Ash Wednesday & Lent

Wishing you all a blessed Ash Wednesday and season of Lent!

Please remember that Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of required fasting and abstinence, and that all Lenten Fridays are days of required abstinence. To explain these concepts more in-depth, I will quote as follows from Colin B. Donovan at EWTN (and would recommend the rest of the article at https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/fast_and_abstinence.htm):

“Abstinence  The law of abstinence requires a Catholic 14 years of age until death to abstain from eating meat on Fridays in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. Meat is considered to be the flesh and organs of mammals and fowl. Also forbidden are soups or gravies made from them. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted, as are animal derived products such as margarine and gelatin which do not have any meat taste.

“On the Fridays outside of Lent the U.S. bishops conference obtained the permission of the Holy See for Catholics in the US to substitute a penitential, or even a charitable, practice of their own choosing. They must do some penitential/charitable practice on these Fridays. For most people the easiest practice to consistently fulfill will be the traditional one, to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year. During Lent abstinence from meat on Fridays is obligatory in the United States as elsewhere.

“Fasting The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th to the 59th birthday to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by eating between meals and by drinks which could be considered food (milk shakes, but not milk). Alcoholic beverages do not break the fast; however, they seem to be contrary to the spirit of doing penance.

“Those who are excused from fast or abstinence Besides those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment,  manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline.”

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A Reflection on St. Francis de Sales’ “On Creation”—by Cameron Daly

In my Natural Theology class last semester, I was blessed to get to read and reflect on an excerpt from St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life concerning God’s act of creation (included as a link). I have thought de Sales an excellent writer, and was not disappointed in reading this article prayerfully like he had described. I wish you a happy and blessed New Year, and I hope that de Sales’ words and maybe even mine can give you some good food for thought in starting out 2019.

https://www.catholicity.com/devoutlife/1-09.html

St. Francis de Sales reminds us of how we once were nothing, and of how we could very easily have remained nothing. It is only because of God’s goodness and mercy that we were created—not because of anything we ourselves are or have done. That said, we owe God the very deepest gratitude, and should live our entire lives in a spirit of this gratitude. Of course, we often fail at this, forgetting the love of our Creator and how we ought to return that love. De Sales prescribes resolutions to do better at remembering and respecting He Who is our true source, our true reason for being, along with prayers to this end. (See “First Meditation: On Creation.”)

It really struck me to be reminded of how, were it not for God’s choice to create me out of love for me, I would truly be nothing. At one point in time—actually for many points in time—I did not exist. During that time, I had nothing—no existence, no capacity to love or feel joy, no spiritual graces, no family or friends, no enjoyable possessions. I was nothing, I had nothing—and I could have so easily remained that way. The wonderful life I would have missed out on, had I remained that way!—had God not chosen to will my existence! And as if that weren’t enough, if that same God had not suffered and died for me, I would have no hope of eternal life, but would know that death really would be the end of life for me. And yet, as de Sales pointed out—I often forget about all of this. I do what I want; I refuse my Creator the love He shows me by His creating and sustaining me and offering me salvation. I refuse to return this love, both to Him directly, and also to Him through His creatures—whether it be just myself or also others—by hurting them through sin, even though I owe God absolutely everything.

Remember Who it is Who gives you existence, Who, as de Sales put it, “brought you out of … nothingness, in order to make you what you are, not because He had any need of you, but solely out of His Goodness.” Remember also all the joys—even the smallest ones—you have received in this life, joys you never could have experienced were it not for God’s will to create you. God has not created an infinite number of people, every possible person there could be. He created you, and He created you “what you are” because He loves you and He loves “what you are.” Never fail to appreciate that. Strive always to be what He created you to be.

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What do you Find at the Foot of a Christmas Tree?—by Cameron Daly

What did you find around the foot of your Christmas tree this year?

I imagine you may have found any number of things. I found a robot called “Vector” that reminds me of the old Irish song “Marvelous Toy.” (https://youtu.be/047P7U5ev_E) My dad found (from me) a prank puzzle box claiming to boast a 12,000 1/4-inch-piece puzzle of the moon in an otherwise clear, blue sky.

Included is a picture of my tree. As you can see, we have a lighted star on top, with many (MANY) ornaments and colored lights throughout the rest of it, and of course presents at the base. While all of this may be beautiful in and of itself, it should also be seen symbolically. The star can represent the Star of Bethlehem, with the lights upon the tree signifying the star’s light streaming down onto the first Christmas “Present”—Our Lord Jesus Christ—beneath it.

What does this symbolism mean for us today? Is this just something to remember, think fondly of, and forget in the glory of our robots and 12,000-piece puzzles? Quite the contrary.

Imagine if, rather than wrapped boxes, one were to find the Infant Jesus under his tree. Now I have a sad habit of getting a present, being very happy about it, but then not doing anything with it; and I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this. Could someone do this if he found Baby Jesus under his tree? Of course not! Christ is a baby, He’d beed to be nurtured and cared for.

