“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.
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.
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.
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:
What is it that you need to do in your life to grow in your awareness of your attachments to this world?
What are those things that distract you from being present to God and your neighbor?
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:
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.
By Student Preaching Team Member Grant Schleiter ’23 (Elmhurst, IL)
Lent is a time when Christians focus on the three pillars of fasting, prayer and alms giving. Today is Ash Wednesday, the kickoff of Lent, or as I used to think of it in grade school “the day when we compete to see who can keep their ashes on the longest.” Lent is known as a time of sacrifice. When I was little, Lent was always a competition in my family. Lent was always “who could give up the most difficult thing.” This competition was mostly between my sister and me, and it was a battle of who could succeed at a harder Lenten promise. One year, I took it so far I gave up added sugar, and it came to the point I was searching up menus of fast-food restaurants to make sure I was beating my goal. Having sugar-free yogurt every morning for 40 days is absolutely disgusting. I do not recommend it.
But what I was doing was actually the exact opposite of what Jesus says to do. In the Gospel today, Jesus says, “When you fast, do not look gloomy. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet. When you pray, pray in secret.” Instead, I was making it known to everyone that I was struggling with a difficult penance — and was making it known that mine was more extreme. I was not sacrificing for God but rather for my own bragging rights.
As Fenwick students, we are called out to follow these three pillars. Prayer obviously is something we practice every day; at the beginning of second period we usually get to hear the enthusiastic voice of Charlize Guerrero, or maybe, every once in a while, the deep voice of Lee O’Bryan.
Fasting is the pillar most people associate with Lent. Many people associate Lent with giving up food, but you can also change a practice of something, like working out every day, or being nicer to a sibling, or going on your phone less. Fasting from something that distracts you from God can free up more time to do something to praise God. Something as easy as reflection through prayer could be done, or maybe you take it a step up and do charity work to accomplish almsgiving.
All of these actions help us become better people, and in becoming better people, we grow closer to God. In making time for God in your life, you are making time for goodness. Another thing about Lent is once you start to get into a routine, it is hard to snap out of it. When I did my sugar fasting, as soon as I hit Easter I had about 40 cookies and probably half of the lamb cake. All I was focusing on was “getting to Easter so I could enjoy sugar again.” Yes, some bit of fasting is to compensate for the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, which is your typical giving up foods you like; but usually we go back to these after Lent, so maybe this year focus on something that you could build into a new routine — something you can do that can make your life better. Maybe instead of looking at your phone in the morning, talk to one of your parents; or if your parents are not awake, maybe take some time for silent meditation. You could even read the daily Bible verse. Do something simple that can help bring you closer to God. Jesus died for our sins and there’s no point in going right back to them after Lent. Instead, use it as a time to realize what you can change in your life to bring you closer to God.
Lent is a season where we must turn away from pleasures and see how we can redistribute our time for the needs of others and the needs of God. Lent is not a season for bragging; instead it is a season for serving. Focus on serving God and our neighbors. Do something that can help make a positive impact on others. Giving up sugar was something that did not make a positive impact on others; I think it only helped the Oikos yogurt brand. Do something that brings you closer to God.
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: