Fr Aidan Kieran: Why I find fasting so darn hard!

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Following my Little Way of Fasting article, Clare asked me if I would write a follow-up, to give an update on my progress, and all the graces that have poured into my life because of my fidelity to fasting.

Oh dear!

When I read the request, my face went the colour of Palm Sunday vestments!

The things is, I found it a struggle to do any fasting for a few months. My first reaction to the request was that it would be hypocritical of me to write such an article, having become a bit lax on the fasting front. But, for better or for worse, here is my reflection on my recent experience (or lack thereof) of fasting.

So what stopped me fasting? I can answer the question with one word: stress. I’ve been facing a couple of stressful situations in my life over the last few months. It became more difficult to pray, and it felt as if it was impossible to consider fasting. I just wanted to distract myself from the pain inside. The internet, sports on TV and food were my favourite distractions. In the middle of all this, I certainly had no appetite for depriving myself of even a cup of tea in the morning and offering it up to the Lord. I was being deprived of a large part of my sense of self-worth, so He wasn’t getting any more sacrifices from me. It was almost as if I was empty inside, and so had nothing to offer.

One thing I was managing to do, occasionally, was to expose the Blessed Sacrament in the church for a while after Mass and spend time with parishioners in adoration. However, when Lent drew near, I realised I had to make some effort to get back onto the wagon from which I had fallen. It was time to try fasting again.

And the truly amazing thing is that fasting began to work (little) miracles almost immediately. Almost as soon as I began doing without my morning cup of tea, I felt a little spiritual strength come back. I began to get a new perspective on the trials I was experiencing. I began to pray a little better, and I was a little stronger in the face of temptation to sin. It was as if even the minuscule sacrifice I was making was creating just enough room in my soul for the Holy Spirit to get to work. Remarkable! It was a most generous payback on what felt like such a small effort. It’s as if I had deposited some money in the bank, and received a lot of interest almost immediately.

It illustrates for me how generous Our Lord is to me, and to us all. Sometimes it feels like he asks to work long hours in the vineyard. But He rewards us so generously for the efforts we make for Him, even if they seem small to us. He can even use our half-hearted attempts as occasions of grace.

What I have learned in the last while is how we must draw from all the channels of grace in the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. Reading the Word of God, Receiving and Adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, Praying the Rosary, Going to Confession and Fasting are important channels through which grace can gush into our souls.

The Church encourages us to fast during Advent and Lent, and on Fridays throughout the year. What I have learned recently is that even the smallest effort of fasting, done with love and with prayer, is enough to open the endless channel of God’s grace into our lives. However many times I fail or give up, it doesn’t matter. Jesus is never going to give up on me, so I guess I will just keep joyfully trying in my little sacrifices, to show my love and gratitude for the big sacrifice He made for me on the cross.

We have just 1 week left before lent ends, so lets summon up all our strength and offer that one cup of tea, that one cigarette, that one biscuit. And lets offer it to God as little imperfect children would to a loving Father – with all the love we can find in our hearts.

When God’s Love Hurts.

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Fulton, before the accident.

When God’s Love Hurts – By Cassandra Poppe

“On the Way of the Cross, you see, my children, only the first step is painful. Our greatest cross is the fear of crosses. . . . We have not the courage to carry our cross, and we are very much mistaken; for,whatever we do, the cross holds us tight — we cannot escape from it. What, then, have we to lose? Why not love our crosses and make use of them to take us to Heaven? But, on the contrary, most men turn their backs upon crosses, and fly before them. The more they run, the more the cross pursues them, the more it strikes and crushes them with burdens. . . . If you were wise, you would go to meet it like Saint Andrew, who said, when he saw the cross prepared for him and raised up into the air, “Hail O good cross! O admirable cross! O desirable cross! receive me into thine arms, withdraw me from among men, and restore me to my Master, who redeemed me through thee. “ — St John Vianney

Crosses. Suffering. The human race has been plagued with hardship ever since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve desired more than the goodness God had already given them. And from that point on, most viewed suffering as a punishment from God – until that first Good Friday when Our Lord transformed punishment into a blessing. It seems natural for us to try to alleviate hardships when they come. A painkiller, a massage, an adjustment to the thermostat. How many little things do we do each day, each hour, to tweak the comfort level around ourselves? As these first 2 paragraphs were written, I have already adjusted my posture, scratched an itch and taken a sip of my drink. All actions taken almost without thinking and all done to increase my comfort.

But what happens when our discomfort becomes full blown suffering? Suddenly our pleasure and comfort seeking instincts are challenged and no matter what remedies we try, our suffering is not eased. Cancer. The loss of a loved one. Crippling persecution. An accident. These crosses do not refine and perfect our souls in little ways, as the everyday annoyances in life can. No. These crosses are life changing, redirecting our souls directly towards Calvary, to bring about in us a profoundly holy transformation. But only if we are able to see the love that is hidden within the cross.

While we may not cheerfully embrace our crosses, our Catholic faith teaches us of the immense value in suffering. We have Crucifixes to remind us of Our Lord’s suffering and sacrifice, inspiring us to mortify ourselves for love of Him. We understand that suffering is a part of life and a tool we must use well for the sanctification of our soul. Others avoid suffering, seeing it as either a punishment or from Satan.

And while this view may be correct in certain circumstances, we must always remember that all suffering is allowed by Our Lord. If He allows it to happen, we must treat it as an invaluable opportunity to grow in holiness, and give glory to God. No matter what. I do not say this lightly, as it is indeed both a joy and a burden to be trusted by Our Lord. He requires much of those He loves – sometimes more than we think we can handle. But we may rest in the fact that as long as we remain firmly at His side and under the loving watch of Our Lady, all things are possible.

When Our Lord redirected our lives that fateful January morning, I felt it more than I heard it. That deep percussion-like boom one hears when a firework is sent skyward, before it explodes. This was immediately followed by my husband’s unintelligible cry. Flying to the kitchen window, I saw what will haunt me forever. My four year old little boy was slowly moving away from the burn barrel, completely engulfed in flames from his waist to his head. His hands were clenched at his sides, moving them up towards his face in slow motion, pieces of his fleece jacket peeling away and falling behind him.

What followed could rival the goriest scenes in a horror movie. Grey, cadaverous forehead. Deformed ears. Skin still bubbling from the heat trapped within. Long strands of flesh hanging from little hands and arms like a partially unwrapped mummy rising from its tomb. Shrieks of pain. Tears of terror. As my son was laid at my feet on the kitchen floor, I collapsed before him, unable to do anything for him before the ambulance arrived. And so I prayed. The two prayers that came to me were, “Mother of God, be with us,” and “Thy will be done.” And looking back, I understand why.

From that moment on, Our Sorrowful Mother took me as her child, showing me that sometime God’s love looks very ugly on the surface. I had gotten a taste of this truth before, when my husband and I struggled to make our marriage work, and again when I cared for my father in his home as he died of cancer. But this by far was the most crippling form of suffering I could have endured. I wanted to take on Fulton’s burns as my own. “Lord, let me suffer these pains for You!” I prayed. “He is too little!” But I see now how that would have been the easy route for me. I already understood redemptive suffering, binding physical pains to the wounds of Our Lord on the Cross as an offering of love. But I could not do that for my son. This emotional anguish was new – and so instead of suffering with Our Lord, I suffered at the foot of Fulton’s cross with Our Lady. If she saw the love hidden within the Our Lord’s Cross, surely I could find the love in Fulton’s suffering. And that is what I needed to find. Otherwise, his suffering made no sense. I did not want to be a bystander on Calvary, disgusted by the scene before me, or to be one to rage against God amid the pain.

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I have known far too many bitter souls in my life who, do not take the time to examine their crosses and embrace them for the gift they are. Help me find the gifts, Sweet Mary. Help me find the love! And what love there was! Just as word spread of Christ’s suffering and brought about conversions, so too did Fulton’s suffering inspire others to the faith. I received letters from people who have returning to a life of prayer because of Fulton’s powerful story. Some grasped for the first time what it means to ‘offer it up’ and embraced their own crosses with a new found love for God. They saw through Fulton’s and my experience, that love cannot be complete without some form of willing suffering or sacrifice, choosing to participate in God’s plan through the cross laid upon their shoulders, even when they could not yet see the love.

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Truly, His call to take up our crosses and follow Him was a call to suffer for Him that others may be saved. And for the first time I understood the words of St. Paul when he said, “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” (Col. 1:24) when hearts previously unmoved by Christ’s Passion were moved by the sufferings of a little boy. Praise God!

Two years after the accident, the love continues to reveal itself. Patients in the hospital are learning Fulton’s ‘brave breath’ techniques to help them get through the pain. His burn cards, a social reintegration solution we invented together, have given confidence to other burn patients who are struggling with re-entering society. And his mere presence in restaurants or the mall have brought people to tears, once they talk to him and see how strong he is. He has brought hope and healing to adults who suffered various crosses in silence, inspired for the first time to face their own past hurts. His scars show them their own woundedness, and come to realize their scars are proof of their strength, not their weakness.

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Fulton, through the cross he carries and the scars he bears, has touched far more souls than he ever could have before the accident. And only in Eternity will we know how many hearts he helped return to the Church and into the loving arms of Our Father. Please Lord, may I be numbered among them, for I have learned so much.

My trials have taught me that every crisis forces one to redirect his life. We are handed a cross, designed especially for us, and asked to choose. We cannot choose whether we will take the cross. No. The cross is ours to bear no matter what. But we can freely choose how we respond to it.

Do we accept that cross and prayerfully carry it to its completion? Do we give hope to others along the way? Or do we curse our cross as it grows in weight and model for others how to stumble and rage against the One who gifted us?

I have tried both responses to the carefully chosen crosses Our Lord has sent me in my life. I can assure you that while cursing those things in our lives that cause us to suffer may feel more natural, embracing our suffering is by far the easier response, for it is the only response that coincides with God’s will.

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My prayer for you this Holy Week is that you open your heart to the cross God has given you and cherish it as a priceless gift. Just as Christ’s Passion draws hearts to love Him more, may you draw others closer to Our Lord through your suffering. Praise His name through your pain. May God be glorified through you!

“Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. And Jesus hearing it, said to them: This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God: that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” John 11:3-4

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Fulton’s next big surgery is coming up on April 14th 2015. Please pray for Fulton! Come and see his progress on his Facebook page ‘Pray For Fulton’

Cassandra Poppe’s blog is Let us kneel

From Gay Pride to True Humility: Joe’s amazing conversion story.

Ash Wednesday marks four years since I rejected the “gay lifestyle” and came back to the Catholic Church. I didn’t have a singular moment of conversion like St. Paul. Rather, it was a slow drip, a series of gradual, often hesitant pivots towards the Church.

The first pivot came when Saint John Paul II died.

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II had been the only pope I’d ever known up to that time. My childhood parish had a painting of him on the altar next to the tabernacle. I’m from Chicago, so naturally I have Polish ancestry, and a Polish pope was a point of pride when other kids called me a dumb Polak or a Commie. I was a toddler when Pope John Paul II was elected, so I had never experienced a conclave before. A German? They’re calling him “God’s Rottweiler” and he was in the Hitler Youth?

Despite my secular, sinful life, I’d always had a soft spot and sympathy for Holy Mother Church, even during the explosion of the priest sex abuse scandal. I was willing to give Benedict XVI the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to know more about him. Some of the news coverage cited his pre-conclave homily as sealing the deal for the cardinal electors. Then Cardinal Ratzinger declared, “We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything for certain and which has as its highest goals one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” That hit me right between the eyes. So I started, occasionally, visiting Catholic websites, learning more about what this “relativism” is. There are some incredible resources out there.

It’s unclear how much of it was sentimentalism and how much was the pursuit of truth. I knew in my heart that my way of living was wrong. But I didn’t change my life. I was Catholic in name only. I hadn’t attended mass in years, despite a parish a block away from my apartment. The weekend gay bar hopping, binge drinking, pornography consumption, and casual hook-ups went on and on. I was young and “you only live once.” Nevertheless, a seed was planted.

The second pivot came when I found an old prayer book.

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An elderly relative had died, and I was helping family clean out their house. I found a copy of “My Prayer Book” by Father F. X. Lasance in a drawer and snuck it into my backpack. For whatever reason, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone I wanted it, or ask if I could take it. Surely they’d have said yes. The book was at least a half-century old and barely used. Most of the pages stuck together. Over the course of several months, I read it cover to cover. It was astounding.

Immersed in that culture that “has as its highest goals one’s own ego and one’s own desires,” in that book I encountered beautiful reflections on self-denial, on forgiveness, even “The Blessing of Pain and Grief.” It catechized me in a way that 12 years of Catholic schools and an ostensibly Catholic family failed to do. A few years later when I lost it, I was able to order a replacement online from Fraternity Publications. I highly recommend it.

The third pivot came after overhearing a conversation at work about the Real Presence.

The Priest says: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

I’m not sure how they happened onto the topic, but the office secretary was talking to another employee about Roman Catholics, and she said, “We believe that the Eucharist is the body of Christ.” 

“We do?” I thought? Like, THE body of Christ? Huh? No, it’s just a symbol. What was she talking about? I’d never heard that before, and I’m Catholic. Whatever.

Some online research confirmed what she said. It felt like a punch in the stomach. Again, after 12 years of Catholic schools and Catholic parents I did not even know such a fundamental doctrine of the faith? How was that possible? Had I ever received worthily, validly? If one needs to be in a state of grace to approach for communion, why did everybody go up? Why didn’t my mother go to confession? How come she’d never encouraged us kids to regularly confess? The more I read about the Real Presence, the more ashamed I felt, even betrayed.

The fourth pivot came after reading an article on “the Latin Mass” on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.

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The article preceded Pope Benedict’s moto proprio Summorum Pontificum. Several Chicago parishes offered the mass. “Fans” quoted in the article gushed over how transcendent the Latin Mass was, how it was so beautiful they wanted to cry. I’d always enjoyed history, and I knew this was the mass my parents grew up with. So one Sunday, I visited one of the parishes.

I expected to witness the mass I grew up with, only in a different language, with nice(r) music, and with the priest facing the other way. What I encountered was baffling and frustrating. I had no idea what was going on. For long periods, nothing happened. The priest just stood there, facing the tabernacle. He wasn’t talking at all, much less in Latin, from what I could tell. But a realization hit me, seeing the priest there before the tabernacle: This is what mass is all about: the Eucharist!

The night and day difference between the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form sent me back to the Internet. I found some podcasts on iTunes by Dr. James Dobbins that dove into the history of the Extraordinary Form, about how much traces back to the Temple in Jerusalem, the symbolism of ad orientum, and so on. It was like finding buried treasure. I returned to that parish several times, window shopping as it were.

The fifth pivot came when someone asked me to be their child’s godfather.

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For one thing, I never expected that parent to ask me. We weren’t particularly close. For another, I knew this was a serious, sacred obligation I was entering into. It wasn’t merely an honorific title. For the first time in 15, maybe 20 years, I went to confession.

The Lord blessed me with a gentle and patient priest behind the confessional screen. He counselled me that my same sex attraction was, alas, a heavy cross to bear. But he didn’t make me feel dirty, or like a pervert. After he lead me through making an act of contrition, I left the confessional absolved, attended the holy sacrifice of the mass, and approached the communion rail in a state of grace for the first time since I was a child. I slid back into my sinful ways pretty quickly. But I’d poke my head out of the sewer now and then, to listen to Father John Corapi (good preacher, pray for him, sad situation) on Relevant Radio, a Catholic radio station in Chicago, or to attend Holy Week services.

Finally, two years after my God-child’s baptism, I found myself waking up Sunday mornings with my conscience telling me, “You should go to mass.” I’d trek to the “Latin Rite” church and sit in a pew near the back, watching the priest from afar, knowing more now about what was going on. My head knew what was true, but my heart was lukewarm. Sin continued.

The final pivot came came that Lent.

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My conscience had been gnawing at me. “You’re a hypocrite. You can’t call yourself Catholic but live this way.” So I challenged myself: Lent is only about 40 days, right? Six weeks? This year’s Lent, let’s try to do everything the Church teaches, especially as it pertains to purity. No more porn. No more hours wasted on gay hook-up websites. No more lusting. Complete celibacy and chastity. Mass every Sunday. Regular confession.

I did it.

The first two weeks were rough, don’t get me wrong. Whether it was through grace, or the intercession of Our Lady, the saints, somehow I did it.

What’s more, I liked it! It was liberating. I was free of the weight, the rules, the oppressive expectations that the gay lifestyle places on you. Style your hair a certain way. Dress a certain way. Decorate your home a certain way. Think a certain way. Listen to certain music, watch certain television shows. Conform.

My friends’ first hint that I’d “changed” came from seeing my “likes” of Catholic posts on Facebook and from my decision to sit out the gay pride parade despite living so close to the parade route. My social circle has shrunk considerably. My best friend cut me off after I declined to attend his “wedding.” Other friends accuse me of being a “self-loathing homosexual.” Another friend, who I’m still close to, has told me to my face, with all sincerity, that he is worried about my mental health.

Ultimately though, this is not about me being happy or freed or spiritually fed/fulfilled/whatever you want to call it. My conversion was about understanding my role vis-a-vis God, that I was made to know, love, and serve Him in this life –not myself or my ego or its desires– and be happy with Him in the next.

I cannot quite explain why I so readily accept the Church’s teachings on same-sex attraction. It’s all perfectly logical and rationale to me. I’d lived that lifestyle and knew how ugly it was, what a lie it was. If I wanted to follow Christ, I would have to take up a cross. There was no “conversion” in that regard.

In a culture that says it’s all about Me, I realized that no, it’s not, and humility and sacrifice must be part and parcel of my life from now on. He must increase, I must decrease. Perhaps that’s why the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite played such a vital role in my conversion and continued efforts to life out the Faith. The Extraordinary Form is not about me. On that account, one might argue, its silence is deafening. I would not have reverted back to the faith without the Extraordinary Form. It has helped me strengthen my faith, grow in charity, battle my pride, and strive for purity in a way the Ordinary Form, as commonly offered, could not.

I’ve remained celibate since that Ash Wednesday in 2011. I’ve struggled with impure thoughts and actions, but am light years from who I used to be. With frequently confession and the graces flowing from that sacrament and the sacrament of the Eucharist, and His most merciful Sacred Heart, I soldier on in the Church Militant. Oh yeah, I think Our Lady’s on my side too!

Since I was invited to write this story for a family oriented blog, my advice to Catholic parents would be this: Teach your children obedience. Teach them obedience to you as mothers and fathers, and obedience to God and the Church. Model that obedience to them. It will require struggle, humility, and sacrifice, potentially the ultimate sacrifice. Never forget that your role isn’t to be their friend, or to give them the happy or comfortable childhood you never had. Your role is to get them to heaven. Trust in Jesus.

May God bless us all this Lent.

Joe.

The Little Way of Fasting – A Mothers Perspective.

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My 3 beautiful kids often draw me pictures.

Alex 8, does some pretty good stuff now. He is Mr Logic, and doesn’t care much for creativity (bless him!) but he is pretty good at technical drawing and copying cartoon characters.

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Annabel 5, is the complete opposite and loves to draw emotional things like friendships and love and butterflies and princesses.

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Angelica 1, likes to do stuff like this:

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Now the thing is that when they come to show me their drawings their little faces all beam in exactly the same way! They draw stuff with great effort. And then they give it to me because they love me! My little darlings! I’m not sure what moves my heart more – seeing how hard they have tried, or their beautiful beaming faces as they give me all their hard work.

Now here’s a question:  Which picture do I value the most? I suppose that is as silly as asking which child do I love the most? I love them all the same, and all 3 pictures will be going up on the wall because each one of them is my favourite! Even though Angelica’s lovely scribble is just a mess on a page – I can see that she has put everything into that scribble, and at this point in her development I would not expect any more of her. She has given her all, and it is perfect.

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Isn’t this the exact same way our Mother Mary looks at us with our fasting and prayer?

Some of us are like Alex and can give a pretty good, neat, logical effort. Some of us are like Annabel and pray and fast emotionally and randomly. And some of us – most of us, are like little Angelica: doing our very best with the little skill we have. We are just babies in our spiritual development and we can’t manage too much just yet! But our Mother knows this and she delights in our messy, scribbley, prayerful fasting efforts! Whether we are fasting on bread and water for 40 days, or only giving up 1 cup of tea each day, she loves all our efforts the same, and is incredibly proud of each one of us.

I’m not sure what moves her heart more:  seeing how hard we have tried, or our beautiful beaming faces as we give her all our hard work. But I know this… A mother who loves her children, will cherish all these little things in her heart forever.

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The Little way of Fasting – by Fr. Aidan Kieran

Fr Aidan Kieran

The Little way of Fasting – by Fr. Aidan Kieran

The season of Lent is almost upon us, it begins tomorrow on Ash Wednesday. During Lent, we are asked to take on three traditional Christian disciplines: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Today I want to share with you a new insight into fasting which I gained recently.

I’ve generally always dreaded the idea of fasting during Lent. It always seemed to me like a test of endurance, and I never thought I had all that much endurance. Typically I would decide to, say, give up biscuits for the whole of Lent. It would last about ten days, I would have a biscuit and Lent would be over for me. And no matter what people would say about ‘beginning again’ it would never feel the same once failure had set in.

Now, I have learned a new approach to fasting, and it has become a much more appealing prospect.

St Therese of Lisieux teaches us that the “Little things done out of love are those that charm the Heart of Christ… On the contrary, the most brilliant deeds, when done without love, are but nothingness.” These words made me realise that the way I had been approaching the Lenten fast in the past was wrong. Lent is not a test of endurance. It is not even a test of discipline (even though we gain discipline as a by-product). Lent is a little test of LOVE. It is quality the Lord is interested in – not quantity.

I can describe this new approach to fasting – the little way of fasting – with an example. Here is a fast I recently undertook:

At breakfast time I didn’t have my normal cup of tea. I had a cup of hot water instead. It’s not much of a sacrifice is it? But this is the important part: fasting must always be accompanied by prayer. You may remember from the Gospels that on one occasion Jesus told the disciples that a particular evil spirit could only be driven out by prayer AND fasting. The two must be always occur together.

So while I was having my cup of water, I prayed.

I spoke to the Lord Jesus and told him that I was denying myself this 1 cup of tea as an act of love for him. I was doing this so that I might grow in my love for Him. I prayed for others. I asked Him to grant my intentions, but above all I asked him to help me grow in faith and love of Him.

It didn’t matter that it was only a small sacrifice. That’s not what matters to the Lord. What matters is that the sacrifice is accompanied by prayer and offered with a sincere and open loving heart. Fasting must always be accompanied by prayer, and must be done as an act of love for the Lord.

Perhaps you would prefer to go through Our Lady. While fasting, we can also pray through the intercession of Mary, our blessed Mother. I can tell her I am offering my fast as an act of love for her, and ask her to bring me closer to her son Jesus. We give Mary the title ‘mediatrix of all graces’ so we can of course pray through her intercession.

With this approach, fasting has become a wonderfully joyful act. Rather than a miserable endurance test, it becomes a joyful act of offering a sacrifice for the good of others, the good of the Church and above all the good of my own soul. I can have a smile on my face, knowing that the small sacrifice I have made has had a powerful effect in the spiritual life. Since I started this little way of fasting, I have prayed better and I feel I have drawn closer to Christ.

It’s just 1 cup of tea. A little thing, done with great love.

During Lent, I won’t totally deprive myself of other drinks, because I know I would find that too burdensome. My aim is to give up my first cup of tea each morning. On some days I may give up my second cup of tea too! – a definite sacrifice, but one I can realistically sustain.  And each time I am conscious of foregoing a drink I would like, I will pray. I will offer my sacrifice to the Lord with a joyful heart and a smile on my face.

I will offer my Lenten fasting for your intentions, for the people who read this blog. In particular I will pray that those of you who need to do so will make a good confession in preparation for Easter, because confession is so important.

And if any of you would like me to pray for a particular intention of yours, please contact me through this blog in the comments section below. I’d be happy to offer my fasting on a particular day for your personal intention.

I hope you will find these words about fasting helpful during the coming season of Lent.

Fr Aidan.

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Stations of the Cross by Meg Hunter-Kilmer.

Stations of the Cross

Jesus scourged

Pontius Pilate wasn’t a bad guy. He tried to let Jesus off, he really did. He tried to pacify the crowd by just beating an innocent man bloody. But they were so insistent. And sure, he had all the soldiers and all the power, but what if they had gotten mad at him? He couldn’t have that. No, Pilate wasn’t a bad guy, just a weak one. So weak that he permitted the greatest atrocity in the history of the world, crying, “It’s not my fault!” while he crucified the Lord of glory. You’re probably not a bad guy either. But is your refusal to stand up and be counted crucifying the Lord anew? Do you keep your mouth shut as your coworkers spew profanity or sit fiddling on your phone as your spouse slaves over dinner, dishes, bathtime, and bed? Do you make any effort at all, or are you sliding complacently to perdition having washed your hands of the need to stand up and be counted? Maybe it’s not your fight–but it wasn’t Jesus’, either, and he submitted. Shouldn’t you?

The Second Station: Jesus takes up his Cross.

Christ_Carrying_the_Cross TitianWhen Jesus took up his Cross, it wasn’t tentatively, fearfully, or with disgust. Any halfheartedness in bearing his Cross would have made our salvation impossible as it slipped out of his grudging fingers. No, Jesus embraced his cross, clinging to the torture and the shame and the loneliness “for the sake of the joy that lay before him.”1 There is no glory in accepting the suffering thrust upon us with anger and complaints. But if we embrace our crosses, rejoicing in the trials of life because we worship a God who bore them first and continues to bear them alongside us, we will be transformed.

The Third Station: Jesus falls the first time.

Jesus falls the first time Saulgau_Antoniuskirche_Kreuzweg_FugelThe very first thing Jesus did after taking up his Cross was to fall. He became like us in all things, even in failure and weakness. He understands what it’s like to be inadequate, to disappoint. Being a Christian doesn’t mean being perfect–it means offering our flaws to the Lord, then getting up and starting over. It’s running to the confessional, falling on our knees, and rising stronger. When you strive for virtue and fail, remember: your God was a failure, but he kept going and his failure became the world’s redemption.

The Fourth Station: Jesus meets his mother.

Taken down from the CrossIt seems his one moment of respite, this encounter with someone who loves him not for what he has to give her but simply for who he is. As her heart breaks, she reaches out to hold him, pushing past her own pain to comfort him in his. As we become more like Christ, we also become more like Mary, loving those who toil and suffer enough to give them the strength to go on. But it’s so easy to be repelled by their needs, afraid of the sacrifice we’ll have to make to love them. Who needs you right now to look past their disfigured face, to move past your discomfort and love them? Are you willing, like Christ, like Mary, to move beyond yourself and live for others?

The Fifth Station: Simon helps Jesus carry his Cross.

Simon helps Jesus carry his CrossIn turning to Simon for help, Jesus sanctifies our weakness. Simon of Cyrene is a Saint only because Jesus was strong enough to be weak. James and John are Saints because Peter and Andrew recognized their inadequacy and asked them for help.2 Self-sufficiency is not a Christian virtue, particularly not in the area of combating sin. In what areas of your life do you need to humble yourself and ask for help? It won’t just give you support in carrying your cross–it may just make saints of the both of you.

The Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

james-tissot-a-holy-woman-wipes-the-face-of-jesus

She takes a great risk here, running through the crowd, pushing past the soldiers, and falling at his feet. She tenderly pushes the hair out of his eyes, mops the blood from his battered face, and comes away with his image imprinted on the cloth. For her selflessness, she is rewarded, not with wealth or fame but with the joy of having consoled the heart of Christ. To be a Christian is to be radical, to make people uncomfortable, to suffer for Christ. But when we choose to live with reckless abandon for the Lord, we find ourselves blessed beyond imagining with a peace that surpasses understanding.3 It’s just a matter of trusting that he will do what he said and living as we already know we should. When we do that, we will find ourselves–against all odds–bearing the true image of Christ to the world.

The Seventh Station: Jesus falls the second time.

Jesus falls
By this time, I wonder if the soldiers aren’t annoyed. They have a job to do and this pathetic man’s weakness keeps complicating it. They roll their eyes, they jeer. They view the God of their salvation as an obstacle. If only we didn’t do the same. If only I saw the defiant middle-schooler as the purpose of Christ’s death on the Cross and not as a problem to be dealt with. If only I stopped resenting or tolerating people and started loving them. If only their weakness sparked compassion in me instead of exasperation. We expect the Lord to be strong in our weakness; what if we let him be strong in theirs through us?

The Eighth Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.

women of Jerusalem Fr_PfettisheimCrucifixion is the most painful and shameful way the Romans could devise to slaughter someone. It was so painful, they had to coin a new word to express the agony: excruciating. And yet, beaten within an inch of his life, dragging the instrument of his torture and death, Jesus saw nothing but others’ pain. “Do not weep for me,” he says, “But for yourselves and for your children.” It’s so easy to get caught up in our own suffering and ignore the pain of those around us, especially when their pain seems trivial. Remember, though, that the greatest pain a person has suffered is the greatest pain in the world. Live not just kindness but compassion, allowing your heart to ache for those who suffer–and then doing something to relieve that suffering, by physical aid, listening with love, or offering prayers and sacrifices. We become like Christ when we love like he did, even when we are broken ourselves.

The Ninth Station: Jesus falls the third time.

Jesus falls third timeWhen Jesus fell the last time, there seemed no hope that he would rise again. He was spent, beaten and bloody, incapable of that last effort that would bring him to the top of Calvary. He could have just laid down and died right there, but he needed to be lifted up on the Cross for all the world to see. And so, in the face of hopelessness, he called on superhuman strength to persist. He kept going. And when he did that, he gave you the same power to let the Lord be strong in your weakness. There comes a point when we finally realize how completely inadequate we are to the task of holiness. We fall on our face, unable to resist the temptations or persevere in prayer. Then, at last, in our weakness he is strong.4 When we have nothing left to give, when we realize that we never had anything to give, then we allow him to be all in all. When we realize that we can never be good enough for him, we find that we already are good enough in him. Do not despair, my friends. It may be Friday, but Sunday is coming.

The Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of his garments.

Jesus_is_stripped_of_his_garmentsJesus held nothing back. He suffered pain and loneliness, separation from the Father, and finally the shame and indignity of being stripped to hang naked as the crowds mocked. There was nothing he wouldn’t give for you. What’s your line? Do you offer him your Sunday mornings but not your Saturday nights? Are you willing to be martyred for him but not to be mocked? Do you hand over control of your relationships but not your internet habits? Allow him to strip you of the walls that you’ve put between your heart and his–your sin, your pride, your job, your standing in the community. The more you follow him, the more you will find yourself naked and unashamed in his piercing gaze. But you have to unclench the fists you’ve tightened around the garments you’ve clothed yourself with before you’ll ever find peace in him.

The Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the Cross.

crucified Christ bloody
It was not nails that held him to the Cross. One would expect creation itself to rebel, the Cross to splinter and the nails to warp, when their Creator was crucified. But “Peace,” he told them, “be still.” Because even had the nails crumbled to dust, his love would have held him there. In his mercy, he became a slave to love and was never more free. You are not bound to stay in your marriage. Divorces are cheap and getting easier by the day. It’s not the law that keeps you there but your love. You are not bound to stay in your Church. God knows you wouldn’t be the first to leave. It’s not your obligation that keeps you there but your love. And so with your children and your job and whatever else may not seem worth it today. You stay because you are more free as a slave to love than you would be unshackled by all the relationships that hold you bound. And each moment that you choose love, each moment that you are crucified by your beloved, you will find that the nails bite less deeply as the pain becomes peace.

The Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the Cross.

prudhon_pierre-paul-crucifixion

There is nothing in the life of Christ that is not also expected of his followers. So when he dies on the Cross, handing his life over for love of those who despise him, keep this in mind: you must do the same. This is the universal call to martyrdom, the requirement that all followers of Christ die daily to themselves in order that others may live. In order that Christy may live in them. We must die to our love of wealth that the poor may live. We must die to our love of rest that our families may live. We must die to our love of self that our neighbors may live. We must die to our love of mediocrity that Christ may live. Turning from laziness or pornography or Candy Crush or envy or rage or materialism or gossip or Twitter or complacency may feel like a crucifixion. That’s what you signed up for.

The Thirteenth Station: Jesus is taken down from the Cross.

Jesus taken down

Jesus’ corpse is pulled down from the Cross and lain in the arms of his mother. There is only one pain greater than the pain of a parent who has lost a child: the pain of a parent who has given a child. The Father knows that pain. Even though you mocked and betrayed him, even though you ignored and rejected him, even though you continue to deny him and will until you die, he thought you were worth it. And so he stepped back and watched his Son suffer for 33 years. And when it became almost unbearable for his sinless Son, he stepped back so far that God himself felt abandoned by the Father. He watched his Son die in agony and then looked at his broken, lifeless body and rejoiced. Because it was that misery that won him you. And you are worth it. Live like you’re worth it.

The Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb.

Jesus entombed
It is finished. Love has come and been slaughtered for his pains. Nothing, it seems, will be beautiful again. But Sunday is coming. In this moment of defeat, of silent agony and hope destroyed, lies the true joy of the Christian life: our God is bigger. He is bigger than death, bigger than divorce, bigger than sin and shame and shallow distractions. There is no wound he cannot heal, no death he cannot reverse. He may not triumph in the way you would have chosen, but know this: he will triumph. Know this, as you lie in your tomb, as you weep at her tomb, as you run from his tomb: for the Christian, defeat is merely the seed of victory. He will triumph.

Visit Meg’s blog at http://www.piercedhands.com/

Do you find the Easter Vigil too long?

Brace yourself…

“Oh I hate the Easter vigil! It’s sooo long for goodness sake! Why do they have to stick all those baptisms in there?”

I actually heard someone say those words this week. I chose not to reply as it would only have resulted in me having to go confession. Again. 
I have been involved in a lot of discussions recently regarding the ‘best’ way to celebrate Holy Mass. The Trads like the Tridentine, with the air so thick with incense you can hardly see the person next to you at the sign of peace (oh! no, wait… they don’t do that do they?!) The Libs like the folk music and the happy clapping and don’t really mind if the woman distributing Holy Eucharist is wearing jeans and trainers. 
Me? My favorite mass is the beautifully simple 7.30am. No bells or whistles. No happy clapping folk maniacs. No kids (yes, I said it – NO KIDS!). My brain is clear at that time, I’m generally at my least emotional and the day has not unleashed its torrent of challenges and distractions on me yet.
In a secretly romantic kind of way it feels like Easter Sunday every day. I feel very much like Mary Magdaline (no giggling please) getting up at dawn on her own to go and find her Lord. And when I have encountered him, I can go back and try and share that joy with others – even if they don’t believe me, at first.
Holy Mass, said beautifully and simply by a humble, holy priest who truly understands the Eucharist –  sometimes it is too beautiful to take…

Bishop Javier Echevarría Rodríguez reminds us that “Holy Mass is about love”. He was the person closest to St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer. In a 2010 interview with Zenit he was asked: According to your memories, what was the Eucharist for St. Josemaría? What role did it have in his day? 

Bishop Echevarría: “I served Mass many times for St. Josemaría. At these times he would ask me to pray so that he would not get used to celebrating that very sublime and sacred act. In effect, I was able to verify something he once said: that he experienced the Mass as work – at times an extenuating effort, such was the intensity with which he lived it. Throughout the day, he would recall the texts he had read, in particular the Gospel, and many times he commented on it, in a perfectly ordinary tone, as food for his spiritual and human life. He was conscious of the fact that in the Mass the protagonist is Jesus Christ, not the minister, and that the faithful fulfillment of the prescriptions enables the priest to “disappear,” so that Jesus alone shines. Many people who attended his Mass – also in the difficult circumstances of the Spanish Civil War – commented later that his way of celebrating Mass had something that moved them profoundly, and that they felt invited to grow in their devotion to the Holy Sacrifice. I am convinced that what moved those who participated – those of us who participated – in his Mass was precisely that: that he let Christ appear and not his person.”

Do you find the Easter Vigil too long? You might want to print out the picture below and keep it in your pocket for the next few days…

Passion Sunday – Year A

Matthew 27:11-54

 

Pilate Questions Jesus

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Barabbas or Jesus?

15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

Pilate Hands Jesus over to Be Crucified

24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

 

The Soldiers Mock Jesus

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him,29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

 

The Death of Jesus

45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

Making an Easter Garden

Talking to young children about Good Friday and Easter Sunday can seem like a daunting task. There is so much to understand and it needs to be done in the right context. From my own experience, I have found it helpful to have an activity for my children to do that can help them understand what we are focusing on during Holy Week.

Like having a Crib at Christmas, an Easter Garden is great fun, and can be put in a central part of your home acting as a reminder of what Good Friday and Easter Sunday is all about. 

Our kids love it – and I’m sure yours will too!

 

You will need: 

A large dish, tray or plant pot
Potting soil
Moss or grass, real or fake (or green tissue paper)
A small plant pot, cup or tin can
A big stone
Gravel or pebbles to add detail
Sticks and twine to make three crosses
 

1. Start by positioning your small plant pot, cup or tin can in the centre of your large dish to make the empty tomb. Hold in place with sticky tape.

What happened on Good Friday? 

Jesus died on the cross.

2. Pour over potting soil until you have a nice mound that covers your tomb (you may want to use a little water to get a good shape).

Why did Jesus die on the cross?

Jesus died on the cross so He could take away our sins, because he loves us.

 

3. Now you can plant little flowers, or grass seeds or anything you want to decorate your garden. Place pebbles or gravel around the base and going into the tomb.

How many days was Jesus in the tomb?

3 Days.

 

4. Tie sticks together to make 3 crosses and put them on top of the mound.

What happened on Easter Sunday?

Jesus rose from the dead!

 

5. Place a large stone at the entrance to the tomb.

Why did Jesus rise from the dead? 

Jesus rose from the dead to show us that there is life after death, and that we are invited to be with Him in Heaven forever!

 

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Christian Easter Eggs!

If you haven’t seen these already then look now! They are BRILLIANT!!!

From their website:

“Out of the 80 million chocolate Easter eggs sold each year in the UK, The Real Easter Egg is the first and only Fairtrade chocolate Easter egg to explain the Christian understanding of Easter.

The Real Easter Egg is now in its fourth year of production with more than 400,000 sold so far.

Inside is a 24 page Easter story book, a Belgian milk chocolate egg and pack of Swiss Chocolate organic Chunky Buttons. A charity donation is made from each sale. There are three crosses on the front and under the lid there is a quote from the bible – the resurrection text from Mark chapter 16. £3.99 each”

Tesco, Waitrose and Morrison’s  are stocking  The Real Easter Egg this year along with many independent smaller shops – see website for details or order direct. Go check them out NOW – http://www.realeasteregg.co.uk/