Category Archives: Lent

Some Almsgiving Options During Lent – and Beyond

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Originally posted on http://digitaldiatribes.wordpress.com on February 24, 2008.

Since it’s Lent, and I have yet to give a good Lenten post, what better day to take care of that than a Sunday? Last year, I put together this post on some of the actual practices during Holy Week. I also addressed our plan for giving to charities here. Giving alms is one of the key Lenten practices, but it is an important part of the Christian life at all times. And while that post discussed a strategy to both challenge your giving levels, but in such a way that you can accommodate it, it did not discuss the charities and/or causes we donate to.

To be a good steward is to give prayerfully, and not recklessly. Supporting a cause that, for example, supports embryonic stem-cell research is not consistent with Catholic teaching. Thus, this giving would actually further an intrinsically evil act. As such, it is not simply the act of giving that counts, but to whom and what you are giving.

This post is certainly not meant to imply that there are not a myriad worthy causes. But this post is to provide a list, links, and information we support (where applicable). Our resources only go so far, so we do not support every single worthy organization that we come across, but I have also included the ones that are on our list of next in line to receive support, should finances allow.

First and foremost, we support our home Parish. I encourage everyone to do the same. If not Catholic, then the church you attend. But this really should be the “first fruits,” because it directly supports the mission of the Church where you are – and where God has placed you for a reason. There are a few circumstances where people are not satisfied with how their parish operates, or perhaps a new priest brings a more liberal theology, etc. In these cases, I still am a supporter of staying a member of the Parish, in order to help bring about change in the right direction. But if you feel giving needs to be re-directed, then give what you would have otherwise given to some other faithful parish or worthy cause. Better yet, though, if you can earmark your funds towards a project in your Parish that you do support, that may be an option as well.

Secondly, we support our Diocese’s Annual Appeal, as well as its We Belong to Christ Capital Campaign. It is very important to us to humble ourselves and trust our Bishop in obedience when he says we need to support this. Read the rest of this entry

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Of Lent, Lenten Practices, Holy Week, and the Triduum

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Originally posted on http://digitaldiatribes.wordpress.com on April 9, 2007.

I feel guilty for not posting during the last week on the Holiest week of the Church year.  As I wrote that first sentence, I recalled the old jokes about Catholics and guilt.  OK, so I don’t feel really, really guilty.  I just feel a little guilty.

But Holy Week has now passed us by and we have embarked upon the 50 days of celebrating the Easter Season!   Woo hoo!    Hey, you non-Catholics can tease us Catholics all you want about our 40 days of Lent and giving things up and not eating meat on Fridays,  but what you fail to realize is the unabashed partying that takes place after all that.   (“Unabashed” and “partying” probably need a more refined, Catholicized, interpretation in this reading.  But still…)

I didn’t really post all that much on the Lenten Season.  I had hoped to get around to it, but life often throws you in another direction.  For me, that direction was my Dad, my kids, my sudden interest on Global Warming and Earth’s cycles, my CD project, and so on.  But I would like to take a little time to reflect on the last 40 days leading up to and culminating in Easter, which is not as much about the Easter Bunny as some may think, and probably more to do with the Resurrection of Christ than many wish. 

We try to give things up as a family and as individual members of the family during the Lenten season.  I try to be careful to be low-key on those things so as to not be building myself up.  But that will not be a concern this year.  If I’m being honest, I don’t think I made Lent the season it was intended to be this year as much as I would should have.  I’m human, and while that is a reason, it’s not an excuse.   But still, our whole family did manage to use the season to get a good confession in – as I think everyone should.  We said more complete Rosaries and/or Divine Mercies as a family, and we greatly curtailed our dining out.  All in all, the season still looked a little different.  In reality, it probably looked more like it should look!  Many people in the world have it a lot worse every day than I have it on my worst day during Lent, that’s for sure.

Holy Week was a little more trying this year because of the situation with Dad.  He offered his own “passion” for the week with the Passion of Christ as best he could, I think.  The Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil are always very enjoyable to me.  I know some people can’t get past the amount of time these services last (although the same people can sit and watch a stupid movie for two hours with no issues) but I hope most people take away the lessons of those days.  Holy Thursday, for any non-Catholics who may be interested, is celebrated in the Catholic Church as a celebration of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.   Of course, that’s the summit of it, but there are other interesting elements involved in that night. 

Normally, the tabernacle in the front of the Church houses our Lord in His Eucharistic presence, and so we genuflect as a sign of reverence.  This becomes commonplace for us and we sometimes forget why why do what we do.  Holy Thursday reminds us, because on that night the hosts are removed from the tabernacle and it is open.  Thus, no genuflection takes place, just a simple bow to the sanctuary.  Also, during the Mass there is a “washing of the feet” ceremony where the Priest washes the feet of the Parishioners.  I always welcome a good explanation of the sign of humility involved with that ritual.  In Christ’s time, this was the ultimate lowering of oneself in complete servitude to another.  The other thing about Holy Thursday that is special is the stripping of religious symbols (or covering them) in the Church.  All crosses/crucifixes are covered, the altar is stripped bare, holy water is emptied, etc.  This is because Holy Thursday marks the beginning of our Lord’s passion.  We will uncover all these things at the Easter Vigil in celebration of His Resurrection.

The Triduum is interesting in that the three days, Holy Thursday – Good Friday – Easter Vigil are all considered to be one continuous and long Mass.  Holy Thursday begins with the Priestly blessing, we have the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist, but there is no profession of faith and no final blessing.  On Good Friday, there is no Mass said.  It is, in fact, the one day of the year where it is not permitted.  Instead, we have a service where we read John’s account of the passion and a veneration of the cross.  The veneration in a large church like ours takes a long time, but it is a wonderful opportunity to symbolically take your burdens and place them at the cross.  We do have communion with Eucharistic hosts consecrated at the Holy Thursday Mass, but no prayer of consecration is said, and thus it is not a Mass.

Finally, the Easter Vigil is the wonderful, high point of the Christian year in the Catholic Church.  The church starts out dark with only a single candle (a large candle that will burn all year, called the Paschal candle) lit.  From this candle, symbolizing Christ as the Light of the world, all persons in the church will receive a flame to light the candles they are holding.  When all is done, the church lights up and the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection begins!   The Vigil is lengthy, but very much worth it.  It is the night that many, many catechumens fully enter membership into the Church.  Any people that have not received a Christian baptism (non-Catholic but Christian baptisms of proper form are valid) are baptized.  Children are baptized.  People receive their First Eucharist.  People are confirmed.  It’s a wonderful celebration.  The readings, the Eucharist, the litanies, the candles, the entrants into the Church…   All point to Christ, and it is a fitting beginning to the Easter season!

Now, in our family, we used to attend the Vigil before, oh, the fourth kid or so.  As the kids get a little older we will go back to that, but for now we’ve attended Mass on Easter Sunday.  That’s very nice, too, but not as large a celebration as the Vigil.  (The early Vigils used to be the only Easter celebration, and would go all night! Now, people complain if they go past a couple hours…)   This year my two daughters and I joined in the music at the 10:30 Mass, so that was nice in a different way.

Of course, the Easter tradition with the kids just wouldn’t be complete, though, without a visit from the Easter Bunny.  That tricky bunny does have a knack for hiding the baskets of the older kids in the most difficult places!

Dear God. Please Let me get through Prayer Time Without Killing Someone.

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Originally posted on http://digitaldiatribes.wordpress.com on March 6, 2007.

OK, so it’s not quite that bad…   Most of the time.  And I do not want to discourage anyone from having family prayer time.  In fact, just the opposite.  It is a good and rewarding thing.  The paradox is, you don’t realize until after the fact how good and rewarding it is, because when you have small children, it doesn’t feel like a well-oiled, grace-filled experience.  But there are moments of clarity where you say “OK, that’s really cool.”   In particular, when they start asking questions and real conversation evolves.

Every night, our family gathers in the living room for prayer time.  It’s the pre-bed ritual, which means the kids know that the longer they can put off prayer time, the later they can stay up.  And since they know they go to bed after prayer time, there is no incentive to cut it short, either.   At least the older daughters have this all figured out.  The boys still have the attention span of an ADD-ridden gnat, and so there is not a lot of logic to be found with their behavior.

We started this long enough ago that it’s a given by now.  It has become a beautiful routine that I truly believe brings our family together.  This is done through supernatural means, though, because I am no help in the matter.  I’m impatient with demonstrations of less-than-perfect piety, which means I am perpetually disappointed in someone’s less-than-perfect performance during prayer time.  Believe me, I am not bragging here.   Countless times I have called myself a less-than-perfect loser for making this more stressful than it need be.  I tried praying for patience, but I gave up, because God wasn’t responding fast enough.

Our ritual is this:  Read a blurb about the Saint of the Day – at this point, the 3 year old is fluffing a pillow and either the 2 year old or the 5 year old or both have received their first warning regarding some randomly unacceptable behavior; Read a Chapter from the Bible (we have just started Ecclesiasticus) – at this point, the 3-year old is settled in and very comfy and the five year old has been moved to a different location where he will stop causing trouble; During most of the year, we say a decade or two of the Rosary on most nights (It takes approximately two Hail Marys for the 3-year old to be out cold and another 3 Hail marys before all prayer has been stopped and some punishment has been doled out: 90% chance it’s the five year old), and once or twice a week we’ll say the whole Rosary.  During Lent we are doing the entire Rosary each night as a family, with an occasional Divine Mercy; We have a special little prayer to end abortion, and then finally we always end with a prayer to the Sacred Heart (since we enthroned our family to the Sacred Heart a couple years ago).  At the end of that prayer we do a Litany of Saints.  The three at the end of the prayer are the Immaculate Heart of Mary; St. Joseph, Protector of the Christian; Our Guardian Angels and Patron Saints.  For good measure, these favorites are usually added:  the Saint of the Day, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Francis of Asissi, St. Francis Borgia, St. Odilia, St. Gerard, St. Jude, St. Lucy, St. Peregrin and whatever stikes our fancy at the time.  Thanks be to God, the five year old enjoys doing the Litany!

All this is wonderful, and I cannot express enough the importance of praying together as a family.

Now, if only I would listen to my own advice, and realize the joy of it while it’s happening.  I admit to getting too focused on behavior, and quite honestly I question the example I am setting.  Saying the Rosary should not be a blood-pressure elevating experience, for the love of Pete (whoever this Pete guy is…)

I have talked to other parents about their prayer time.  Some do less, some do more.  Everyone will gravitate to their own comfort zone over time.  When we started, we never did the Rosary, instead doing a number of other prayers.  After we were enthroned, we decided to stick with at least a partial Rosary every night. 

Prayer can be a challenge.  If you are not praying as a family yet, I highly recommend that you start somewhere.  Dive in!  Start small, with a greater goal in mind.  Once the routine of just gathering and doing it is firmly established and habitual, it’s much easier to do a little extra.  Pick prayers the whole family enjoys, or have everyone say a few words, or try the Rosary (with little kids, the Divine Mercy may be perfect – it doesn’t take near as long and even little kids pick up on it’s simplistic, yet powerful, prayer).   And I think it’s really a good idea to start reading the Bible together, as well, at least at some point.   Don’t take on so much that it seems unsustainable.  God will meet you where you are.  You’ll figure something out.  You’re smart people.

And, if you’re questioning the value of prayer at those times where you just don’t “feel” like praying, when you are going through the motions, etc.   I offer this consideration:  sure, it’s easy to pray when you feel like it.  It’s easy to pray when you get some direct benefit (a feeling of closeness to God, a petition for a desperate cause, or simply a feel-good emotional high of some sort that “raises the spirit”).  That is a good thing, to benefit.  But prayer is not really about you.  It’s primarily about God.  A relationship demands committment.  I personally believe that the prayers that God values most are those prayers we say when we force ourselves to take the time out, even when we have no emotional desire to do so.  It shows commitment, and it requires discipline.  I hold myself up as not a great example in this regard.  I am weak.  Would it not be for the commitment we have as a family, I have no doubt that I would not consistently follow through with my obligation.  Sad, but true.  I need His assistance with this on a constant basis.  We all need to buckle down and just do it!  (I hope using a shoe’s advertising slogan hasn’t cheapened the message.  At least I used an expensive shoe.)

 And while you’re at it, feel free to pray for me!

Charity, Giving, to Whom to say “yes,” and how to say “No.”

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Originally posted on http://digitaldiatribes.wordpress.com on February 22, 2007.

I don’t have a billion dollars to give to the Bill Gates Foundation (or anywhere else), but I do consider myself a steward of the resources I am blessed to have received.  Giving is one of those issues that people seem loathe to discuss too much.  For one thing, nobody cares to listen to someone brag about how much he gives to such and such a cause, and most people are uncomfortable sharing that anyway.

You can probably talk to 100 different people and get 100 different views on giving money to charity.  Most people, whether they are Christian, another faith tradition, or no religion at all, have a desire to support causes important to them at some level.  Our giving in many ways reflects what is important to us.

I will not talk about dollar amounts, and I will state up-front that I am not implying our strategy would work for everyone.  But the following is how my wife and I have approached our charitable giving.

The first thing is to realize that we have a large family, a stay-at-home mom, and we homeschool.  This is not to make excuses for reducing our giving, but it is necessary to understand when looking at the budget that you simply must feed these kids (on most days, anyway) and purchase materials for school, and so on and so forth.  We also must give them shelter, preferably heated, and in most situations they actually wear clothes.  Now, everyone needs to be intellectually honest about their situation.  Shelter can mean anything from simple to extravagant, as can clothing, cars, and even food.   If you are using your 5000 square foot house with two new Lexus vehicles that you use to drive to a fancy restaurant every night as your excuse for why you cannot afford to give more to charity, then you’re not really sticking to the spirit of things.  But I’m not casting stones, either.  We live in America, and truth be told we all have a certain amount of luxury in our lives that, in the end, we probably could have eschewed in order to give a little bit more.

So, our overall stretch goal was initially established like this:  A few years ago, we put a budget together and determined what we could afford to give to charity.  But under the theory of “it should hurt a little,” we added to that.  In other words, we managed to find some things we could sacrifice in lieu of giving.  Don’t get me wrong here;  we’re not heroes.  We still dine out occasionally and have a nice TV and can afford a few luxuries.   We just cut those down from where we really wanted to be to more where we should be.  Some people suggest 10% of gross as the percentage everyone should give, based on the Bible (tithing).  We have not achieved that, but we’d like to get there.  But quite honestly, just like so many things in the Bible, I don’t think the actual number is near as important as what’s in your heart, and the spirit in which you are giving back.  For some, the stretch goal may be 2%, and for others it may be 25%.   What we have done since that first year is increase our giving over the previous year by no less than 10%.  Since my income (unfortunately) doesn’t increase in a typical year by more than 10%, then our giving as a percentage of gross continues to increase.  In most cases, I simply adjust my previous giving levels to my selected organizations by 10 or more percent, but I occasionally add a new organization or replace an existing one.  Each year we need to adjust to the higher giving level, so there is an element of sacrifice, but at the same time it is manageable.

The other element of all this is where the money goes.  In another post, I’ll actually discuss some charities that are important to us, but there are important systematic aspects to our approach: 

(1) Before the year even starts, we determine how much money will go to all the different charities.  We start by looking at what we gave last year to each organization and increasing it by 10 or more percent, but will occasionally change the mix a little bit.  This sets your goal for the year, not just in total, but by charity.  You can also then get an idea how much you should give each month to match your income flow.  It is also important to have a slush amount set aside for random things that arise throughout the year, so you can donate to Aunt Betty’s pet cause when she knocks on your door.

(2) As much as possible, with your larger or monthly donations, go with automatic withdrawal from checking, or auto charge to credit card.   I say this because it eliminates all temptation to skip a month.  This is my way of telling God that these are the “first fruits” of my labor.  I used to give what was left over, and it’s amazing how little can be left over when you approach your giving that way.

(3) When you get a call from a charity that sounds really good, tell them that you already budgeted for the year and they are not on part of the budget.  They may try to get “just $15” out of you.  Well, it’s up to you at that point, but I always stick to my budget, and using the budget as a reason  is a valid and truthful response that has worked for me and released me of a guilty conscience.  That said, if you think you may be interested in future contributions to that organization, ask them to send you information about them, or to be directed to a web site.  Then the next year, budget for them in advance.  But do not feel guilty about saying no, because you will know that you have already prayerfully thought about how you can best allocate your resources. 

(4) Record the date and amount of all your donations on a single sheet of paper, and keep it handy, along with your budgeted numbers.  This is good reference for taxes (but you must have and keep actual receipts this year for all cash donations) and it is also great for when you get a call from a charity that you donate to.  I may make a once-a-year donation in March to Charity X, and in September they may call me again.  It really helps the conversation if I tell them “I contributed $Y in March, and I only donate once a year.  I’ll be happy to contribute again next year.”  They almost never push me any further when I have that response.   Alternatively, if I get a call from a budgeted charity and have not yet donated, I can tell them that I will donate, when I will donate (if I can’t manage it now) and exactly how much.

So, that is our overall strategy.  It stretches us, but at the same time is manageable.  It keeps us on budget, and we know whom to say yes to and whom to say no to.  When you donate to a few places, it seems like as time goes on, every other piece of mail you get is some kind of solicitation from them as well as other groups, many of which are very good and consistent with your values.  You simply can’t give to everyone, though!  I keep the most recent solicitation for any group I contribute to so I have it handy when I am ready, on my schedule, to send a donation.  I throw away most of the others that are not in my budget.  Occasionally, I keep information on a new one for consideration in next year’s budget.  This gives me time to think about and look into the organization.   But at some point, you need to boil it down to a number that you can manage, at contribution levels that are worthwhile.

So there you have it!  A boring post, perhaps, but hopefully a fitting one as Lent is underway and people are trying to figure out this “giving alms” thing.

Ash Wednesday’s Here? How’d That Happen?

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Originally posted on http://digitalditribes.wordpress.com on February 21, 2007.

Life’s pace never ceases to amaze me.  I know in my head that time goes along at a steady beat, but it just doesn’t seem like that’s the case.  Months and years become a blur.  Kids grow older and you find yourself thinking, “You shouldn’t be saying things that make you sound like an adult.  Stop it and go do something stupid so I can send you to the corner.”

So, as I reflect on the fact that it is Ash Wednesday, I’m thinking “How is it Ash Wednesday? I thought we just celebrated Christmas!”

But, nevertheless, I am incapable of slowing down or stopping time.  And so I must accept that we are now entering the Lenten Season and all that goes with it.  And, as with most things, I have a few random thoughts on this day.

The first is that I need to focus.  And it is my hope that everyone focuses.  What I mean is, an honest answer to the question “Why do we do that?”   It is so easy to refrain from eating meat on Fridays and getting ashes on the head today, and fasting today and on Good Friday, and so forth, without ever asking the question “What are we doing?”

Indeed, more than once us Catholics have been criticized for being overly ritualistic.  This criticism is unfounded in Scripture, however, as we observe Christ keeping the Passover and observing the Jewish laws and customs.  In fact, Christ even directed people to do what the Pharisees told them to do in obedience, but not to follow their hypocritical example in other ways.   There is humility in obedience, and humility in following the “laws” that our Church lays out for us.  And, it is true that Jesus relaxed certain laws, and had the authority to do so as the fulfillment of the Law.   But to suggest that this makes Church Law a sham is ill-conceived.  For one thing, Paul – a bishop of the Church – tells us to hold fast to our traditions.  Not to mention, we Catholics do believe that Christ established the Church to direct and guide us in His name.  Christ relaxed laws that had served their purpose to prepare the way for Him.  Also, many laws had lost their meaning, and people were going through the motions without thinking about their greater meaning.  This only shows us that certain rituals, obligations, or laws can occasionally be changed to meet the spiritual needs of the people.  These would not be doctrinal positions on faith and morals, but disciplines that help us live according to those doctrinal positions.  It also shows us that people have always had a problem with remembering that there is a reason they do what they do.

And therein lies the rub.  If there is one aspect of these criticisms that I do appreciate as being fair and on point, it’s the fact that too many people never think about why they are doing what they are doing.  And if that is the case, then people may be falling into a ritualistic trap of thinking they are saved by just doing things they are told.  While that certainly is obedient, it lacks the fullness of the beauty behind these rituals.  It also leads to the risk of loss of faith by just looking at these things as pointless rules that are placed in our path for the sole purpose of making our lives more difficult and taking the fun out of everything.  We should all understand the fact that such is not the case.  And if anyone reading this doesn’t understand that there are actual spiritual reasons behind the actions, then I encourage you to contemplate what those reasons might be, and then use this season to find out more aboout it.

Why do I get ashes placed on my forehead in the shape of a cross?  Think about it.  We are mortal.  The very words spoken as the ashes are applied should shake our sense of mortality.  Yet, the cross is a reminder that our mortality in one sense is no different than the mortality of Christ on the cross.  And with it comes the promise of Resurrection.  And why abstain from meat?  Why fast?   And why do we do what we do at Mass?  Why do we genuflect before the tabernacle and kneel during the consecration?  The list goes on.

Today and the next 40 days are a great time to reflect on the “why” of our worship both at Mass and in our daily lives.  There is real meaning to it, and it is beautiful in its constant theme of drawing us to divest oneself of the world and draw closer to Christ.  It is not the kind of detachment that says the whole world is bad.  It is a detachment that says, “All this will pass.  God will not.  Respect creation for what it is and as a temporary gift on your way to salvation, and don’t become too attached to it.”

I’m also always struck by the constant theme I see, and seem to be bringing to this blog: the need for balance.  For example, we read the Scripture today that tells us to not gloat about our fasting, and admonishes us not to go moping around drawing attention to ourselves.  And if we brag about our sacrifices, we have already received our reward.  Then, we receive ashes and our told to go out and display them for the world to see.  What gives?

Again, things are easily misunderstood, and context and balance are everything.  These things are about the heart.  Bragging brings glory to self.  And if you are wearing your ashes to draw attention to yourself in a way that makes you feel proud, then you should wash off those ashes.  But if you are “proud” to be a witness for Christ, and wear your ashes as a simple tool of evangelization and solidarity with Jesus, and offer this up for God’s glory, then by all means you should wear them until they fade.

May you all have a blessed Lenten Season.