Hope in the Lord

The Psalm today ends with the line “My soul has hoped in the Lord.” What does it mean to have hope?

We use the word hope in many different ways throughout our day. We could hope that the pizza we ordered is delivered on time. We could hope that we get the promotion at work. Or we could hope that the weather cooperates so we can enjoy a day outside.

But the Catholic Church sees hope as more than that. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” It goes on to say: “The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.”

Wow! When we read that, we can’t help but feel encouraged. Hope is so much more than a wish or a desire.

When we put it in a theological perspective, we understand that hope is what will lead us to Christ. Yet we see also that hope requires action on our part. We can’t just hope that we get to heaven and then sit back and not work toward attaining it. Further, we must allow God to work through us. As the Catechism says, hope as a virtue takes that innate desire for happiness and purifies it, or makes it good, so that any resultant desire or action will glorify God, thereby leading us to Him.

It is our hope in Christ that convinces us that He walks with us through our trials, that He carries us in times of extreme difficulty, and that He will never leave us. It is our hope that tells us there is something more than our lives here on earth. It is our hope that tells us that, even though our lives may be complicated or even when we experience personal tragedies, Christ loves us and wants us for all eternity. Imagine that! He wants us! We can’t help but rejoice in that knowledge!

We need this hope today! Divisions within the country and even divisions within the Church can drain us. Like a dried-out sponge that needs liquid to fulfill its sponge-like nature, we crave a nourishment that will enliven us and make us new. That nourishment is our Lord.

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

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Persistence In Prayer

We hear in today’s reading and Gospel about the importance of not just prayer, but persistence in prayer. Queen Esther spends the day praying to God for help in freeing her enslaved people, the Jews.  She is described as being in “mortal anguish” as she lay on the ground begging God to give her the right words. This passage is just the beginning of a much longer prayer but in it we see elements of a perfect prayer. She begins by praising and blessing God. She knows he is the God of her forefathers and that he answers prayers. She acknowledges – twice – that she is alone and dependent on God. She approaches him with humility and faith in his good will. 

Then she asks God for what she desires – help in saving her people from death. Her husband, the king and his chief minister were planning to kill all the Jews in the empire. Being Jewish herself, Esther couldn’t let this happen and knew she was in a position to help but she didn’t know how. So she turned to God fully believing that as he had saved the Jews in the past, he would do so again. She knew that it would be him working through her that would save them.

Today’s Gospel follows the theme of persistence in prayer. Jesus exhorts us to ask, seek, and knock. He assures us we will receive and draws the parallel of God as our father. If we as sinful people, would grant our own children’s request, so much more will the perfect Almighty Father give good things to us. Jesus assures us all we need to do is ask him. 

We can be bold in approaching the Father because Jesus came to earth to restore our broken relationship with God. He is the door to our Father; he is the Way. God is not an unreachable deity in the sky who sits dispassionately in judgment. Rather he is a loving Father who desires good for us. Does this mean we can ask for and receive a money tree for our backyard or anything else equally silly? No. What it means is that we can go to Him in prayer, praising him, thanking him, and knowing he sees us and hears us. With our faithful hearts we believe that while we may not get what we think we want, we will get what God knows we need and that is always perfect. 

We are blessed to be the children of a Father who will not be outdone in generosity. When we go to him, whether it is in sorrow, fear, confusion, or anxiety, we are assured that he is with us and will give us what we need to continue to grow more in love with him. 

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Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids.  She loves finding God in the silly and ordinary.  She writes for Ascension Press, Catholic Mom, and her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is expected to be released summer 2021. You can reach her at merridith.frediani@gmail.com

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The Thought Of Losing Me

“At the judgment,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them….(T)he men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it.” Why will “this generation” be condemned? Because they will not accept him as their salvation! The people of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba were open to the truth, and so, even though they were not part of the Chosen People, they accepted the wisdom of their God. They recognized Truth when they heard it.

Will they really “condemn” others? Not in the sense of exercising the power of judgment against them (this belongs to Christ alone), but only in the sense that their actions and choices will be seen to be superior to the actions and choices of “the Jews” of Jesus’ time, according to Venerable Bede.

