Forty Days, Forty Ways to Exercise Good Stewardship of Lent and Easter

Are you looking for ideas to help you with your Lenten experience? Here are 40 ideas to fill the 40 days of Lent and the beginning of the Easter season.

  1. Attempt a more intentional prayer life – start a habit in the morning and before bedtime.
  2. Attend Mass on Ash Wednesday. Wear your ashes out into the world as a witness to our faith. Mass for Ash Wednesday will be celebrated at 8 a.m. and 12:10 p.m. in English.  A bilingual Mass will be offered at 5:30 p.m. and a service in Spanish will follow at 7 p.m.
  3. Make a prayer basket at home – slips of paper or construction paper hearts (invite kids to participate) writing names or intentions that each person around the table picks out before each meal.
  4. Attend a weekday Mass. Our parish celebrates Mass Monday through Friday at 8 a.m.
  5. Pray the rosary.
  6. Make a point of experiencing the sacrament of reconciliation at the beginning and end of Lent. Consider inviting someone who’s been away from the sacrament to join you. Our parish offers the Sacrament at 8 a.m. on Saturdays.  We will have a Communal Penance Service on Friday, April 5 at 7 p.m.
  7. Pray for someone with whom you are out of touch.  Reconcile with someone you’ve hurt or aren’t speaking to.
  8. Attend a Lenten Bible Study with Father Ceaser on Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. in the Star of the Sea Center; invite others to join you.
  9. Give up meat on Fridays but don’t substitute lobster – make fasting something that is truly sacrificial.
  10. Resolve to stop engaging in rumors, gossip, and negative chatter that devalues others.
  11. Begin and end each week with an e-mail thanking someone for all that they do.
  12. Be sure to say grace at any restaurant you frequent (don’t dodge making the Sign of the Cross either).
  13. Buy a cup of coffee for someone living on the street but not until you learn their name and exchange in some conversation.
  14. Pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Our Blessed Sacrament Chapel is open M-F 8:30-5, and until 7 p.m. on Tuesdays.
  15. Pick up a brown grocery bag in the back of the church and contribute to our St. Mary’s Parish Pantry by providing basic food staples listed on the bag.
  16. Invite someone who’s been away from the church to attend Mass with you.
  17. Make a gift to a charitable cause – make it a sacrificial gift.
  18. Make a commitment to the “40 Days for Life” to support the unborn.
  19. Thank a bishop, priest or member of a religious congregation for their public witness – invite them out for coffee or a meal.
  20. Learn about the life of a saint, perhaps our parish saint.
  21. Visit someone who’s alone.
  22. Reflect on the most pressing challenges confronting our Church and pray for a Spirit-filled response.
  23. Pray for our Holy Father, Pope Francis.
  24. Attend the Stations of the Cross. We will pray the Stations of the Cross in English on Fridays after the 8 a.m. Mass (except on April 1) and at the School for families on Fridays at 6 p.m.
  25. Find out if there is a person participating in your parish’s RCIA program and send a note of encouragement.
  26. Find out how our diocese is involved in refugee resettlement and see how you can help.
  27. Attend our Good Friday Services. Good Friday Stations of the Cross at 12 noon, Seven Last Words of Christ at 2 p.m. and the Good Friday Liturgy at 3 p.m.
  28. Make time for family activities that are faith-related such as reading the Bible as a family.
  29. Keep a journal during Lent about your spiritual highs/lows.
  30. Make a playlist of spiritual music that you enjoy and share it with a friend.
  31. Embrace periods of silence in each day.
  32. Offer to be part of the church preparation crew or cleanup crew for the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday – Good Friday – Holy Saturday) liturgies.
  33. Commit to a parish ministry or try a different ministry than the one you in which you are currently engaged.
  34. Cut your media consumption to open time for prayer or scripture reading. Start and end each day free from the influence of the media.
  35. Attend a Friday fish fry at a local parish with friends or coworkers. It’s not the healthiest meal, but a fun Catholic tradition to join others and help you abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent. Or, you can attend Family Stations of the Cross at School on the Fridays in Lent and participate in a Meatless Pot Luck Dinner.
  36. Find a form of Lenten fast appropriate for your age and state of health.
  37. Buy a book of daily spiritual reflections, keep it by your bed and read it upon rising or retiring or both.
  38. Dedicate a portion of your time during Lent to serve others such as working at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
  39. Participate in Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS) Rice Bowl collection. Visit crsricebowl.org to watch videos of the people and communities you support through your Lenten gifts to CRS Rice Bowl.
  40. Invite someone you know who will be alone to Easter Sunday dinner.

