Slow Down on Ash Wednesday and During Lent

Ashes fade, but our faith remains,” senior student reminds her Fenwick classmates.

By Preaching Team Member Natalie Poleszak ’23 (Burr Ridge, IL)

Did you leave your car running this morning? Did you take a second to remember you locked it? During this season, we are often so occupied with giving up a favorite soda or candy that we forget to slow down. So excited for Easter, we lose focus on what’s important. 

Today, I ask each one of you to for a moment forget about the Spanish test you have or what you will be doing this weekend to slow down

Natalie Poleszak ’23

I know Fenwick students are sometimes unable to do this because I see it in the parking lot everyday. In a rush to get to their favorite parking spot or to even make it past the light, we often forget to look around. Similarly, how often do we think about an intention before we mindlessly pray with our peers before class. How often do we check up on our friends or tell our parents thank you? I am guilty of not doing these things myself.

Today I challenge you to practice patience. I challenge you to park within the lines. For even though your awareness fades, the impact remains.

You may be asking yourself, ‘Natalie why are you talking about the parking garage on Ash Wednesday?’ Driving is something we all experience in our lives. Likewise, everyone at Fenwick has to learn about faith in their theology classes. Why not incorporate it into the simple moments in your life?

Even with all of this preparation and growth in our personal lives, it’s not important unless we get out and actually do it. So today we are challenged to consider the other person in the car next to us. To not cut them off, or honk the horn, or to let them in front of us. Let the ash on your forehead serve as a reminder in your busy lives. For even as the cross on your forehead fades, our faith remains.

How to Live Lent Radically in 2023

By Father Christopher Johnson, O.P.

As we once again enter the beginning of another Lenten season, the all-important question of “what should I do for Lent this year?” more than likely has come to mind. Before you or I decide to once again abstain from cookies, candies, carbonated drinks, or coffee beverages for the season of Lent, it is worthwhile considering the purpose of the season of Lent. In doing so, we can gain a better sense of the purpose of these resolutions, and what they can do to help us with our spiritual journeys. 

The season of Lent has its origins in the catechumenate preparation period for their entrance into the Christian Church at Easter Vigil. In the early Church (2nd-4th centuries), initiated Christians were encouraged to join in this time of prayer and fasting- recalling their own baptism, but also those preparing to join the Church.  For catechumens, Lent was a long and rigorous period of examination, catechesis, and ascetical cleansing of body and soul during the forty days leading up to Easter.  

As infant baptism became the norm, the number of new initiates decreased, but the practice of forty days of fasting continued. 

Fr. Christpher Johnson, O.P. is a Fenwick campus minister and chaplain.

It is worth noting that early on, Lent required the abstention from meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, wine, and oil.  In other words, only fruits, vegetables, bread, salt, and water were allowed to be consumed during this time period.  Likewise, only one full meal was allowed to be consumed during the day.  As time went on, allowances for one to two small snacks (collations) for laborers was added. This time of fasting was seen as an opportunity to cleanse oneself of attachments to food and drink, but also to reflect upon one’s own baptism and need for continual repentance.

Following the Second Vatican Council, the requirement to abstain from meat on Fridays, to only take one full meal during the season of Lent and other ascetical actions were lessened. (Please see the bottom of this reflection for the list of guidelines provided by the USCCB for days of fasting and abstinence in the Latin Catholic Church).

This lessening of expectations over time is not true for many of our Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters who still begin Lent with a three week period of gradually removing certain dietary items from their meals in preparation for the Lenten abstention from meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, added sugar products, chocolate, alcohol, and vegetable oils for the full duration of Lent (including Sundays). 

The practice of truly abstaining from food such as Orthodox Christian or our pre-Vatican II predecessors would be a very difficult task for me.  It would make me uncomfortable, and mindful of my attachment to my favorite foods and beverages, and other things of this world. Our goal for Lent should be to replicate that experience today- seeking to make ourselves uncomfortable, and mindful of the need for conversion, and God’s help. This will make for a truly radical and transformative Lent.

If we choose to give up a certain food or drink during Lent, our call is to pray for God’s assistance when our stomach growls, or eyes see a desirable treat in front of us.  We should pray for God’s help in growing more detached from physical goods so that we might be able to live a simpler life, one more dependent upon Him, and His generosity. As well it is a reminder to pray for those whom a meager diet like this is not a seasonal thing, but an everyday reality.  

To assist us in better using Lent as a period of cleansing in anticipation of Easter, the Church calls her members to live out the prophetic call to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during the season of Lent.

How can we best embrace one or more of these facets? 

Some questions to consider when planning out your Lenten practices:

  1. What is it that you need to do in your life to grow in your awareness of your attachments to this world? 
  1. What are those things that distract you from being present to God and your neighbor? 
  1. What practices or actions should you undertake to better center yourself on what is truly important?

This Lent, Perhaps Consider Committing To:

Fasting: Don’t just give up candy, or junk food, but instead consider:

  • Fast from distractions use your phone or other electronic device less, and instead use that time:
    • for prayer
    • Chatting with a relative, or other loved one.
    • Visiting an elderly neighbor to talk or help with chores.
    • Educate yourself about the challenges that many face across the globe:
      • Learn about the plight of Christians in Nigeria, Myanmar, Central America, China, and the Middle East.
      • Become aware of the challenges that refugees face throughout the world.
      • Learn more about the reality of hunger for many children throughout the world and in the US.
  • Fast from luxury goods: Don’t purchase fancy coffee drinks, or fast food once a week, and donate the money to a cause that is important to you.
    • Support Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl campaign.
  • Fasting from sleeping in: Don’t snooze your alarm clock for the season of Lent, and use this time to say some prayers for your loved ones, or do chores/kind acts for those you live with..
  • Fast from harsh words: Get off social media, or make the choice not to respond to the hurtful comments someone may have said to you, or wrote about you on social media, but instead offer a prayer for them.
  • Fast from apathy and complaining: Pick up trash that you might see around you, instead of walking by it, or do those little things that need to be done instead of complaining.
  • Fast from griping about those things outside your control:  Don’t complain about what is wrong with the world, but instead give thanks for what is going well, and seek to encounter others with gratitude for those little things they do to help you. As well, offer your complaints as a prayer of supplication to God.
Continue reading “How to Live Lent Radically in 2023”

Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

Alumnus Fr. Tom Logue ’11, who grew up in the Hinsdale, IL parish of StIsaac Jogues, returned to Fenwick on January — to preach as a priest!

By Father Thomas Logue

My name is Fr. Thomas Logue, and I graduated from this school some 12 years ago now, and I was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ just this past May.

It’s great being back in this way to celebrate this Mass. I was on Kairos with a couple of the alumni here who are my age, and many of my teachers from my time as a student are still here, which is awesome.
If I recall correctly, I think in Latin class, Dr. Porter told us we wouldn’t use Latin all the much.

So, I’ve just got to say, Dr. Porter, as a priest I get to use Latin all the time: checkmate.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Conversion of St Paul. And you might be wondering, “Okay, that’s cool, Father, but what’s with the gold thing you processed in with?”

Well, I’m glad you asked! My doctor happens to be a fellow alumn, and we have worked together in healing ministry; he lent me this relic of St. Paul — I believe it is a fragment of his bone. So we’re incredibly blessed that this real man will be with us as we come to worship the real Jesus together with him.

Alumnus Fr. Tom Logue, Fenwick Class of 2011.

Now, as we look at what this man experienced, coming face-to-face with God the Son in resurrected human flesh, and who was struck blind for three days thence — all these amazing things — we have to remember that Luke — the guy who wrote this down — didn’t write it down for Paul:

“Hey, Paul, want to hear the story you told me again?”
“Um, no.”

God, the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write this down for me and for you, so that we might believe. It was all written for you ….

So, that begs the question: All this crazy stuff happened to this man that fundamentally changed him from a murderer of Christians into the greatest Christian witness the world has ever seen — okay.

But, what’s the import for me?

It all centers on the one question Paul asks of Jesus: “Who are You, Lord?” . . . “Who are You, Lord?

Because, for Paul up to this point, before encountering Christ, if someone asked him, “Have you ever heard of Jesus? Who is He?” he’d ultimately say something like: “Jesus is just some dead nobody who’s keeping my life and my culture, even my worship, from what I want it to be. Just some dead nobody who’s caused me a lot of trouble.

But the genuine revelation of the Catholic faith says something quite different, otherwise this school wouldn’t exist; the Catholic faith wouldn’t exist.

A miraculous image from the 1st century, believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus.

Who is Jesus?

Jesus is the God who holds us in existence.