Jesus is again pleading with the people to see and accept the Truth that he has come to proclaim, so he points to familiar events of the past to say, “Even THESE people recognized and were open to the Truth – these Gentiles! Surely, you are in a better position to choose rightly than they were!” And he seems to give a little “clue” that will make sense to them later, if they dare to consider it after the Resurrection: Just as Jonah spent three days in the belly of a whale (during which time he would be presumed dead) and came out alive, so Jesus will be killed and spend three days in the earth and emerge alive and glorified. Will they accept him then?

We might take these words of Jesus to prayer and ask him to show us any hidden or subtle resistance we have to accepting Him fully. Lent is the time set aside each year when we examine our hearts more thoroughly, and ask for the grace to see what obstacles we may yet have to God’s Truth and saving action in our lives.

What distractions do I allow to keep me from spending more time with Jesus?

What am I still striving for, except Jesus?

What do I think I need to remain safe and happy, beyond Jesus?

Where am I still afraid to surrender fully to Jesus?

What do I think I need to do to become my best self, besides Jesus?

Lent is a time to appreciate again, anew, aright, that the overwhelming love that Jesus has for me drove him all the way to the Cross – because he knew that without the Cross, I could not find joy or security or peace, and I could not be with him forever! It is the thought of losing me that kept him going through his long Passion. The thought of losing HIM should keep me going through the little self-denials of Lent.

Let’s let go of all that is not valuable this Lent, so that our hands are free to embrace our Savior fully.

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Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including newly ordained Father Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.

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The Perfect Prayer

In the First Reading we hear, “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me empty, but shall do what pleases me, achieving the end for which I sent it” Isaiah 55:11. This verse is reassuring. It reminds me that God always has a plan and a purpose, and nothing is wasted. I think this is one reason why it’s necessary to know God’s word. Scripture is full of truth, beauty and goodness. When we know the Word, we know Truth. 

The Gospel gives us the prayer Jesus taught. How often do we pray the Lord’s Prayer? It is part of liturgies, of other prayers, and it may be one of the first prayers we learned as children. Jesus taught it to his disciples to remind them that prayer, to be effective, is best when it is sincere. Long winded prayers which attract attention are not God is looking for from us. I think about this also when I am praying with a group and ask if anyone has prayer intentions. Some people give you so much information about the person and situation that I get more wrapped up in the story than the prayer needed. I tend to be more of a minimalist, a first name and short request, relying on the fact that Jesus said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” 

And what about the prayer itself? It really does cover all our needs. Notice though, before it gets to “me” we give honor and glory to God. We pray for the coming of his kingdom. Then we pray for ourselves, for our physical and spiritual well-being. Of course, Jesus would give us the perfect prayer. Now it is up to us to make good use of it. Sometimes when we pray the same prayer repeatedly, it becomes words that come out of our mouth without any thought of meaning or intention. 

Today might be a good day to slow down and pray the Our Father slowly. Taking time with each phrase to pray for specific intentions. For example: Our Father (thank you for being the perfect Father, help me to love and care for others as you do), who art in heaven (I give you glory Lord) hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come (may all people come to know that you are God, who made them and wants their good), they will be done (Father, I want to do your will, guide me today to follow you). I think you get the idea. If this is not appealing to you, then simply slow down, carefully enunciate the words so that you hear them, and they lift your heart and mind to God. After all, isn’t that what prayer is?

Just as God’s word fulfills the purpose it is meant, our prayers, said in faith in trust, fulfill their purpose.

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Deanna G. Bartalini, MEd, MPS, is a Catholic educator, writer, speaker, and retreat leader. She has served in ministry for over 40 years as a catechist, religious education director, youth minister, liturgical coordinator, stewardship director and Unbound prayer minister. For all of Deanna’s current work go to DeannaBartalini.com. 

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Are You Blessed by Faith?

Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The answers varied from a prophet to John the Baptist. He then asks the question each of us should carefully contemplate our answer to, “But who do you yourselves say that I am?”

Who is Jesus in your life? Simon Peter knows He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Remarkably not by the words of man but through God—from heaven above.  For this proclamation, Jesus responds to Peter, “Blessed are you.” In the Scriptures, we meet others, who were likewise referred to as blessed for believing the revelations of God. At the Visitation, Elizabeth cries out to Mary, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”

To the no longer doubting Thomas, Jesus says, “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” There seems to be a pattern emerging of how one becomes blessed. It is not through some heroic deed but through faith—the kind that comes from the heart and not through the eyes. I long to be known as blessed, to imitate the trust exemplified in Mary, Peter and Thomas, not superhuman actions but acts of incredible faith.

The author of Hebrews illuminates the meaning of faith, writing, “Now faith is the certainty of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen…By faith, we understand that the world has been created by the word of God so that what is seen has not been made out of things that are visible.” Then, one by one, he shares the power of and the remarkable results to be someone living by faith. 

By faith, they received approval from God and his righteousness. By faith, they found heaven and were taken into the presence of God. By faith, they could do the impossible. By faith, they were saved and not condemned. By faith, they were called out of a place and into their inheritance, into the Kingdom of God. Hebrews 11 unfolds blessing after blessing of living your life by faith. Although considered people of old, their legacy is ours as daughters and sons of a Heavenly Father. By faith, we, too, by simply believing, can do great things for the glory of God and have the resolute assurance of the promises of Christ.

How do you answer Jesus’ question?  Who do you say Jesus is? Do you believe what you read in the Gospels? Do you believe the prophets, do you trust what you feel in your heart, laid there by the power of the Holy Spirit? Do we need to be like Thomas and touch Jesus’ wounds, or can we be blessed because we believe, although we do not see? Like Mary, we can choose to believe that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken by the Lord. Lastly, like Peter in today’s Gospel, we too can be blessed by proclaiming with our lips and from our hearts that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the son of God, our Savior and Redeemer.

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Allison Gingras works for WINE: Women In the New Evangelization as National WINE Steward of the Virtual Vineyard. She is a Social Media Consultant for the Diocese of Fall River and CatholicMom.com. She is a writer, speaker, and podcaster, who founded ReconciledToYou.com and developed the Stay Connected Journals for Catholic Women (OSV).   

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God’s Covenant

Gn 9:8-15 is one of our first introductions to the word “covenant”. The word speaks of God’s promise to us. It is not through our works that we will receive grace, but through God’s goodness. In His covenant to Noah, God vows to make a covenant between Himself and the earth. Is this not a foreshadowing of the ultimate covenant He establishes for us in sending His only begotten Son, God incarnate, to us? 

As we recall in today’s Gospel, Christ came down to live the human experience, both its joys and its sorrows. His forty days in the desert are only the beginning of this great sacrifice. Through Christ, God shows that His love for us surpasses all. In times where we may question “where are you Lord?” we must recall that God is always with us through His beloved Son Christ. How infinitely blessed are we, who, made from dust, can now encounter the joys of eternal salvation! 

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Dr. Alexis Dallara-Marsh is a board-certified neurologist who practices in Bergen County, NJ. She is a wife to her best friend, Akeem, and a mother of two little ones on Earth and two others in heaven above.

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Caught In The Gaze Of Jesus

Who was this “tax collector named Levi” in today’s Gospel? How did he enter into this profession? How many hours had Levi sat at the customs post counting and calculating the taxes he collected? What had he purchased for himself with the wealth that he drew for himself? How many years had gone into establishing his reputation and identity as a tax collector?

Then Jesus comes, probably with his disciples. He “sees” Levi.

What would this be like, to have Jesus really SEE us? Well, it would undoubtedly change us, like it changed Levi. Levi, who had built a life as a collector of taxes, who has established a reputation in the community, who has gathered comfortable wealth to himself, is changed under the gaze of Jesus, so that when Jesus says, “Follow me,” Levi DOES. Levi leaves it all – he leaves everything behind – gets up, and follows Jesus!

It’s worth asking ourselves seriously what we would do in Levi’s sandals. Would we be able to leave everything behind, and go wherever Jesus leads? Could I leave behind my job, my home, whatever I have built up for now and for the future, for the love of God? The few words used by St. Luke to express this scene may make this seem like an easy thing, but there is something profound and phenomenal happening here.  There is a seismic change within Levi, who suddenly knows that the “security” he has established for himself is not secure at all, the comfort he has carved out for himself is not satisfying, the plans he has made for himself are not worth pursuing. When caught in the gaze of Jesus, Levi sees possibilities that he could not see before.

Isn’t this partly what Lent is about? We pray to allow ourselves to be caught in the gaze of Jesus, who is always seeking us and always for  us, so that in his gaze we recognize the needs and yearnings of our own hearts more deeply, and are moved to let go of all our own ideas about our lives. When we are willing to set aside our own agendas and open ourselves fully to God’s Plan for us, we receive the grace to “leave everything behind” and follow him.

Not many of us actually have to leave our whole lives behind and start something new – our families and homes and possessions and jobs are gifts from the Lord. But we can receive the grace to really SEE that everything is a gift and to put all our gifts and talents in service to God’s will for us, rather than our own will for us. Our activity becomes directed to the good of others and God’s glory, rather than our own ideas of comfort and security. We learn to trust in the Providence of God, rather than our own providing.

This is the “newness” in which the Lord invites us to walk this Lent. 

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Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including newly ordained Father Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.

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Staying On the Path Toward God When Fasting

Of the three primary penitential practices of Lent, namely prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, fasting is the one that most often gets off track as a spiritual practice.

How often does fasting become a weight loss strategy instead of a path to spiritual growth? How often does it turn into a prideful personal challenge of toughness instead of turning us toward God? How often does fasting become a game of following the letter of the law, not the spirit, and we do things like give up ice cream but eat twice as much candy?

Now, fasting can lead to incredible spiritual growth and closeness to God, but our minds and spirits must guide the physical practice of fasting. Through fasting we can loosen the grip of unhealthy physical attachments that we have in this world. We can discover our reliance on God. We can see more clearly God’s will for us.  Our actions will naturally be filled with mercy when we are closer to God and wholeheartedly seeking His will.

There is no room for God to give us these and other benefits from fasting, though, if we are preoccupied with our own motives and goals in fasting. Today I pray that the Lord may help us to have integrity of mind, body, and spirit when we fast, and that through our fasting we can create a channel for His grace to flow more deeply into our souls.

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J.M. Pallas has had a lifelong love of Scriptures. When she is not busy with her vocation as a wife and mother to her “1 Samuel 1” son, or her vocation as a public health educator, you may find her at her parish women’s bible study, affectionately known as “The Bible Chicks.”

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Lent is here! Get it into Gear

Day Two of Lent and we are well on our way along the well-worn paths of Lenten themes. Jesus comes out strong today with some classic Lenten phrases: “Deny yourself, take up your cross, follow me,” and “Whoever loses his life will save it.” You might be thinking, “Woah there, Lent just got started. Isn’t that a little strong for the opener?”

Both yes and no, from my perspective at least. Yes, this is a strong way to begin Lent. Just look at the last line of today’s Gospel, “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world, yet lose or forfeit himself?” These are revolutionary words since they go against pretty much all of human nature. Consider the first sin of Adam and Eve. They grasped for what they thought would make them happy, would broaden their horizons. But at what cost? 

Up and down the centuries, this sin of pride and greed, this grasping for what is out of our reach, has thwarted the best and worst of us alike. We all struggle with a deep fear that what we have will be taken away and we will be left without. So we work, we grasp, to gain whatever we can that we think will protect us from this fear. Jesus is pressing on that fear, deftly identifying with surgical precision the root of the human condition. Lent is here, get it into gear says Jesus.

At the start of Lent, a time when we are supposed to take the time to look inward and discover where we need to grow, Jesus is pointing out to each one of us a good place to start. What are we fearful to lose? What are we doing or acquiring that we think will alleviate that fear? How much time or space does it consume?

Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, “I don’t want to gain the whole world. I’m not some mad scientist trying to take over the world after all. I just want to be comfortable, to have security for the future, food on the table, normal stuff.” I’m glad you’re not a mad scientist or evil genius, but Jesus is asking you to consider stretching yourself this Lent. What does it mean to be “comfortable?” What would Jesus consider “comfortable” if He walked into your home today? 

Are we supposed to care for and provide for the families God has given us? Yes, of course! But we are also supposed to care for our neighbors, strangers, others, with love and support as well. 

Lent is a time where purposefully widen our gaze. The world encourages tunnel vision – I do me and you do you. We are called to something more. We are members of a community, a Body. We lose ourselves when we struggle to gain alone. We find ourselves when we work together for the good of each person in our community. 

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Kate Taliaferro is an Air Force wife and mother. She is blessed to be able to homeschool, bake bread and fold endless piles of laundry. When not planning a school day, writing a blog post or cooking pasta, Kate can be found curled up with a book or working with some kind of fiber craft. Kate blogs at DailyGraces.net.

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Repent!

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17).

These are the first words of Jesus’ public ministry. Today, Ash Wednesday, we have greater occasion to reflect on them. Of course, we know the basics of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We’re probably still thinking about what to do in each of these areas, and I’m sure our friends and pastors will have some helpful advice. But today more than ever, we ought to have an oft-neglected subject in mind: repentance.

Our readings are shot through with contrition, intense sorrow of the heart for sin. We hear Joel’s powerful call to “proclaim a fast” and to return to the Lord with “weeping and mourning” (Joel 2:12, 15), and we read from the famous Psalm 51, which David created after committing murder and adultery. The Scriptures express a sorrow that we often do not experience. 

Sure, we’re familiar with sorrow. We have plenty of occasions to mess up, and therefore plenty of occasions to apologize. But can we relate to the intensity of Joel’s sorrow? Can we relate to David’s profound contrition? It’s important to remember that the people of the Old Testament, at certain times, were accustomed to expressing their sorrow for sin by wearing sackcloth and covering themselves in ashes. Why go so far?

In our psalm, David says “against you [the Lord] only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:6). By saying this, he acknowledges that ultimately, all sin can be referred back to God. When we take that perspective, we can understand his contrition more clearly.

Sin is, at its core, a turning away from God, elevating some created person or thing above Him. In sinning, we’re saying, “That’s nice, God, but I’d really prefer to listen to myself (or someone else) right now. I know that You created me and that everything You ask of me is for my own good and happiness, but I don’t really believe that right now.”

Knowing what sin really is and how much it offends Our Lord, why would we ever deliberately do it? How can we get so carried away by our own desires and by the temptations of the world and Satan that we forget who our Creator is? Do we really want to give Him another reason for His ultimate sacrifice on the Cross? “God, I appreciate what You’re doing for me, and I know it’s painful, but could you stay up there a bit longer? There are some things I’d like to do.”

Now, we aren’t usually so callous when we sin. However, we need to understand that each sin against God (which all sins are) is saying these things to a greater or lesser degree. When we see this, we can begin to understand Joel and David. We can begin to understand the point of such great lengths as sackcloth, ashes, and public penance. We can embark on our Lenten prayer, fasting, and almsgiving practices with greater fervor.

This perspective, coupled with the firm confidence (also in our readings) that God will accept our repentance and replace our sin with grace, will allow us to have a truly fruitful Lent. We can foster these attitudes through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and frequent Confession. This is a powerful time, when the entire Church atones for its sins, experiencing a purgative season. We experience discomfort and sorrow for forty days, but these days bear great fruit. In the end, we experience the mercy, love, and forgiveness of the Savior, and we merit grace for the salvation of souls.

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David Dashiell is a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader based in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. His writing has been featured in Crisis Magazine and The Imaginative Conservative, and his editing is done for a variety of publishers, such as Sophia Institute and Scepter. He can be reached at ddashiellwork@gmail.com.

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