Listing Our God-given Gifts Inspires an “Attitude of Gratitude”

By Rev. Joseph D. Creedon, pastor emeritus, Christ the King Parish, Providence, Rhode Island.  This excerpt is sixth in a series based on his current book.

Stewardship requires an “attitude of gratitude.” Many times we are inclined to take too much credit for our successes in life and too little blame for our failures. The best antidote I have discovered for the hubris of our sense of self-importance is to set aside time to compile a list of the gifts we have received from God.

The Gift of Life: Life is a gift from God. None of us did anything to deserve being born. Spend a few moments being thankful for still being alive. My younger brother, Mike, died at the age of 56. He was a delightful human being, a loving husband, father, teacher, coach and friend. He died too young. His family and my brothers and I could focus on what was taken from us or focus on the gift of having him in our lives for whatever part of his 56 years we shared. Life is a gift and we need to live each day thanking God for it.

The Gift of Family: Just as we did nothing to deserve being born, we did nothing to deserve the parents and siblings we were given. Sometimes it takes time to fully appreciate the gift of family. There were times when I would have traded in my parents for another set that would have met my perceived needs of the moment. Fortunately, I have lived long enough to realize that they were the best parents for me. My older brother has expressed it this way, “Our father demanded perfection and our mother convinced us that we could live up to his expectation.” Once we embrace family as gift, it is amazing how the things that could drive us apart lose their power.

The Gift of Education: I have never met anyone who did not have a story about a teacher who changed her or his life. I have my list of such teachers; I’m sure you have yours. Education has changed our worldview and our self-understanding. We have learned from coaches, scout leaders, neighbors, relatives and friends. All learning is a gift from God. We need to be more thankful for the gift of our education.

The Gift of Vocation: Nothing in life is as important as discovering what God wants us to do with our lives. I truly believe that God wanted me to be a priest. Many people seem to get lost in their search to discover who and what God wants them to be but the happiest and most fulfilled people I know are those who are doing what they love and love what they are doing. The Gift of Friends: Let us say together, “We do not deserve the friends we have!”

The gift of friendship is so precious. Our friends love us not in spite of our faults but because of them. Friends encourage us to grow and take risks. Friends teach us that time is a gift when they chose to share time with us. Most important of all, our friends see our gifts and talents before we do and they lovingly encourage us to recognize and develop our hidden gifts.

The above list of gifts is not meant to be exhaustive; it is offered as an outline. I hope you will use it to create your own list of gifts. Unless we make ourselves aware of the many gifts God has sown in our lives we will never develop the “attitude of gratitude” that is essential for the spirituality of stewardship to take root in our lives.

Christian Stewards: “Blessed, Grateful, Giving”

By Leisa Anslinger, Associate Department Director for Pastoral Life, Archdiocese of Cincinnati

Many years ago, I was given a handcrafted wall plaque that reads, “thankful, grateful, blessed.” It has been hanging in my kitchen ever since, and has accompanied my husband and myself through multiple moves, to multiple kitchens. I have seen other wall hangings and greeting cards with the same three words, in the same order: thankful, grateful, blessed.

While I am often drawn to reflect on these three words and their deep spiritual meaning, it has always seemed to me that the words are “misplaced,” in reverse order. First, we are blessed. The initiative is always on the part of God. In fact, we are and will always be more richly blessed than we can begin to comprehend. God loves us first. The more deeply we come to know our blessedness, and grasp that our blessed state is an outpouring of the grace of God, the greater must be our growth in gratitude, in thankfulness. The life and growth of the steward is of recognizing the blessings and growing in gratitude for them, which leads to our grateful response.

The plaque on the wall should read, I believe, “blessed, grateful, thankful.” Or better yet, “blessed, grateful, giving.” On our best days, we are keenly aware of the blessings of life: faith, relationships, talents, gifts, and resources. We are awake to and aware of the world around us and see God’s hand in all of creation. Yet in our human frailty, we lose sight. We fail to perceive and become blind to the blessings within and around us. We even go so far as to take it all for granted, and sometimes yearn for more, searching for more earthly wealth and material riches rather than seeking and finding what is always there — the presence of God in our very midst.

In this extended moment of Ordinary Time before Lent, let us be mindful that nothing in this life is “ordinary.” All is extraordinarily and abundantly filled with the life and grace of God, which we are called to steward well.

The Sermon on the Plain: A Call to Conversion

The message Jesus delivers in the Gospel reading on the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (February 17) is a difficult one for many to swallow. It is one of those Bible teachings meant to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” The Gospel reading is Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain” and in it we can see how skillfully the writer, Saint Luke, brings us to a place where we must take the words of Jesus with the utmost seriousness (Luke 6:17, 20-26).

While Saint Matthew, in his Gospel, begins the “Sermon on the Mount” with eight beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), Luke’s Jesus begins the Sermon on the Plain with just four beatitudes, “blessings,” and four woes. Jesus suggests that there exists a divide between the “blessed” and the “woeful.” It is, however, not the divide that our world would create between winners and losers or the successful and unsuccessful. The blessed may be poor or hungry or weeping or hated. But they are blessed by their faith and trust in God’s mercy and justice and future for them in the kingdom of heaven. To be “blessed” does not mean an absence of struggle. Indeed, to be in a Eucharistic community that lives the Gospel invites exclusion, defamation and even hatred. To be blessed is to live through such opposition aware that the struggle is temporary and that “your reward is great in heaven.”

 

The woeful, on the other hand, are those who have grown comfortable and smug. They may not experience discomfort during this life. But their relative abundance, plentiful tables and good times now will place their future in jeopardy. To live under the verdict of “woe” means condemnation. Notably, Jesus does not ask his listeners to become destitute in order to join the “blessed,” but given the options he presents, it is undeniable that he expects a response that reaches out to others and involves sacrifice. Later in Luke’s Gospel we will meet characters such as Zacchaeus and the Good Samaritan, individuals who were depicted by Luke as willing to put ample material resources at the service of others. The Sermon on the Plain is challenging. It means to take us out of our “comfort zone” and into a conversion of heart, a change of attitude, a change of vision, and a change in behavior. It is a call for courageous acts of discipleship, a call to use the gifts we have been given to serve others, even strangers. It is a call urging us to take action now so the world will feel the presence of Christ. The Sermon on the Plain is the Lord Jesus calling us: “Come. Follow me.”

World Marriage Day – A Day to Celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage

A sage once wrote that a good marriage is like a fire around which others come to warm themselves. So, as we celebrate World Marriage Day on February 10, we realize that no matter our station in life – married, single or religious – we have benefited from this sacred covenant relationship whether through the example of our parents, grandparents, and other role models, or through our own stewardship of the marriage covenant. For the Catholic steward, marriage goes far beyond the legal or societal agreement that our culture might define. For the Catholic steward, marriage is a sacrament that fosters a sacred covenant; establishing family and nurturing the domestic church which we understand is fundamental to our spiritual development. Marriage brings us countless blessings, but is met with many obstacles. Busy schedules, the challenges of parenthood, the strains of finances, mortgages, issues of health and aging – all of these test the bonds of even the finest unions.

World Marriage Day, observed on the second Sunday of each February, is sponsored by Worldwide Marriage Encounter, associated with Catholic Marriage Encounter. Many Catholics have participated in a Marriage Encounter weekend, but no matter how we have endeavored to grow in and to support our marriages, or the marriages of those close to us, we know that marriage does take effort, continuing commitment, deep prayer, great communication, a good sense of humor and faithful love.

This year, the observances of National Marriage Week, February 7 to 14, and World Marriage Day, are an opportunity to focus on building a culture of life and love that begins with supporting and promoting marriage and the family. Take time this February to celebrate marriage, whether by setting aside a special time to devote to your own spouse, or by honoring the marriages that have warmed you and nurtured you throughout your life.

Stewardship Saint of the Month – Saint Cornelius the Centurion

According to the Acts of the Apostles (10:45) the first pagan converted to Christ was an officer of the imperial Roman army. Cornelius the Centurion is described by the scriptures as a devout man who feared God, gave alms generously, and prayed constantly to God (10:1-2). Cornelius and the Apostle Peter had simultaneous visions that eventually brought them together (10:5; 10:15) at Cornelius’ house and in the presence of Cornelius’ whole household. Peter assured Cornelius that God shows no partiality and briefly related the history of Jesus’ preaching and death. At this, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all who were listening, Jew and Gentile alike. Peter was so astounded that the Spirit was given to the pagans as well as the Jews that he readily acceded to Cornelius’ request for baptism for himself and his entire household. When some of the Jewish Christians back in Jerusalem learned of what had happened, they criticized Peter severely. Later a Council had to be convened, headed by James to settle the dispute (Acts 15). Peter was vindicated, and a new missionary outreach to the Gentiles was inaugurated. Cornelius’ feast day is February 4.

Epiphany: To Find Our Meaning in Christ

Epiphany! What a wonderful word. Even its secular definition is thrilling: “a sudden realization about the nature or meaning of something.” It brings all sorts of images to mind: a light bulb suddenly turning on, shedding brilliant illumination; a revelation that brings a gasp; an idea so vivid we pause and give thanks; a truth so powerful we fall to our knees. On Sunday, January 6, 2019 we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. The feast of the Epiphany is all of those things and more. We celebrate the mysterious appearance at Jesus’ birthplace of three men from the East. They had set off on a most quixotic journey, seeking what they would find at the end of a star’s dazzling rays. What, we wonder, did they make of the epiphany with which their journey ended? Did they spend the rest of their lives trying to discern what their discovery of the baby meant, or did the Christ Child gift them with “a sudden realization” of His nature? What more could they, or we, want of a life’s journey, than to find, in our epiphany, the Christ waiting for us? The twelve days of Christmas have led us to this place, where Gentiles from afar have discovered Christ, thereby revealing that He came for everyone, for each one of us throughout history, and not just for the Jewish people to whom he was born. The feast of Epiphany brings us to the last week of our liturgical celebration of Christmas. But for the Christian steward, Epiphany is not an end but a beginning. This feast reminds us that the New Year beckons us to openness about the epiphanies to which God leads us if we but keep an open, prayerful heart, a heart full of deep, awed gratitude. Let us pray never to become too jaded, too full of certainty, too wrapped up in the routine of life to be asleep at the time of epiphany. If we could resolve to keep only one New Year’s Resolution, let it be this: to pay attention to the epiphanies God places before us.

Stewardship Saint for December:  Saint Stephen

The day after Christmas is called “St. Stephen’s Day” to commemorate the first Christian martyr. It is also this “Feast of Stephen” that is mentioned in the English Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslas.” Stephen was a Greek-speaking Jew living in Jerusalem. He became a follower of Jesus Christ and was one of seven individuals chosen by the twelve apostles to serve tables, look after the distribution of the community funds (alms), especially to widows, and assist in the ministry of preaching.

Stephen was also a leader in the Christian group known as the “Hellenists,” a community that had its own synagogues where the scriptures were read in Greek. The Hellenist Christians maintained that the new Christian faith could not grow unless it separated itself from Judaism and specifically the Temple and the Mosaic law. The Hellenists also urged the expansion of the Church’s mission to the Gentiles. The elders in a number of neighboring synagogues opposed Stephen and the Hellenists and charged him with blasphemy for saying that the Temple would be destroyed and that Jesus had set aside the Mosaic law even though Stephen maintained that Jesus came to fulfill the law, not set it aside. When dragged before the Sanhedrin, the supreme legal court of Jewish elders, Stephen made an eloquent defense of the Hellenist Christian teaching. He charged his accusers of trying to stifle the movement of the Holy Spirit, of persecuting those who spoke prophetically and of betraying and murdering Jesus. Then he looked up to heaven and began to describe a vision he was having of the recently executed Jesus standing on the right side of God. The council erupted into a furor and its members began shouting, covered their ears and ordered Stephen to be dragged outside the city and executed.

As he was being stoned to death, Stephen asked God to forgive his attackers while the witnesses to his martyrdom placed their cloaks at the feet of Saul of Tarsus who consented to Stephen’s death. Saul would later undergo a conversion experience and become Saint Paul.

Saint Stephen was one of the most popular saints in the Middle Ages and in many countries his feast day of December 26 is still a public holiday. He is the patron saint of deacons and his name is included in Eucharistic Prayer I of the Mass.

Eight Things You Can Do For the Poor at Christmas

In this new liturgical year, the Gospel of Luke urges us to be mindful of the poor and suffering among us. There are many things we can do during the Advent and Christmas seasons to assist efforts to alleviate hunger in our communities. Whether you volunteer individually, as a family or as part of a group or parish, the possibilities for serving the poor are almost limitless.

Consider doing one or more of the 8 suggestions below:

  1. Pray for the poor, and ask God to transform your own attitudes about those in need, realizing that all of us are poor in some way before God’s grace.
  2. During the Prayers of the Faithful, add your personal petition that the members of the parish community open their hearts to the poor.
  3. Collect food items for our parish food pantry or one in our community.
  4. Volunteer to help in our parish pantry for a day of sorting, bagging or distributing.
  5. Buy fast food gift cards to give out to people you see who need a meal or to those who request your aid on our downtown streets.
  6. Collect fast food and other gift cards to be handed out to those in need who stop by the parish.
  7. Make your own generous financial gift to an organization that serves the poor.
  8. Think about ways to use your professional skills in a volunteer capacity at your chosen anti-hunger organization. There are many programs, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) screening and application assistance centers, food banks, and other anti-hunger organizations, that can use your help to make sure that all eligible people have access to nutrition assistance and anti-hunger programs.

You will find rich rewards in fulfilling these stewardship tasks. For Jesus said that whatever we do for one of the least of his brothers and sisters, we do it for him (see Matthew 25:40)

The Blessed Virgin Mary: Our Model of Stewardship

During the Advent and Christmas seasons, we have a number of opportunities to reflect on and honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is a model of stewardship par excellence. Mary teaches us the meaning of stewardship by her own life witness.

On December 8, we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the conception of Mary in her mother’s womb without the stain of original sin.

On December 12, we celebrate Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe. In 1531 she appeared to Juan Diego on a hill outside Mexico City. A life-size figure of the Virgin as a young, dark-skinned American Indian woman with the face of a mestizo was imprinted on his cloak. The image gave the indigenous people of the Americas assurance that our Blessed Mother was loving and compassionate toward them.

On December 25, when we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord, we celebrate the birth of Jesus through his mother, Mary. The Incarnation took place through Mary’s own flesh, and the infant Jesus was nourished by Mary’s own body.

On January 1, Mary is honored as the “Mother of God,” the greatest of her titles. This title is the foundation for every other title attributed to her as she became the mother of God from the instant Jesus was conceived in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit.