I let pride win the day. There is no one to pin this on but myself.

“For I know my transgressions; my sin is always before me. Against you, you alone have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your eyes.”

Psalm 51:5-6

Years ago I remember sitting in a class with Katrina Zeno who unlocked the insightful teaching by St. JPII’, Theology of the Body. Katrina used lots of props to get the point across and solidify them in our minds and hearts. Her visual aids were successful and remained in your mind for years. I recall when she described sin. To sin means to miss the mark. It is an archery term. She held up an apple and referenced the beauty and goodness of the fruit. Next, she held up a miniature replica of an apple, and stated that “sin is a reduction of the good.”  Aha! Light bulb illuminates over my head. When we sin, we miss the mark, we choose less instead of more; the counterfeit versus the real deal. It is grasping rather than receiving.

I would encourage us this Lent to consider the ways we have failed to do the good we ought and get to Confession. Why? Jesus left this priceless gift to us knowing we needed to be set free from the weight of our sins; it is also what we must do as Catholics. The minimum requirement is once yearly, during Lent. The fact of the matter is no saint ever strived to hit the minimum. Popes go weekly. Anyone who needs grace, who desires to grow in holiness and leave habitual sin behind, should go more than once every 365 days. I like to go monthly. I probably should up my game and go a little more than that. You might consider that overkill!

No saint did the minimum.

Think of it this way, how long would you go without taking a shower or bath? It’s possible no one would want to be near you after a couple weeks. Seriously, think about it, you would leave a distinctive stench wherever you went. After a month, your family would make you a bed outside.

Imagine a year or more. People would get a whiff of your reek a mile away. If that is the bodily affect of not washing, what might the spiritual effect be of not confessing? While we may not be able to smell the filth of sin, our spiritual odor would suggest otherwise. Sin has a wretched stench to be sure.

Oh, come on Barb, now you are making stuff up. Newsflash, there were several saints who could actually smell grave sins and those who committed them. Yikes, awkward! St John Bosco, St. Philip Neri and St. Joseph of Cuppertino to name a few. Then there was St. Christina the Astonishing. Her story begins at her own funeral when she was twenty-one, she sat straight up and flew to the rafters of the Church. This got the attention of the mourners, many of whom ran out screaming. The Priest commanded her in the Name of Jesus to come down which she obediently did. When asked why she flew into the rafters she said that the stench of their sin was so great she could not stand it. She would spend the rest of her life avoiding the smell as much as she could and doing incredible sacrifices for the Souls in Purgatory.

So how bad do you stink?

The Saints were more worried about sin than death. Do we have the same concern?

A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.” (ps 51:12)

Getting to confession must be a priority, no excuses.  Pour your failures upon God’s Mercy, be cleansed, and you will come out smelling like a rose.

And Who Is My Neighbor

It is a beautiful evening nearing sunset. The sky is ablaze with color, pinks and blues and greys. You can’t help but thank God for the eyes to see such beauty, and the legs to walk in freedom wherever you like. You are lost in thought as you round the corner out of your neighborhood. The path stretches before you leaving the familiar behind as you cannot help but take in all the beauty surrounding you. A couple feet away, a bunny scurries on the path and ducks beneath a sage bush.

Looping around on the final expanse that leads back to your home, you come upon a bizarre accident in which no first responders have arrived.

You are the first on the scene. Your heart begins to race as you determine the next step to take. You regret not having grabbed your cell phone on the way out the door. Amidst the rubble you ascertain that there are several people who are hurt. No sound of distant sirens, only soft moaning and crying from the victims. Stunned and feeling helpless, you begin to inspect the calamity strewn about, not knowing exactly where to begin.

Carefully navigating the debris, you encounter the first victim. She does not appear to be severely hurt, only some scrapes and bruises, possibly a broken bone. You are unable to determine if there is internal damage. She cries out to you to help her, but there are others who are much worse off than she. You promise to return and move on.

The next individual is much worse off. Blood seems to be everywhere, and you are unable to determine the source or intensity of the injury. He is unconscious. Upon closer inspection, there is something familiar about this person. Your mind is racing, your heart is beating out of your chest, you feel so helpless. Mentally, you cannot shake the feeling that you know this person, but it’s hard to tell as he is so badly disfigured?  Moving on, you assess the next person. Their moaning is by far the loudest. Carefully making your way, you are shocked to realize beneath the blood, debris, and bruises, that it is in fact someone from your past. A sick feeling rises from your gut. The visceral contempt you have for this person whom you thought you would never see again, lies helpless before you. He is in shock and does not appear to recognize you.  This knowledge catapults your anger into another dimension. The inexpressible damage he did forever changed the course of your life for the worst. Memories swirl in your mind and wash over you. It feels like you are right back in that moment of treachery. He moans and reaches out to you begging for you to “do something” and help him. He is trapped under part of the wreckage and it is crushing his torso. Clearly, he is in great pain and distress but, you consider it nothing compared to the damage he did to you and many others. Visibly shaken, your emotions are uncontrollable. You stare blankly at this person who devastated your life. You cannot help but turn away overcome with a gut-wrenching hate. All the people whose lives were negatively impacted, wrongly disregarded, tossed aside with contempt and little concern for their future or livelihoods.

It feels like you are right back in that moment of treachery.

Suddenly it occurs to you who the earlier unconscious person was, and you shudder in horror. That face peddled the lies and perpetuating the deception. Complicit, and indifferent for the innumerable innocent victims.

The first victim calls out to you again. A moment of clarity strikes your heart, “Wait, I know that voice.” Your head is reeling. Why this flood of so many emotions? Without warning a thought tiptoes into your mind amid this mayhem, “Guess they are getting what they deserve.”  You hate yourself for even thinking that. What were they all doing together when this occured-planning more deceit and misfortune?

Still no sirens or help. You are there, and no one else is coming. What do you do?

What faces in your own life experience do you see on each one of the victims? An old high school bully who caused you incredible grief, embarrassment, and pain. An employer who was responsible for unjustly firing you as the scape goat for their illegal practices. Perhaps it is a member of the clergy, a coach or teacher whom your family trusted but secretly did unforgivable things to you. What about the neighbor kid who got your brother on drugs that eventually took his life? Perhaps it is an irresponsible political figure or judge, living a double life, and contributing to the corruption of a generation or organization?

You get to decide whose faces you see on those victims that lay there before you, and the next move you will make. What was the likelihood that these three would be together in this predicament and that it would be you who decides their fate? The air is suddenly thick. Your mind and heart are fluctuating between the hate and harm these three caused you personally and the untold damage to others as well.

While you cannot save them all, what is your next step?

Jesus is asked this very question, “and who is my neighbor?” How do we “love our neighbor” when their life choices hurt us personally or someone we love? To grasp what is required of us as Christians we must put a face on each of these people. Not the face of our loved ones, people we would do anything to save, but people we loathe or hate. Why?

It is easy to do heroic things for people we like or love. It is an unselfish act of virtue to love another who has deeply hurt us. It is only possible if we love Christ and through Him we can and must love our worst enemy. I too struggle with this call to love.

This is exactly what Jesus Christ came and did for every human person; past, present, and future. While we were still in sin, doing all the wrong things for the wrong reasons, when we were selfish, and foolish, and wicked; Christ obediently and with great love, fully took on to Himself all our sins knowing them intimately, and brought them to the Cross. He paid the ransom for our very souls.

So, this Lent, I ask us to ponder that reality. When we are not eating meat on Friday or abstaining from some small pleasure, we must not whine and grumble. Take up what God has asked of you in your discernment. We should not give up anything out of some disconnected habit. Do not complain when our little toothpick-sized crosses get a little heavy and we want to toss them aside thinking “God doesn’t love us.”

This empties the Cross of its power to transform us.

Love should drive everything we do this Lent and every day after it. Because He loved us first, picked up our cross and carried it with the rest of humanities junk, just so He could have the chance of spending an eternity in paradise with us.

Where Are You?

