AFenwick Preaching Team Member shares his Ash Wednesday faith reflection.
By Will Chioda ’21
I would like to start off Mass with a small but encouraging note: The last time we had an all-school Mass was almost exactly a year ago today, on Ash Wednesday. This feels like a step in the right direction towards getting closer to normalcy.
If anyone listening has had the immense pleasure of getting to know me, you might know that I am not a person who forgives easily. I tend to hold a harsh and lengthy grudge against a person. Most of the time, this defense mechanism against getting hurt again prevents me from deepening relationships and trusting others. The irony in this is that I am far from a perfect person. I have wronged, hurt and offended many, including a number of our fellow classmates listening right now. However, Jesus calls believers to be forgiving, which is something that I plan on focusing on during this Lenten season.
In my research and reflection on the topic of forgiveness, I noted a subtle connection between the dictionary definition of forgiveness, and a personal favorite prayer of mine, the Peace Prayer. While the dictionary says that forgiveness is the willingness to pardon, St. Francis’s prayer reminds us that it is in pardoning that we are pardoned. In other words, the motivation to forgive others is that, in return, our own wrong-doings are forgiven. In my case, there is no way I can fully love others if, in fear of being hurt again, I focus my attention only on what another person has done wrong. My strongest, most loving and supportive relationships are those in which differences and misdeeds are mutually acknowledged and forgiven.
With the arrival of the Lenten Season comes a call from God. As students of faith, we are presented with the opportunity to foster personal growth and to create positive change. Lent is a reminder to repent, turn to the gospel and seek forgiveness for our sins.
Lent during a pandemic: How Dorothy Day’s story poured on a Dominican Brother like a sweet sun shower.
By Br. Joseph Trout, O.P.
Servant of God Dorothy Day did not support the New Deal. This was an utterly intriguing fact even before the current pandemic and ongoing relief-package debates. Dorothy Day was a fixture in progressive and socialist movements of the early 20th century who converted to Catholicism and continued a life of radical commitment to the poor, nourished by daily Mass and the Rosary. PBS released an outstanding documentary on her a year ago (“Revolution of the Heart“), which I cannot recommend highly enough.
She not only established communities for the poor, she chose to live with them in poverty herself. Yet, this champion of the forgotten initially opposed the New Deal and only gradually came to see it as necessary to help people survive the Great Depression. She was not particularly enthusiastic about it. Why not? And what on earth does this have to do with Lent?
To the first question, Dorothy Day’s logic is fairly straightforward: It is our job to serve our neighbors. Outsourcing the works of mercy to the government erodes the community that binds us together. It eases the consciences of the successful who can fool themselves into thinking, “We have paid our taxes, let someone else deal with those in need!” She feared the depersonalization of the needy and a world where we could talk about “people on welfare” rather than our family, friends, neighbors in need. We build up the Kingdom of God, not Caesar.
I know very little about economics, let alone economic policy. I don’t know what the best way out of a depression or a pandemic is. I have zero policy proposals for you here. It certainly seems like “communities coming together” is too simplistic to solve our problems, but I can also imagine Dorothy Day begging each of us to act now and help those struggling regardless of what the government does. Jesus did not say, “whatever Caesar did not do for one of these least ones …” but rather, “whatever you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” If Jesus and Dorothy Day are to be taken seriously, you and I have some work to do.
What’s Lent Got to Do with It?
What, then, of the second question? What does any of this have to do with Lent? For me, gearing up for Lent has been a challenge. Sure, it calls us into the desert every year — but aren’t we already in the desert? This year, it feels like we are being asked to buy property and take out a mortgage in the desert. This has become our home, and here we are to stay. Just last week I heard someone genuinely asked if schools will be in a hybrid next year and I shuddered a little. How can anyone care about normal penitential practices such as giving up desserts and alcohol after a year of significant sacrifices? What more could God be asking of anyone?
I have to admit when I first asked myself that question, an inner voice rebuked me. Lent happens every year and has for millenia. I don’t know what a season of penance meant in World War II, or during the Depression, or any number of other plagues in history. (I’m sure people prayed a lot!) Much of our world is always vulnerable without easy pleasures. And, to be honest, I haven’t really lost the things I personally enjoy. I spent last Saturday morning reading War and Peace and then running on a treadmill for an hour. I did both of those things for my enjoyment — not penance. I never really liked going out to eat anyway. It’s hard to get too upset about hybrid teaching and not being able to visit family as much when I look at unemployment numbers, death tolls and food-pantry shortages.
Perhaps this is exactly the point. Lent has never been about these little sacrifices in and of themselves. It always has been about love: learning to actually love God and neighbor and to be less self-centered. Now, as someone who can enjoy running on a treadmill, I probably shouldn’t give others specific advice about penitential actions. Human beings have great variety in their pleasures and pains. Whatever penance and sacrifice are, they should always move us outwards. They transform us into a new Christ. To put it simply: Lent is about losing ego, not weight. I am forced to ask myself what my life is all about. What do I hope for? What do I do with what I have been given? Can I stop spending money on my pleasures to find a greater joy in loving my neighbor? That has always been the big question. If it’s unpleasant to be generous, then I need conversion and I need it now.
Dorothy Day captures my imagination this Lent because I’m not sure how generous this pandemic has made me. She chose to live with the poor and openly admitted that it was not always pleasant. She loved them anyway. She refused to outsource love and mercy. I, however, have complained a lot this year (just ask Principal Groom, he has plenty of text messages to confirm this). I have spent a lot of time running, reading and focused on me. Sure, I’ve helped others and prayed rosaries while running, but have I found joy in love? Have I been attentive to the needy? Am I more like Christ than I was a year ago? Whatever I think about the government’s response to this pandemic, have I made the world a better place?
As much as I hate to admit it, it really is time to take up a home in the desert. God will send manna and quail. He’s certainly sent plenty of (frozen) water. He will nourish us. No, this isn’t the promised land. Let’s not lie to ourselves about that. However, the central Christian mystery is that dying with Christ brings us new life; his spirit will breathe new life into our dry bones. This is the sure promise of faith. As impossible as it seems to believe, Jesus asks us to die a bit more to ourselves out here in the desert so that with him we may create a beautiful oasis. He has asked us to be merciful as he is merciful. How will we answer him?
Brother Joe Trout, O.P. (“BroTro”) is Chair of the Theology Department at Fenwick, head coach for the Boys’ Bowling Team and an assistant coach for the Girls’ Cross Country Team. He grew up in Fort Wayne, IN, and graduated from Purdue University in 2009 where he studied Math Education. For a year Br. Trout taught middle school math in Crawfordsville, IN, before entering the Dominican Order in 2010. He completed a Master’s in Theology from Aquinas Institute in 2015, focusing his research on the relationship between morality and psychology based on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas , O.P.
Fenwick Preaching Team member and the Class of ’20 president reflected on the Lenten Season at Mass on February 26.
By Patrick Feldmeier ’20
40 days. 40 nights. Students and faculty, now is the opportunity to move forward as followers of Christ. Lent is the time to evaluate our connection to God, and make an honest effort to strengthen our faith. Through the trials and tribulations of the following 40 days, let us ask God for trust, for trust will empower us through all of life’s challenges.
At the end of His 40 days in the desert, the devil tested Jesus like never before with short term pleasures and materialistic possessions. Yet, Jesus stayed resilient, and refused to give in to the Devil’s temptations. Jesus trusted that God’s love would triumph any benefit received from giving into the Devil, and God prevailed. This trust, this faith that God is the answer in our lives, will guide us through these next 40 days. We are constantly surrounded by unfulfilling passions that make us happy for a short period of time, then leave us drained shortly after. The Devil works through these passions, but our heart yearns for more. A strong faith in God throughout Lent will orient ourselves to strive for fulfilling pleasures, which will bring us the long-lasting happiness we all desire. Everything begins with a trust in God, and the confidence that He knows what is best for us. Trust in God’s plan, the lessons he teaches, and the love he gives us every day; and rest assured you will enter Easter Sunday a changed person.
This Lent, don’t just give something up, like pop, candy, fighting with your siblings, whatever. Lent is about giving more to God, who calls on us to make a greater effort to pray more, attend mass more often, and embody a Catholic conscience in our daily lives.
We don’t know how our lives will be in 40 days. Life may be better, worse, or a complete transformation because of certain situations. Jesus conquered death merely days after his journey because He believed in the power of God. As Christians, if we can commit to strengthening our relationship with God in the next 40 days, we will see ourselves change right before our eyes. Jesus’ journey in the desert prepared him for his ministry, death and resurrection. I will leave all of you with one simple question. What are you preparing for in the next 40 days?
Who is God? Much of theology at Fenwick revolves around this question. Who is the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, the God-man Jesus? What does it mean to interact with this God? They are big questions, and the answers have significant impact on our lives of faith. It makes a big difference if we think that:
A) God tested Abraham with the sacrifice of Isaac just to see if he will do literally anything God asks no matter the cost, or
B) God tested Abraham to develop Abraham’s confidence in the true goodness of God who will honor his promises (descendants through Isaac) even when it seems completely contradictory to present experience.
Is God demanding beyond our comprehension, or good when it seems impossible? Is faith about blind obedience or profound trust in goodness? Personally, I find hope in the latter and not the former. Most times I read the news I need to be reminded that God truly is good though it just doesn’t seem to be the case in the world.
Christians need to wrestle with these kind of questions both for our relationship with God and our proclamation of Christ. Who is this God we stake our lives on? Who is this God that promises to save us?
However, there is perhaps a more fundamental question for today’s world: Who ISN’T God? What is God not? These are essential questions for a scientific age that dismisses God as superstitious explanation for inexplicable realities by our inferior ancestors. Is God really just our answer for what we don’t understood? Aquinas’ proofs are actually the opposite: God is the explanation behind what we do understand. God is the grounding of science beyond science itself. He is the logos — the very meaning of all existence and truth.
This topic pervades the videos of Bishop Barron. Many conflicts over science and religion come from people using totally different definitions of God. He astutely points out that the God rejected by Christopher Hitchins and Richard Dawkins is also rejected by Aquinas and the wealth of Catholic history. We simply don’t mean the same thing when we talk about God.
Click here to view one video where Barron jumps straight into the issue.
As the season of Lent is kicking off, one spiritual purification to consider is not a moral one, but a theological one. Watch some videos by Barron or other Catholic theologians to get rid of the “Golden Calves” we build up. They aren’t just money and power but misunderstandings of the Way, the Truth and the Life. Ponder again what God we don’t believe in, and look again to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ to see exactly what God we cling to in faith.
This is the third post in our series of reflections on the work of Bishop Robert Barron, upcoming recipient of the Lumen Tranquillum (“Quiet Light”) Award. You can find the first and second posts here: