It’s almost Holy Week, a time that writer Michael Ford describes as a “journey within a journey.” I have walked through this holiest of weeks many times and yet it continues to take on new and more significant meaning. Every year, I resonate a bit more strongly with the themes of loss and letting go, of God’s mercy extended and received, and of struggling to follow Jesus as he makes his way through the gates of Jerusalem, into the upper room and out into a garden of agony, along the way of the cross, and into a cold and empty tomb. I brace myself each year for the terrible cruelty that arises in the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. I also take heart in the accounts on Holy Thursday of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet and gifting them with his own Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine.
This year I feel like I am also able to attend to the quiet waiting that is the essence of Holy Saturday. As a child, it was an anticipatory day during which I awaited the candy and the good food we would share as a family on Easter morning. Now it seems more a time of tranquility, one that comes after a storm has passed and all that remains is resting in hopeful expectation for new life to come out of death.
I was in the choir while in elementary school and one of the high points of the year was singing at the Easter Vigil. I still recall the wonder I felt when, during the blackness of night and from the vantage point of the choir loft, I could see light accumulating as the flame from the Paschal candle was passed from one person to the next. I plan to attend the Vigil again this year and, no doubt, will continue to draw hope and joy from a time-honored rite that celebrates life arising from death and the brilliance emerging from places of desolation and despair.
photo © iStockphoto
The origins of the Stations of the Cross stretch back to the Crusades when, as a result of the conquering of the Holy Land, Christians began making pilgrimages to the sacred sites where Jesus lived, suffered, died, and rose from the dead. When travel to these places became either impractical or undoable, due to the recapturing of Jerusalem by the Muslims, the practice of walking the Stations of the Cross took hold. Today, churches, monasteries, and retreat centers have various ways of depicting the Stations through paintings, sculpture, or stained glass.
The meditations for this prayer practice also vary as the tragic walk from condemnation to the cross unfolds. As pilgrims on a journey of faith, we use the Stations of the Cross to reflect on the ways we, too, suffer humiliation, rejection, suffering, and death. This makes the Stations more than a historic re-creation of Jesus’ walk to Golgotha. The prayers draw us into considering how Jesus accompanies those who suffer in today’s world. Thus, the injustice of being arrested and falsely accused, the pain of enduring mockery, torture, and being forced to carry the means of one’s own death, the grace of small acts of compassion in the midst of an agonizing climb, and the surrender of heart and soul to God’s infinite mercy all draw us into a story that is as contemporary as it is ancient.
The Stations of the Cross are one of many spiritual practices that we can undertake as a way to make our way through Lent. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, we can seek ways to find and extend mercy to those who shoulder heavy loads. We can fast from destructive, cynical, or critical thoughts and behaviors, and embrace ones laced with gratitude, humility, and compassion. And we can pray for understanding and generous hearts so that we emerge from Lent changed for the better.
Download my complimentary Stations of the Cross meditation cards and use them with your family or class!
photo © iStockphoto
I recently received a very generous gift from a friend. My first instinct was to demur. In an even greater show of generosity this same friend urged me to simple accept his gift. “Just say thank you,” he suggested. It was a gentle way of letting me know that receiving a gift with graciousness is as vital as extending it in the same fashion.
“Giving alms” is one of three practices that are traditional during Lent. Such practice has an equalizing effect, in that we share our abundance with those who have a deficit of resources. This involves charitable giving, to be sure, but also the donation of time and talent. In this way, almsgiving embodies the core principles of stewardship. The Church provides many ways for us to share our resources through special collections that assist those throughout the world who are struggling with poverty, disease, and violence. On a local level, we can look for opportunities to share what we have with the people we encounter in daily life who wrestle with loneliness, grief, and other forms of heartache.
The curious thing about generosity is the way it regenerates life. In his book, The Enduring Heart, Wilkie Au points out that giving to others energizes us by giving us a sense of purpose. When we lose this spirit of generativity – of passing along what we have to others - we also lose a zest for life. Perhaps this why some of the happiest people appear to be those with the least amount to give. It also explains my friend’s joyful extension of a gift that he wanted me to receive with an equal amount of joy.
Discuss with your family the almsgiving you have practiced so far this Lent. Has it been a joy or a burden? For the coming week, spend time naming the things for which you are grateful and how you want to share your wealth with others. Notice how it alters your attitude when it comes to giving to others.
Share the story of Saint Vincent DePaul with your class. Discuss what changed Vincent’s attitude towards the poor. Then use one of the activities to encourage your students to share their wealth through service to others.
Download my Prayer for a Generous Heart and use it with your family or class.
photo © iStockphoto
Join us for two inspiring and resourceful Webinars that help strengthen the understanding of and engage parents in our Catholic faith.
Kathy Hendricks, a Sadlier Contributing Writer and Consultant, as well as author of A Parent's Guide to Prayer, will share insights into these topics and answer your questions.
For your convenience, each Webinar is presented twice -- choose the day and time that’s best for you.
Catechizing with Story, Symbol and Ritual
Tuesday, March 20- 7:30pm to 8:30pm
Thursday, March 22- 4:30pm to 5:30pm
Engaging Parents in the Life of the Parish
Tuesday, April 24- 7:30pm to 8:30pm
Thursday, April 26- 4:30pm to 5:30pm
For more information about each webinar, click here!
The Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Joseph on March 19th. What little we know about Saint Joseph comes from snippets of his life in the Gospels. He was set to wed Mary when he found out about her surprise pregnancy. Mid-night dreams guided his decisions to remain faithful to her, as well as to provide protection for her and the child Jesus by fleeing with them to Egypt during Herod’s reign of terror. He provided for his family from the time of Jesus’ birth and for years beyond it. The last we hear of Joseph is the account of the family’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem in which Jesus speaks with an authority way beyond his twelve years. Joseph’s steady presence has inspired many to seek his intercession and to follow his sturdy example of fidelity and dependability.
photo © iStockphoto
As I settle back into a routine after four energetic days at the Mid Atlantic Congress, several images remain lodged in my memory. One of the most striking is a patch of daffodils. I spied them when I stepped out of the Baltimore Hilton one evening. Their bright yellow presence served as a perfect visual illustration of the congress theme: Witness Hope!
Other images also come to mind, along with sounds, sensations, and snippets of conversation. Some are wrapped around the lovely talks given by Bishop Gerald Kikanas and other talented speakers as well as the words of the prayers and lyrical voices of the choir. With over 900 people in attendance, there was a great deal of organization that went into the planning and pulling together of the myriad details that makes all such conferences run smoothly. If there were glitches, they stayed well behind the scenes.
The bright hope that seemed to glimmer most of all, however, came in the form of the participants. I offered three presentations – one on catechesis for children, another on compassionate ministry, and a third on maintaining spiritual balance in an off-kilter world. During all of them, I was touched deeply by the level of commitment and caring that was present in the room. Each person exemplified what it means to witness hope through their ministry, whether it’s teaching a group of restless third graders or overseeing an entire catechetical program, bringing communion to the homebound or comfort to those in prison, singing in the choir or proclaiming the Word at weekend liturgy. Like sunlit daffodils blooming in the midst of concrete and steel, they brighten their parishes and the world around them with generosity, kindness, and warmth.
Engage your class or family in a discussion about hope. Take an inventory of the sounds, sights, and sensations that witness to the hope of God in the midst of daily life. Ask each person to share an example of hope.
Click here for a copy of my handouts for “The Compassionate Minister” and “Finding Spiritual Balance in an Off-Kilter World.” If you were at the Mid Atlantic Congress, post a comment about the signs of hope you witnessed during your time in Baltimore.
Download my Saint Patrick’s Day Prayer and use it with your family or class. Then talk about the ways Christ is present in your lives.
photo © iStockphoto
The Easter season is one in which the Church celebrates the fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost as one continuous feast day. The celebration of the Easter season encompasses the Ascension (the return of Jesus Christ to his Father in heaven) and Pentecost itself. As Easter has been called "the Great Sunday," so every Sunday — especially those of the Easter season — is "a little Easter."
Start preparing for Easter with Discovering the New Life of Easter, a Gather In My Name event!
To deepen an understanding of Easter as a season to celebrate new life in Jesus Christ.
To cultivate an awareness of the hope and life that comes through Jesus Christ's Resurrection.
To identify ways to discover signs of the new life of Christ enfolded within daily experience and surroundings.
I have lately developed a new love for the psalms. Being in the throes of change makes the mood swings in these ancient prayers all the more relevant to me. Take Psalm 139. It’s a gorgeous reflection on the depths of one’s being and the ineffable presence of God. “Lord, you have probed me, you know me. You know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar” (vs. 1-2). Without warning, however, it turns into a diatribe against an unidentified foe. “When you would destroy the wicked, O God… With fierce hatred I hate them; enemies I count as my own” (vs. 19; 22). Then it’s back to blissful contemplation of God’s gentle presence. “Probe me, O God, know my heart…” (vs. 23).
I recently directed a retreat on the ways we walk into and out of prayer. The labyrinth played a central part in the day. Unlike a maze, which meanders with no particular direction, a labyrinth has a central destination. It follows several routes, or circuits, that lead to this center and then out again. There are different stops along the way that enhance the experience of prayer-walking a labyrinth. The first is at the entrance, where we pause to ask God’s blessing on our journey. The second is the center where we pray for openness to what God has to reveal to us. The third is the exit where we pause to consider what God would have us take away from our experience and back into our lives.
What I most love about the labyrinth is its convoluted route. Upon entering, it appears to be a straight shot to the center. Instead, the path veers off and starts to wind back upon itself. Just when we assume our destination is imminent, we find we are farthest away. On the outer edges of the labyrinth, we discover the way closest to its center. Like the erratic movement of the psalms, we veer off in various directions as the pathways of prayer open before us.
Jesus instructed his disciples to bring everything to prayer. Since his Jewish heritage immersed him in the language of the psalms, he understood the “mixed emotions” that are integral to these ancient hymns. The angst and the aspirations. The hopes and the heartbreak. The lofty ideals and the baser instincts. God has heard it all. Such knowledge is great comfort as I wend my way along uncertain paths this Lent. May it be the same for you.
Create a labyrinth with your class. Use the directions from the Gather in My Name event, “Walking with Jesus in Ordinary Time”, as a guide.
Use one of the psalms from the Lenten season as part of your family or class prayer. Take note of the different emotions and attitudes that emerge in Psalm 116:116-17 (gratitude); Psalm 19:8-11 (trust); or Psalm 137:1-6 (lamentation and grief).
Download a labyrinth reflection to use for personal prayer or as an activity with your family or class. Use your finger to trace the circuits of the labyrinth as you reflect on the psalms at each point of pausing.
photo © Ron Hendricks
If you are in Baltimore for the Mid-Atlantic Congress For Pastoral Leadership (March 8-10) make sure to attend one of Kathy's sessions!
Date & Time: March 8, 2012 - 1:00 - 2:30 pm
Session: Master Class 1.02
Let the Children Come: The What, Why, and How of Children’s Catechesis
Catechesis for children follows the model set by Jesus. It is warm and welcoming, active and engaging, prayerful and oriented towards justice and compassion. In this session, we will examine the essential elements of catechesis for children and the rationale behind them, as well as strategies for creating an artful, empowering, and inspiring environment in which to draw children together to learn, practice, and express their faith.
Date & Time: March 9, 2012 - 3:30-4:45 pm
Session: Breakout 3.17
The Compassionate Minister
While compassion may seem like a given for anyone involved in pastoral ministry, the demands of the work and the ever-increasing tone of incivility in our society make its intentional practice all the more vital. By increasing our appreciation of the call to compassion that is integral to the mission of Christ and his Church, we can also expand our capacity for kindness, understanding, forgiveness, and gratitude. This is a hopeful and much-needed approach to all catechetical and pastoral ministry.
Date & Time: March 10, 2012 - 2:30 - 3:45 pm
Session: AOB - Ministry Day Breakout C.10
Finding Balance in an Off-Kilter World
These are uncertain times. Economic crises, culture wars, and rising levels of anxiety and incivility make for an increasingly off-kilter environment within the parish and beyond it. As pastoral ministers struggle to keep up with the demands of ministry, they must also rise to the challenge of providing hope and consolation to those they serve. By exiting center ring on a regular basis for prayer, reflection, and rest, ministers are better equipped to walk the tightrope of parish life with grace. In this session, we will examine strategies for reclaiming the ancient practice of Sabbath-keeping, and ways to integrate this practice into one’s life and ministry.
*Be sure to follow @SadlierReligion and @MACongress for updates
Sunday, March 11th, is the Third Sunday of Lent. Plan to spend time this week reflecting on the readings and preparing to celebrate the Eucharist. Gather in My Name offers "Question of the Week" - a free resource to incorporate the Sunday Eucharist into your religion classes, family discussions, or community activities.
Question of the Week: Where do you see zeal for God's work?
Reading 1 Reflection: Exodus 20:1-3,7-8,12-17
Reading 2 Reflection: 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
Gospel: John 2:13-25
Looking for discussion Questions for the above Reading Reflections? Click here!