He is God the Son who took on my broken human flesh, calling first the Jewish people, and through them the whole world — me and you — back into relationship with the True and Living God, Himself. And, to do this, from our lowly human flesh, as God and as a Man, He made a perfect act of love to God the Father when He consecrated Himself a sacrifice for me and for you, and then died a torturous death by suffocation in crucifixion, and rose three days later.

“Who are You, Lord?”

But even from 13 years of Catholic schooling growing up, I feel like many, many of my peers, and even a few of my teachers, and me especially, if asked, not just on a theology test, but through the way you can really tell what someone believes — by how we live — if you asked us, “Who is Jesus?” and looked at how we live, our answers might correspond to something like:

  • “He’s just a good moral teacher, or maybe a revolutionary.”
  • Or, “He just asked us to be nice or something; He died, but He didn’t rise from the dead — He’d have to be like, God or something, lol.”
  • Or, “He was just a made up idea that helps people be kind.”

In our culture, and in a culture like this, when we reject Christ, we don’t usually reject Christ outright. We make a new Christ that fits my view of things. And, as a priest who I know says, “that is a very effective way of murdering Jesus Christ, to change Him to suit our own desires.” It’s not the real Jesus we talk about when we do this. We are just making up our own.

And what I felt — and some of you might know what I’m talking about, though I hope you don’t know what I’m talking about — I felt like, ironically, the Catholic culture for me growing up, and the apathy I experienced towards the faith and towards our Lord in it, which seemed louder than the Gospel — that it almost vaccinated me against Catholicism.

You might be thinking, “Vaccinated?” You know, with old school vaccines (not the new mRNA stuff) if you want to make someone immune to something that is very contagious, what you do is you take the contagious thing, you isolate it, you kill it, and then you inject the dead thing into the person, so that when they encounter the real thing out in the world, their system just says, “Oh, I know what that is, and it’s not for me.”

But what have we done the past few generations with our Catholic faith but this very thing? We isolate the fullness of the faith and the real Jesus, we give to our young people a dead, seriously deficient version of the faith, and we’re surprised they don’t practice it — when in fact we’ve vaccinated them against it.

We do this to our Catholic faith, and this has happened to many of us here. C.S. Lewis says, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately
important.”

Well, this was the message I got — that it’s moderately important: like basketball or a TV show. And since this, sadly, is how many of us were raised, when confronted with Christianity and the real Jesus who calls us to repent, who calls us to change — when, in fact, we don’t want to repent; when we don’t want to change — what do we do but try and invent our own Christ.

A painting of the Apostle Paul from 1600s.

But, tragically, we know that when we invent our own Christ, that our own “Jesus” is totally impotent; that “my Jesus” is powerless to save or forgive me; that when I erect my own “Jesus,” in my own image, the
only person I worship is me. And, if I’m honest, I am powerless to save myself … and so I lock myself within my own heart.

But the real Jesus, who comes knocking on the door of our locked hearts — the One who appeared to Paul — we know and believe that He can actually do something about my life. This Man who conquered death and is alive right now, with real Blood flowing through real veins as He sits at the right hand of the Father — that He can heal me; He can save me. He comes full of mercy, full of peace, forgiveness, with genuine meaning (not the futile self-fabricated kind) — real, genuine, objective meaning from the Person who is Truth Incarnate Himself — He offers this for those who will receive Him as Lord, as Master and as Savior.

Ask Him, “Who are you, Lord?”

In my own practice of the faith, my parents went to Mass, and though I felt an affection for the Lord, the liturgy and prayer in childhood (I was even considering priesthood non-stop since I was 5), as I got into junior high and the sort of vaccination I received against Catholicism began to take effect, along with my difficulties with some of my peers and distance from my family, I began to, like Paul, frame Jesus as someone else than who He really is:

“Maybe he’s just a good teacher, probably not God,” I pondered. But this was just a cover for the fact that, even though I was interested in Jesus, I doubted that He could really be interested in me. I felt rather unloved and unwanted, and began to paint the lies on my heart over the face of God.

By the time I got into high school here at Fenwick, I was pretty convinced I was an atheist, and that Christianity was some weird scheme or money grab; it was just something I had to just endure and
put up with until I graduated. But through the testimony of the priest who taught me freshman year, I began just to crack open the door of my heart, and a little bit of light began to shine into my darkness. I was beginning to believe. And, at the time, although I was dead scared of going to confession, I felt tugged towards it, and it terrified me.

Saul is knocked from his horse and blinded on the road to Damascus.

My sophomore year, I was sitting next to my atheist friend up in the front row of the nosebleed seats here in the Auditorium when all-school confessions were being heard, and I finally overcame that fear and, by the grace of God, returned to confession for the first time in 9 years. It was incredible.

But I was still clinging to sin in my life, and it was slowly eating away at me. It wasn’t until my senior year about this time of year, actually — that things came to a head.

I went on the Kairos retreat and had such a profound encounter with the real Jesus that all I could do was weep on the floor in my bedroom, overwhelmed by this love I hadn’t known before, but was utterly familiar, and had been present all my life, in all of my pain. And laying prostrate before the crucifix in my room (like I saw one of the Dominicans do at his ordination), I looked up at the cross through tear-blurred eyes and said, “I will do whatever You want me to do, Jesus, just tell me what it is.”

Well, spoiler — He made that pretty clear.

Needing the Lord

Fr. Tom as a Fenwick senior in 2010-11.

But, due to my surrounding myself with less than quality friends, the following week (again, about this time of the year), I got in some very big trouble in pretty much every aspect of my life. Got 15 detentions
and demerits. I was in trouble in school and out of school; it was a huge mess. I bet you didn’t think a priest alum would say something like that!

I realized through the experience of my big mess up that some ofthe friends I thought were my best friends that I had invested in for 6+ years were in fact just using me. And in my hunger for acceptance, after naming the serious wounds of rejection I’d felt for years, I found myself drifting further and further from the Lord.

Continue reading “Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul”

Notes from War-torn Ukraine

Fr. Jarosław Krawiec, O.P. wrote this Christmas greeting on December 22, 2022. It is a humbling tale of the struggles and incredible faith of the people of Ukraine through the eyes of a Dominican friar.

Translated from Polish:

Dear sisters, dear brothers, I never thought that one could long for lights. When I got off the Kyiv train in Warsaw, I was surprised by the festival of brightly lit streets, buildings, and, above all, colorful Christmas decorations. When you add to it the snow that just fell in Poland in abundant supply, it all looked like a New Year’s fairytale. In Ukraine, the last couple months have been getting colder and darker. The longer this lasts, the more I squint my eyes in disbelief when looking at the bright streets and storefronts as well as entering warm houses and priories abroad.

On the day of Saint Nicholas — which in Ukraine is celebrated on December 19 following the Eastern calendar — a new Christmas tree was officially unveiled in the center of Kyiv. It was placed, as in previous years, on the square in front of the Saint Sophia Cathedral, the oldest and most important Christian church in Ukraine. The Christmas tree is much more modest and 60 feet shorter than last year. There is no market place surrounding it, which  in Ukraine used to be a necessary element of the “New Year holiday,” as Christmas is frequently called here.

Over the last couple weeks, a great discussion has been taking place in Ukraine on the subject of whether Christmas decorations and trees should be displayed in public places during the time when so many millions of people suffer daily because of war and lack of power. The opinion is divided. The mayor of Chortkiv, a small city in western Ukraine where the Dominicans have been present for over 400 years, had already announced in mid-November that: “This year, the Christmas tree and New Year celebration in the city center will be canceled!” To avoid misunderstandings, he immediately added that the most important thing is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and the decorations and loud festivities can wait until the war is over. Many people think similarly.

The capitol decided differently. “We must have the Christmas tree!” stated the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko. “Our children should be able to have festivities! Despite the fact that the Russian barbarians are trying to rob Ukrainians from the joy of Christmas and New Year.” I understand the opponents of Christmas trees, but my position is decisively closer to the attitude of the mayor of Kyiv. I heard the opinion of a frontline soldier who was unhappy that his children would be deprived of Christmas. “But this is exactly what we are fighting for, a normal life for our families!” he argued.

Near the Kyiv Christmas tree, I spotted a strange contraption. Cement blocks that until recently had been positioned across the street as a barricade were now painted red, and large eyes were attached to them. It’s part of an artistic project called “Children shouldn’t see the war,” whose authors want to spare the youngest inhabitants of the city the painful experience of seeing a landscape of war during the holidays. This is important since Kyiv now hosts a couple hundred thousand people who have escaped from destroyed cities and villages. This is also the way in which the initiators of this project want to raise funds to help children who have lost one of both parents as a result of the war. Sadly, this number is also growing daily.

Amid war, doves replaced lights on Ukraine Christmas tree.

This year’s Christmas Eve will mark exactly the tenth month of war. On February 24 we all woke up in Ukraine early in the morning to the sound of air raid sirens, explosions, text messages, and phone calls from the terrified friends and family members attempting to find out if we are okay. On the evening of December 24, billions of Christians around the world will begin the celebration of the birth of Christ. This number will include a handful of Roman Catholics in Ukraine, since a majority of the citizens of the country are Christians of eastern traditions and begin celebrations two weeks later. War, however, is causing many of them to demand with increasing intensity the transition to the “Gregorian calendar,” and the bishops of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is independent from Moscow and led by the Metropolitan Epiphanius, are allowing some parishes to celebrate Christmas together with the western world.

This Christmas will be a different one, quieter and wrapped in darkness. Even if we tried to forget for a moment about the hard times and lose ourselves in Christmas shopping, visiting, and decorating, we can’t. Many people have lost their jobs and are in a very difficult economic situation. They will not be able to afford a plentiful Christmas table and gifts. Apart from this, for the last two months there has been a shortage of power and light. Some people have power only periodically; others, like people from Antonivka, don’t have it at all.

Ukraine’s children and the trauma of war.

Antonivka is a village outside of Kherson, with a huge bridge connecting the shores of the Dnieper River that was first attacked by the Ukrainian army and then by the Russians. We delivered humanitarian supplies there two weeks ago. The bus with boxes of food was unloaded very quickly. The village is located right on the bank of the river, and on the other side is the Russian army.

“My friends, don’t stay in groups. Do not create a gathering, so that drones won’t detect us and start shooting,” yelled the ladies coordinating the distribution of humanitarian aid. A couple hours earlier, artillery had destroyed a nearby house, and we helped an older woman get out of her basement and transported her to a safer location. While Father Misha talked with the inhabitants of Antonivka, I saw tears in their eyes. They cried out of disbelief that someone came to them. This is another time that I realized that one of the worst things in war is the feeling of being abandoned. I remember the first days of fighting around Kyiv, when Maryna had asked me to bring supplies to a single mother of a son. When we were leaving the woman had asked, “When it gets really bad, will you help me? Will I be alone?”

Continue reading “Notes from War-torn Ukraine”

“Reflections”

A poem by John O’Neill, Jr. ’75 as published in the 1975 Blackfriars yearbook:

Reflections of my younger days
Are piercing through a web of haze.
A web a string of years has spun
On those I’ve known and things I’ve done.

I’ve loved the times and people here,
And I regret the end is near.
Here they fed me life and laughter
To build me up for what comes after.

From here on in I understand
That no one leads me by the hand.
It’s time to do what I’ve been shown
And try to make it on my own.

There’s something calling; I can’t wait.
The future’s knocking on my fate.
I’m climbing, never asking why,
My spiral staircase to the sky.

Before I go along my way,
There’s something that I have to say.
I wouldn’t change it if and when
I had it all to do again.

Reflections of my future days
Are glowing in a cloud of haze,
Lighting the stage of those I’ve met,
With my hour to strut and fret,
And sing a past I won’t forget,

And sing a past I won’t forget.

Preserving the Dominican Order’s Intellectual Tradition

The 87th successor to Saint Dominic welcomed Fenwick’s students as ‘1,100 more friars’ to his worldwide flock of 5,247.

By Mark Vruno

When he visited Fenwick High School on December 9, Fr. Gerard Francisco Timoner III, O.P. seemed almost giddy, feeling like he “was in high school all over again.” Telling his teenage audience that he was feeling “old” last Friday, the 54-year-old Master of the Order* encouraged them to treasure and cherish the lessons they are learning in high school: “They will remain useful for you as you grow and as you go out into the world,” he noted.

Fr. Timoner then asked eight random volunteers, two from each class – freshmen through seniors – to describe their school using only one adjective: What describes a Fenwick student; a Fenwick graduate? Pointing out that he had surfed the school website, which reads that Friar students are called to “lead, achieve and serve,” the Master of the Order wanted to hear from them directly. “I want to know how you see yourself,” he explained.

The eight adjectives students used to describe the essence of Fenwick (in alphabetical order): achievers, awesome, dedicated, electric, home, inclusive, intelligent and winners. A faculty member added “shining,” a ninth, to the list, to which the head teacher/preacher replied with a quotation from St. Thomas Aquinas: “Ah, but it is ‘better to illuminate than merely to shine.’”

The Master of the Dominican Order

Nonetheless impressed, Fr. Timoner shared in a post-assembly interview that he and the other Dominicans are very aware of Fenwick and its mission here in Oak Park/Chicago. “We have [Fenwick] alumni who have been formed and molded right here!” he exclaimed. “We are happy to share the charism of preaching with our lay collaborators.” He added that Jesus never referred to Himself as a “priest” but rather as a teacher, one who has mastered a subject.

When asked about vocations, he pointed out that there are close to 800 brothers and friars presently in formation. “People say the church is shrinking, but this is not true in a global context,” Fr. Timoner said. “While there are aging populations in some parts of the world,” he acknowledged, “approximately 13 million members were added to the [Catholic] church this past year. Lay people are our partners in evangelism.”

Back at the all-school assembly, Fr. Timoner concluded by urging his youthful listeners to be compassionate people. “Remember that eyes are cleansed with tears,” he shared, “and that compassion heals.”

*The Master of the Order is the Superior General of the Order of Preachers, commonly known as the Dominicans. In 2019 Father Timoner, who is a member of the Philippine Province, became the first Asian Master of the Order and next successor to Saint Dominic.

LINK TO THE VIDEO RECORDING OF THE ASSEMBLY.

Fr. Gerard Timoner, O.P. received a special gift from Fenwick’s proud Asian American Association.

Scroll down for more photos of the big day!

Continue reading “Preserving the Dominican Order’s Intellectual Tradition”

What Exactly Is the Immaculate Conception All About?

By Student Preacher Julia Overmyer ’23 (River Forest, IL)

Good Morning! We are gathered here this morning to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. If I were to ask everyone in this auditorium what they thought the Immaculate Conception was, there would be at least one person, if not more, that would say it is the celebration of the miracle birth of Jesus. Up until a while ago, I would have said the same thing. All I knew was that Mr. Mulcahey said that Catholics believed in it, but the Protestants did not. However, this feast day celebrates something different, someone different. Today we honor Mary. The woman who not only brought God into this world, but who very importantly was chosen by God to be born without sin. 

My Mom has a phrase that she likes to tell both my sister and me. She says, “You are going to end up where you are meant to be, because God chose this path for you.” When I tell you I have heard this phrase applied to pretty much everything, I mean it. From the little things like my placement in a certain class, to the bigger things like what my life will be like in the future, my Mom would repeat it to me. The amount of times I heard this expression during the college application process was probably an all-time record. I can’t seem to escape it.

Yet, no matter how many times my Mom says this phrase to me, I consistently find it hard to understand. If God chose me to do something, if He has a plan for me, then why do I even bother trying to live out the life that seems to be predetermined for me? As much as I don’t like to admit, my dislike for this phrase comes from my fear of the unknown. Being afraid of what we don’t know is a natural instinct. Not knowing what lies ahead, whether being something unfamiliar or possibly dangerous, can ignite unease within us. However, we shouldn’t let this fear prevent us from pursuing our goals. 

In today’s Gospel of Luke, we hear of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary to tell her she will bear a son. Luke writes, “And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.’ But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”

What strikes me as interesting in this passage is Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel. The Gospel says that Gabriel appearing in her room was not the thing that scared her, but it was what he had spoken to her. She questioned Gabriel’s greeting, “Hail, full of grace.” To us, we don’t see how this could be a fearful phrase, for we often repeat it when reciting the Hail Mary. However, to a 15-year-old Mary, being hailed and filled with God’s gift of grace by an angel in the middle of the night, was pretty terrifying. Yet she chose to place her faith in God’s plan over her fear of the unknown.

God chose her, even before she was born, to receive this message and fulfill this revelation. God brought Mary into this world without the pains of original sin so she could have Jesus. And although she did not know what was to come, Mary overcame her fear with faith. 

Like Mary, we are all chosen by God to lead a certain life. The gifts that God has given us — being His grace and free will — aid us to follow our path of life. Even Mary, the mother of Jesus, was worried about God’s plan for her. Yet her undeniable faith in God not only allowed for her to accept His plan, but gave her a sense of peace. We should all strive to be like Mary; accepting God’s chosen plan for us, and conquering our fears. So I ask you to remember today and all days that we are each chosen by God to follow a certain purpose in our lives. Whether grand or small, for many or for one, God has chosen every single one of us to be what this world needs.

Advent Marks New Beginnnings

The Christian season of preparation for the Nativity of Christ at Christmas marks the beginning of the liturgical year in Western Christianity. The name was adopted from Latin adventus “coming; arrival.” This year, Advent starts this Sunday, November 27.

By Fenwick Chaplain Fr. Christopher Johnson, O.P.

Happy Advent! Unfortunately, many people skip over this great season of prayer and preparation in a rush to maximize their enjoyment of the excitement of holiday parties, Christmas carols, Santa Claus, sweets and the busy-ness of shopping.

Advent is the great gift that the Church gives us as we have the opportunity to begin anew with a new liturgical year. We begin this new year with the challenge of preparing for the great mystery of God entering into humanity. The dawning of a new liturgical year with Advent preempts the arrival of a new calendar year and is an opportunity to reflect back on the past year of our life and what went not so well, and to consider what needs to change in our lives — then taking steps to bring about these changes. By doing so, we are creating room in our lives to allow the incarnation to take place in our own lives.

A sample of an advent calendar.

How should we approach Advent?

Once we recognize that this season is a call to prepare our hearts for God’s entrance into the world, we can take seriously the call to accept the invitation to welcome God into our lives. In accepting this invitation to allow God into our lives, we can renew our relationship with Christ with a spirit of quiet longing. To allow for a spirit of quiet longing to be a reality in our lives, we are called to discipline ourselves to not rush into the hectic milieu of holiday parties, Santa Claus, Christmas lights and Christmas music. We are called to rather delay that satisfaction and allow for a build up of the true desire for Christmas. Even if our intentions are mixed, choosing to delay the celebration of Christmas until the 24th creates a place for quiet in our lives.  In this quiet, we have a space to consider the purpose of Christmas and its reminder of the threefold coming of Christ:

  1. The historic coming of the Child Jesus long ago in Bethlehem.
  2. The future coming of Christ at the end of time.
  3. The presence of Christ in our world now, and His desire to truly make a dwelling in our hearts.  

How can we enter more fully into Advent this year?

I invite you to consider what it means for Christ to come at Christmas, at the end of time, and in the present moment.  We can begin with the words of Matthew’s Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. While we cannot know the exact hour of Jesus’ return at the end of time, we can make the choice to start our preparations … now.  Advent provides us with an opportunity to recall that, as Christians, our lives are to be directed to the following of Christ.  

Continue reading “Advent Marks New Beginnnings”

Mass Intentions and All Souls

By Fr. Christopher Johnson, O.P.

We began the month of November with the celebration of All Saints on November 1, followed by All Souls on November 2. The celebration of All Saints is a joy-filled experience in which we, as Catholics, jubilantly recall the accomplishments, legends, miracles, and holiness of those who went before us. The Church even agrees with this, assigning white as the liturgical color.

All Souls’ Day is based upon the tradition of recalling the memory of the deceased, and praying for their eternal rest. The act of remembering the dead and praying for them is not a distinctly Christian, or Catholic practice, as most cultures throughout human history have sought to honor their dead in some fashion. 

Fr. Christopher Johnson, O.P. is Fenwick’s chaplain.

What is distinctly Christian is how we honor the dead and how we pray for them. Since the era of the early Church, people have regularly prayed for their deceased loved ones, and have had the Eucharist celebrated for them. In the first centuries of Christianity, these Masses took place on or near the tombs of their loved ones. Inscriptions found on tombs in the Roman catacombs from the second century provide evidence for this tradition. These inscriptions include prayers for the dead, as well as notes celebrating anniversaries of the death of those buried in the tombs. These prayers for the dead were intended to request the speedy passage of loved ones through their time of being purified of their sins and earthly attachments, and on to the Heavenly Kingdom of God.

The tradition of praying for the dead existed in the Jewish tradition as well.  In the Book of Maccabees, we see that tradition of offering sacrifices for the deceased in the story of Judas Maccabee taking up a collection for those who died on the battlefield, so that their souls would be spared of punishment for their wrongdoings. 

The Jewish practice of having animal sacrifices offered for the dead transitioned into having the sacrifice of the Mass offered for the dead in Christianity. At Mass, both the prayers of the presider, and of those attending the Mass, along with the graces obtained through the Mass could be offered for the needs of another, such as the deceased.  Prayers for the needs of the deceased and others also occur in the Eucharistic prayers. The next time you are at Mass, listen to what the priest is saying. You will hear him pray for the Church as a whole, the leaders in the Church and all those who have died. 

Funerary inscription from Roman catacombs bearing the early Christian symbols; a dove bearing an olive branch, the Alpha-Omega symbol and the Chi-Roh symbolizing the name of Jesus Christ.

The call to pray for the dead at Mass can be found in the writings of the Church Fathers. St. Augustine, who lived during the 5th century, recorded in his Confessions, the dying wish of his mother, St. Monica, that he would pray for her at the altar during Mass. The 7th century pope, St. Gregory, who is credited with the tradition of offering a series of Masses for the deceased, offered the exhortation, “Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”

In the early Church, when Mass was celebrated, those requesting the Mass offered a “sacrifice” of the supplies necessary for Mass — bread, wine, linens, candles, and so on. They also traditionally offered extra foods or goods to support the priest, just as was done at the Jewish Temple.  At that time, the collection taken up at Mass was used to support the poor and sick of the Christian community, rather than for the operation of the institution. Therefore, those serving the Church depended on the generosity of others.  One way this was done was by giving gifts in exchange for the celebration of Mass on behalf of a family, or group.  This tradition was also born of, “the old Roman notion of gift-giving which does not entail reciprocity. Gifts freely given are freely received without the obligation of recompense.”  Priests were called in their generosity to pray and offer Mass for the wishes of their congregants. Likewise, donors provided support not out of obligation, but rather out of gratitude.

This tradition of asking for Masses to be offered for various needs continues on to today; the vast majority of Masses celebrated throughout the world are offered for an intention of someone. These intentions could be for one’s relatives or friends, be they living or dead, or as a gesture of gratitude towards God, or to seek God’s guidance for themselves, or someone else.  Today people no longer supply the materials for Mass, but are encouraged to continue to offer a gift of gratitude to support the priest celebrating the Mass. Currently in many developing nations, this is the only form of support priests receive. 

At Fenwick, Mass is made available daily for students, staff and faculty: Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday before school at 7:30 a.m., and on Wednesday after school at 3:20 p.m.  The Dominican friars of Fenwick regularly offer these Masses for those alumni of whose passing we are made aware.  Please know that the friars are willing and eager to offer Mass for the needs of those in the greater Fenwick community as well.  

To have prayers or a Mass offered for an intention of yours, please tap or click on the red “Submit Prayer Intentions” button. No donation is required for a Mass to be offered, but offerings out of gratitude are always welcome. 

For more information, please see:

Kilmartin, Edward J. The Eucharist in the West: History and Theology, ed. Robert J. Daly (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1998).

Saunders, William, “Mass Intentions.” Arlington Catholic Herald, November 6, 2013. https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/mass-intentions.html

Spahn, Stephen F. Mass intentions: Memorials, money and the meaning of the Eucharist. (Boston College University Press, 2011). 

Fenwick’s 2022 All-District Musicians!

The following Friar students have been selected from hundreds of auditions for the Illinois Music Educators Association (ILMEA) District music groups. Congratulations to our ILMEA District 1 Senior Choir (above, from left): Gianna Bonano, Rose Fagiolo, Cece Flosman, Troy Makani, Michael Sosna, James Leonardi (and Jazz Choir), Amber Cloud, Elise Weyer, Moira Finucane, Emma Meehan, Katelyn McHugh and Maria Romero. (Not pictured: Will Shannon.)

ILMEA District 1 9-10 Choir

Mia LoDuca (above, from left), Jerson Santos, Tyler Garrett, Vince Fagiolo, London Almeida, Elle Karl and Anna Garcia-Enriquez. (Not pictured: Charlie Shanley.)

ILMEA District 1 Orchestra

Natalia Harnisch (above, from left), Abd Rahman Al Zahabi, Natalie Vlcek and Clara Kalas.

ILMEA District 1 Band & Jazz Band

Adrian Salgado-Horst (Jazz Band, above from left), Will Chrastka (Jazz Band), Dario Santoy (Jazz Band), Caden Hardy (Jazz Band), Daniel Hardy (Band and Jazz Band), Gael Tafolla (Jazz Band) and Kendall Richards (Band). (Not pictured: Julia Overmyer (Band).)

The Illinois Music Education Association is the state-level affiliate of National Association for Music Education.