Sometimes we can get caught in the trap of thinking that God only loves us when we do the right thing. We can assume wrongly that our sinfulness turns Him away from us until we get ourselves back on the “right” track. That would be a lie evil wants you to believe and there are many times in our life that we actually believe it. We cannot imagine a Being so concerned with our lives, who loves us despite the fact that He knows every single flaw, foolish behavior, and unkind word we have every thought or spoken. We cannot imagine that we are even worth loving when we have chosen to do unspeakable things and loathe our very selves. We live in such a society of fluctuating whims. This is good, that is not- until next week when it changes.

What is sinful is now proclaimed and celebrated. In fact, we are now bullied, canceled or publicly humiliated if we dare speak against the current line of thinking. So, it is really hard to imagine that one could be accepted, not alone loved, for simply being our messy sinful screwed up self.

Hopefully, we have heard the message of God’s love for us, as He has been saying it since we were dust. We hear lots of things. Believing them and taking them to heart is another thing we are not so good at. So, the Church gives us lots of little seasons in the Liturgical year to remind us and help us realign our priorities. Those who have put their faith on the back burner or in a “continual holding pattern” are not as immersed in all the ways Mother Church wants to reach out to her wayward children. When we self-distance ourselves from God, or from the Church He established, we can easily fall for anything that feels like a worthier use of our time.

We can give to created things the honor and attention that is only due to the Creator.

Lent is one such reminder of the importance of turning away from sin and reorienting our life and purpose to the One who gave us life. At St Andrew’s we will embark once again on the Journey Toward Holiness. This time our journey will lead us through Lent, and to the Cross with Christ. You might think, “Well that doesn’t sound like fun.” You are correct. “Fun” is not the emphasis of Lent. Words like sacrifice, self-discipline, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are the focus of this short period in the entire year. Forty days out of 365 days, we are asked to refocus on God through time-honored Lenten practices. In the infamous words of my husband trying to explain to his new bride about fractions, “if I had a pie…” Lent would be about a slice. I won’t go into the words of his new bride about what he could do with his pie.

We can handle a slice, right? Putting it all in perspective helps us when we want to whine and feel sorry for ourselves.

If you have not put much thought or are trying to avoid thinking about Lent, now is the time to change things. Fr Mark Toups and others far wiser than myself, suggest that we begin to “discern” what God wants us to do for Lent. “Oh, I’m not gonna ask God what He wants me to do, He might ask me to do something like walk barefoot on broken glass.” Yowzers, that doesn’t sound like a God of Love?

Fr Toups suggests that God wants to meet us where we are at and our Lenten penance should reflect that. He makes the wonderful proposal to spend time asking God through prayerful reading some suggested Scripture passages. He says that, “Lent is fruitful when it is connected to the realities of our life.” This Lent let’s try and make everything we do or don’t do, about deepening our relationship with God. Below are some Scriptures Fr Toups suggests to pray through over and over, as you ask God what His Will is for you this Lent.

So where are you right now? Select the passage to pray that most reflects this.

  • Do you feel like you are a good Catholic, faithful, regular Mass attendee, you frequent Confession and follow the Commandments, but you want to go deeper and closer to God? Consider spending time in the story of the Rich Young Man (Matt 19:16-30)
  • Maybe you have experienced God’s grace and healing, just like the Man Born Blind (Jn 9), and you want to draw deeper into the One who healed you. Your search through Lent will lead you to Him.
  • Maybe you have done some things in your life, and you are still doing them. They have a hold on you. Perhaps, you feel trapped in them or others have labeled you by your sins. Read and reflect on the Samaritan Woman at the Well, (Jn 4:4-34). Her sin held her back from meeting and knowing Jesus. She needed Christ to heal and forgive her.
  • Maybe right now you feel like you are in the midst of the wildest storm you have ever experienced. This storm can be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. It can be in a relationship at home or at work or in your family. But you feel like Jesus is asleep and not doing anything about it. The Disciples in the boat during the storm felt that way as Jesus slept. (Mk 4:35-41) What is God saying to you in this storm?

This time that we use to prepare before Lent to discern where God is calling us, is not wasted time. Reading and praying with the Scriptures is God talking to us today in our lives. One of our “Mums” sent this little video to me which is from Beth Davis of Blessed is She Ministries. It is a beautiful testimony of the power of asking God about her Lenten Penance. I highly recommend that you make the time to watch this.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 2725 states what is necessary and at stake in taking the time to pray always but most especially in anticipation of Lent.

We pray as we live, because we live as we pray

CCC 2725

“Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray. If we do not want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray habitually in his name. The “spiritual battle” of the Christian’s new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer.

Dusty Faces

Why is it Catholics go through all the hoopla each Lent starting with getting a smudge of ashes on our foreheads? We look ridiculous as the miniscule particles fall like ashen snowflakes on our nose and cheeks creating sometimes unintended comical effects.

However, I must ask, what is the point if we only go through the motions, put in a half-hearted effort and expect to feel somehow different when Easter Sunday arrives. I say this as a person who has put in some pretty lame Lents over my lifetime. My go-to for years was to give up chocolate. It was a sacrifice to be sure but did little to make me a better Catholic or holier human. There were many Easter mornings where breakfast consisted of See’s chocolate eggs.

ummmm chocolate!

Sure, making a sacrifice of giving up something we enjoy is a good thing to do, but if it does not lead to a deeper union with Christ it is kind of pointless.

Then there was the year I thought I would go all out and gave up sweets all together. This was a sacrifice of untold magnitude. That one went down in history as my nastiest Lent ever. My family begged me to “never do that again.” I can assure you it was not because I was a glowing bundle of holy joy. In 2015, I remember thinking after our son’s wedding that I would get down to being serious about Lent and going so far as to ask God to help me really dig deep and use what was left of Lent in a manner worthy of His gift of love on the Cross. Two days later I was it by a car riding to work on my bike. That “Unexpected” turn of events really ramped up my Lent. Did God cause the accident so He could get my attention? No. Was God able to use that circumstance as a means for my growth in holiness and as a way to unite my suffering with His. Absolutely.

While we don’t always experience those extreme situations God can and does expect that we who profess to love Him, are willing to pick up our own Cross without complaint and follow Him; because that is what love requires.

I would like to propose for our consideration this Lent, that all the efforts we make in praying more, giving up things we like, generously helping others, really are means to growing closer to God. We cannot “do” anything for God. He needs nothing and has everything. Yet in following Him, He asks that we love our neighbor-which is simply and not so simply- loving one another, and of course, to love Him. This demands our willingness and intentional efforts. Lent reminds us each year, that we still have the opportunity while we are alive, to choose Christ.

For some of us this very well might be our last Lent, “you know not the hour…” so let us make the most of it.

I happened upon a video by Fr Mark Toups, who is a priest in Louisiana. He spoke about the necessity for a pre-lent discernment where we enter more purposefully into prayer to ascertain what God is asking of us this Lent. Fr. Toups asks us, “What would it look like if our penance was connected to where we are right now. What if that penance deepened our relationship with God?”

Why is this important? God is in the present. He meets us exactly where we are right now despite the messiness of our lives. We don’t need to wait until we have everything figuring out. Thus, the importance of doing some pre-lenten discernment which will help us zero-in on where we are right now in our faith journey.

I’ll admit in over sixty years of being a Catholic, I have never heard about “discerning penances for Lent.” Yet I am captivated into doing something that I have never done before, that might yield results that I have never achieved before, in regards to my relationship with God. I hope you are too.

Father suggests several Scripture passages that will help us determine where we are and what we need. In taking this time before Lent begins, we have the possibility of a real transformation through God’s grace and action in our lives. God wants this more than we do. He wants to give us something this Lent. He wants a relationship with each of His beloved children, but that depends on us. Are we open to this? Are we receptive to the gifts He desires to shower upon us? Do we believe that it is even possible.

Next week I will share those Scripture passages in an article, as well as, in the Journey Toward Holiness Lenten Campaign which will begin on the 7th of February. If you have never signed up for JTH, do so now. Stndrw.cc/jth  Download the Flocknote App to minimize issues in receiving the JTH notes.

Get ready to dive into an incredible Lenten 2021. It might just be the beginning of your best Lent ever. It is time to leave our worldly nets, climb out of our little rickety boats and jump in the waters of new life and Christ’s waiting arms.