A Second Look: Saved Through Water

1st Sunday of Lent (B)

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The prayer and fasting we undertake during Lent is meant to emulate Jesus’ forty days fasting in the desert before the start of His public ministry. So it makes sense that on the first Sunday of Lent our gospel reading would tell of Jesus’ time in the desert where He was tempted by Satan. But we may be surprised to hear in our first reading about Noah and the flood, and God setting a rainbow in the sky as a sign of His covenant. When we think of Lent, we don’t often think of rainbows. But maybe we should. The rainbow is God’s sign of new life after death. This is very much what Lent is about.

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What’s Lent All About?

Lent is one of the seasons of the liturgical year in the Catholic Church. The liturgical calendar revolves around major events in the life of Christ.¬†Lent is the season when we recall in a special way Christ’s suffering and death before we celebrate His resurrection at Easter. Lent derives its name from the Middle English word¬†lencten, which means “spring,” as this season occurs during the last part of winter and early part of spring. It is nominally 40 days in length, reflecting the amount of time Jesus spent fasting in the desert at the start of His public ministry (see Lk 4:1-13).

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Can Catholics Eat Meat on St. Patrick’s Day?

St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday this year, which has many Catholics (of Irish descent or otherwise) wondering whether they can celebrate this day with their traditional corned beef and cabbage. You see, Fridays in Lent are days when Catholics are bound by the law of the Church to abstain from meat. Every time St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday, stories start to float around of special permission being granted for Catholics to eat corned beef. So is there really an exception to our normal Lenten penance for our favorite Irish saint?

Yes and no.

Here’s the situation. Every Friday during the year is considered a day of penance according to Canon Law (can. 1250). For most of the year, Catholics in the United States are free to choose how they will observe that penance. However, during Lent, the Friday penance must be observed by abstaining from flesh meat (meaning warm blooded animals, so fish and reptiles are OK). Observing this common penance during Lent helps to foster solidarity in the Church. There is also something to be said for the witness given by practicing a tradition in common.

But there are exceptions. When a solemnity falls on a Friday, that day is not observed as a day of penance. This is because solemnities are celebratory. They are the highest feast days of the Church, and one cannot feast and fast at the same time. So when a solemnity falls on a Friday during Lent (as sometimes happens with the Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19), Catholics do not have to abstain from meat on those days.

So what about St. Patrick? Is his feast day a solemnity? For most of the world, the answer is no. It is not.

We commonly refer to the observance of a saint’s day as a “feast” but technically it can be one of several things depending on the saint’s prominence and how much emphasis the Church wishes to give to its celebration. At the top of the ranking are solemnities, but then there are feasts, memorials, and optional memorials. This ranking system determines whether a saint’s day must be celebrated, or may be celebrated, as well as what observance takes precedence when there are overlaps on the calendar.

To make matters more complicated, the ranking of a saint’s feast can also differ based on where you are in the world. St. Patrick’s Day is a perfect example. In Ireland and Australia, it is observed as a solemnity. In Scotland, Wales and New Zealand it is observed as a feast. For the rest of the world, including the United States, it is an optional memorial. That means in Ireland and Australia, on Friday, March 17 this year, Catholics are free to eat meat as usual, because that Friday is not a day of penance. But for the rest of the world, the Friday penance still stands.

Unless it doesn’t. Individual bishops are free to make exceptions. Why would they do this? A bishop might grant a dispensation if there is a significantly large Irish immigrant population in his diocese, or if St. Patrick is the diocesan patron. Moreover, there are different ways a bishop might do this. He may simply grant an exemption from the Friday abstinence. Or he may, more likely, dispense from the requirement to abstain from meat but still require the faithful in his diocese to observe penance in some other way that day. I have heard of some bishops granting a dispensation to those who participate in a Mass that day. In any case, whatever dispensation an individual bishop chooses to make, it applies only in his diocese and has no effect on Catholics in other parts of the world.

What about the Diocese of Charlotte? To the best of my knowledge, Bishop Peter Jugis has granted no such dispensation allowing Catholics to eat meat on St. Patrick’s day this year, corned beef or otherwise. If I hear differently, I will be sure to let everyone know.

In the meantime, there are plenty of ways to honor this beloved saint without eating corned beef. St. Patrick was a holy man, a caring pastor, and friend of Christ. There is no better way to honor him than with our prayers and devotions, by keeping a holy Lent, and preparing ourselves to celebrate with joy the risen Christ at Easter.

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Temptation

1st Sunday of Lent (A)

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The temptation of Christ in the wilderness.
Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to “lead us not into temptation.” Yet we know from experience we continue to face temptation every day. Does God not answer this prayer? Of course this is not the case. Our Lord Himself gave us this prayer as the model for all our prayers. What we ask God for in the Lord’s Prayer is not to remove all temptation from us, but rather for the strength to resist temptation. To remove temptation entirely would be to remove our free will, for temptation arises any time we are called to make a choice that has moral weight. Even Jesus experienced temptation, though He did not yield to it.
Sometimes we are called to make a choice between something good and something which is clearly evil. These are usually the easiest decisions to make. The hard choice comes when we are tempted to choose a lesser good over a greater good. This is how Satan, the great tempter, operates. We this on display in the readings for the first Sunday of Lent. 
The very first temptation came in the garden of Eden, shortly after the creation of Adam and Eve. God had given our first parents dominion over every plans and animal in the garden. But there was one tree of which they could not eat, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Along comes Satan. The first thing he does is to place himself between Eve and God, causing her to doubt God’s word. “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” And again, when Eve tells him that God said they would die if they ate of the fruit, Satan causes her to doubt. “You will certainly not die! God knows that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.”
Satan temps Eve with knowledge. And knowledge is a good thing. So what was wrong with eating of the fruit of the tree? It was not the gaining of knowledge per se, but the gaining of knowledge in the wrong way, at the wrong time. Some theologians have speculated that God intended for Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge when the time was right, when they were ready. Otherwise why would God have put that tree in the garden? Regardless, God clearly told them not to eat of it. Adam and Eve were called to trust God and instead allowed themselves to be beguiled by Satan. They were tempted by the lesser good he seemed to offer them (knowledge) and allowed themselves to mistrust and then to disobey God, their loving Father and Creator. They chose a lesser good at the expense of the greatest good of all, their relationship with God.
Contrast this with our gospel reading, where we see Jesus, too, is tempted by Satan, who is using the exact same tricks. First, he tries to get Jesus to doubt God. “If you are the Son of God…” he begins each time. But this does not work, for Jesus will never doubt His loving Father. 
Satan also tempts Jesus with seemingly good things. “Turn these stones into loves of bread.” Bread is a good thing. Jesus was fasting and so was hungry. What can be more good to a hungry person than food? Satan tempts Jesus with power. He offers to give Jesus dominion over all the kingdoms of the world. Imagine the good that Jesus could achieve with that kind of political power. All that Satan asks for in return is that Christ worship him. And this Christ could not do. He would never worship Satan, a creature, over God, the Creator. Jesus would never choose a lesser good at the expense of the greatest good.
Satan is not creative. He is powerful. He is conniving, He is tireless. But he is not creative. When it comes to temptation, He is a one-trick pony. He tempts you and I in the same way that he tempted Jesus in the desert, and Adam and Eve in the garden. He tempts us first by getting us to mistrust God. Did God really say you shouldn’t do that…? Surely God wouldn’t punish you for that… Surely God wouldn’t mind…

Then he offers us something that is seemingly good. Every sin we are tempted to commit has at its heart a kernel of goodness. Otherwise we would not find it attractive. We want love. We want pleasure. We want power. We want affirmation. We want security. We want all of these things. And all of these things are good, as far as they go. But there are right ways and wrong ways to pursue them. And when we seek these good things at the expense of the greatest good, at the expense of our fidelity to God and to His commands, then we fall. We yield to the devil’s temptation.
This Lent we should do two things. First, we should reflect back on our lives and identify those times when, like our first parents, we succumbed to the temptations of the devil. Identify those times we have fallen into sin, like Adam and Even, and repent from them. Turn away from them. Come before God humbly in the sacrament of Reconciliation and receive the loving mercy won for us in Christ.
Second, we should pray, every day, for the strength to be like Christ; to resist every effort of Satan to plant the seed of doubt in our hearts and to pull us away from God. We should pray every day to God to “lead us not into temptation,” with confidence in our hearts that, with Christ as our helper, we will have the strength to remain true to our loving Father all the days of our lives; that we will have the conviction to never choose a lesser good over the greatest good of all.
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Still Trying To Decide What to Give Up for Lent?

It’s Fat Tuesday. Do you know yet what you are giving up for Lent? If you are scrambling for ideas and still trying to decide, here are some helpful tips. (No, this won’t be another “10 ideas for Lent” click-bait list).

What’s Required?

First of all, know that you are not required to give up anything specific for Lent (or give up anything at all, really). All you are required to “give up” during Lent is meat on Fridays and Ash Wednesday, and food (in the form of fasting) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting means only having one meal during the day, though it does not preclude taking other food if necessary so long as it does not equal another meal. Catholics 14 and older are bound to abstain from meat, while Catholics ages 18-59 are bound by the fasting law. All things considered, that’s not much.

So Why “Give Up” Something?

If all that is required is what is mentioned above, why do Catholics typically give up other things during Lent? It’s because Lent overall is a season of fasting, prayer, and charity. Fasting should be part of our Lenten experience. That’s why we are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, marking the beginning and ending of Lent. But it’s good to fast in other ways all through Lent. The US Bishops recommend fasting on all weekdays of Lent. This won’t be possible for everyone, though. So most of us will choose to fast in a limited way by voluntarily giving up something, usually food-related.
So you may choose to fast from desserts, from snacking between meals, from meat, from coffee, from alcohol, or some other type of food. 

It’s Not a Diet

Keep in mind our fasting is supposed to be for our spiritual benefit, not necessarily our health. If you want to give up carbs so that you can lose a few pounds by the summer, that’s a diet, not fasting. Dieting for your health may be a praiseworthy endeavor, but that’s not the point of the Lenten fast. Our Lenten fast is about both doing penance and also disciplining ourselves to learn to resist bodily pleasures. By denying ourselves something good that we desire (like chocolate or coffee), we learn to deny ourselves more illicit pleasures when the temptation to sin arises. 
With that in mind, the thing you choose to give up should be something good. Otherwise it is not a sacrifice. It should also be something that you feel attached to in some way. It should be something you will miss. If you only drink a couple of beers on the weekend, then giving up alcohol for Lent won’t be much of a sacrifice for you. You may not even notice it. But if you habitually eat dessert after each meal, giving up dessert will have a great impact on your daily life. 
Try to choose something that you will feel the absence of each day. You want it to be difficult to give up — but not impossible. Don’t set yourself up for failure. You want your Lenten sacrifice to be hard, but not too hard.

It’s Voluntary

Remember, too, that your Lenten fast is self-imposed. Apart from the requirements mentioned above, what you give up is up to you. That means you can make changes as you go, if you feel they are necessary. If you start out Lent by giving up caffeine, you may find two weeks in that it’s much easier than you think. You don’t miss it at all. It doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice. Perhaps, then, you should consider giving up something else.
Alternately, you may find that without caffeine, you are especially grouchy. You feel miserable, and are making others around you miserable. It starts to negatively affect your friendships, or makes it very hard for you to study. This may also be a reason for giving up something else. Your Lenten sacrifice should be a sacrifice for you not for those around you.

Think Outside the Box

We typically think of giving up something food related, because of the connection to fasting. But you are free to do penance in other ways. One year my pre-teen daughter gave up her bed, sleeping on the floor of her room all of Lent. Some people will give up Netflix or social media. I had a student once who gave up eating with utensils.

Some will suggest giving up your time by devoting extra time during the day to prayer, spiritual reading, or doing charitable acts. These are all good things, and go right along with the Lenten practices of prayer and works of charity. So I’m not saying don’t do them. Definitely do them. But, in my opinion, they don’t really address the spirit of fasting. Fasting calls us to do without. It reminds us that the material things of this world, as good as they are, are not the greatest good. By voluntarily denying ourselves the happiness we get from food, drink, or other material things, we learn to turn to God as our primary source of happiness, and so grow one step closer to that eternal happiness we are called to enjoy forever in heaven.

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