The truth is, we have all been given Jesus as our Christmas present by God the Father. Another truth, less fortunate, is that we often accept this gift and forget about it. Like with the example of Baby Jesus, however, we cannot do this if we want anything to come of this gift. We can’t accept Christ into ourselves and then forget about Him. We need to “nurture” Him within our own hearts if His life is to thrive within us. How do we do this? Through prayer, through the cultivation of virtues and good habits, through showing love to our neighbors, and—most relevant here—through remembering this wonderful Gift God has given us, the Reason for the Season, the Reason for our hope, the Reason for our perseverance in goodness and our resistance to sin.

Wishing you a merry and blessed Christmas season!

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Entertaining Angels

angel“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2

What does it mean to entertain angels? Despite the title of this post, I cannot guarantee a satisfactory answer to this question. These next few paragraphs simply seek to provide a brief glance into what can come about when one is open to the whisperings of the non-corporeal finite pure spirits which God in His infinite goodness has specifically assigned to His children as guardians, protectors, and guides from the very beginning. In short, where does an angel take you when it comes to visit?

Angels, though beyond the comprehension of our minds, are very real beings. As Catholics we believe this on faith. Nevertheless, many have some form of experience on which to base this as well. Be it a car accident narrowly avoided, the feeling of being protected by a heavenly power, or a simple star that gives comfort in the face of loneliness, many are not limited to depictions of chubby cherubim when considering their heavenly protector and guide. Yet, such moments are like road signs, they let you know you are on the right path and give you a marker to remember, but the final map will not be laid out until you and your angel stand in God’s Throne room together in eternal life.

What does this have to do with hospitality, you might be asking? If our angels are road signs, what need is there for companions – particularly companions we have never met before and likely will never meet again – on the journey? Here perhaps a short story will help. A few days ago I was rushing around at work with my head in the clouds and my feet barely touching the floor. No, I was not floating away on a song or some poetry, I was attempting to serve the pilgrims at the local Basilica, counting down the minutes until lunch time, and meditating on what a crazy idea it had been to wear high heels. In the thick of this all a man appeared at my side – I say appeared only because there were so many people bustling around it was impossible to see across the room – and with him was a weeping child. From what I gathered in twelve seconds the child was lost. Through his tears I discovered what group he belonged to, and recalling that his pilgrimage was to begin their celebration of the Divine Liturgy at any moment, I quickly hustled him up to the Church. Side by side we pressed to the elevators, ascended to the top floor, rushed across the platform, and entered the church just in time for the deacon to start swinging the censer and the choir to begin. The boy quickly found his parents and I rushed down to my job. When my lunch finally came I walked back up to the basilica church and sat in on the Divine Liturgy to do some good hard thinking (after all the homily was in Ukrainian), thinking I have not quite finished. Who was the little boy? No one in particular. He did not vanish into thin air back to the heavenly courts. I saw him changing pews during the Offertory so he could sit with his young friends. Yet, like the angels, he lead me on a journey, one that began in my footsore selfish self and ended in the presence of God at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. From there it was my choice whether to go back or to stay and rest awhile.

When entertaining angels it does not matter who they are but where you let them lead you.

  • Grace Marie Urlakis

 

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Rome: Pilgrimage Update!

I wrote this last night, but wifi would not permit me to post it. So, here it is this morning:

“Today marks one full week of being in Rome. I could not be more grateful for the time I have been able to spend here. In the past few days I have been privileged to tour some breathtaking sights. These have, to me, been true pilgrimage days. Three days ago (Thursday) I had the privilege of walking through the Vatican Museum. Last time I was there I was with a tour that practically ran through the museum. I still loved what I saw, but I did not know how much I was missing. This time, I took my leisurely time examining Tuscan vases, ancient marble, and vivid frescos. Yet, above all of these, the Hall of Maps still remains my absolute favorite place to be in the entirety of the City of Rome. I have one picture right below this, but I am afraid it does not do it credit.

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Yesterday (Friday), I took a cab out to the Saint Calixtus Catacombs. They are the largest catacombs in Rome, and well preserved. While it was my second time visiting them (I visited them last time I was in Rome), my guide was outstanding and really made present the essence of the Christian catacombs; a celebration not of death, but of Eternal Life. There I prayed in the crypt of the popes and Saint Cecilia’s original tomb. From there I took the metro bus to the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, walked to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, and finally made my way back to Saint Peter’s (near which is my hotel). Below is a picture of the crypt of the Nativity (I do not know if that is its official name, where I prayed for all of you before the ACTUAL MANGER OF BABY JESUS!

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Finally, today I took a day trip through the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer estate in the charming little village of Gandolfo. I toured the papal apartments and papal gardens, all of which are cooled by the breeze coming off a stunning volcano lake. Everything was so naturally beautiful that nothing was overwhelming. I rode the train back completely content! On that note, if you are ever in Rome and want to do something other than (or in addition to) the Colosseum, Roman Forum, or Pantheon, please consider booking the Castel Gandolfo tour through the Vatican Museum website. You will not be disappointed! For proof, please see the pictures of my tour that I posted on Roman Catholic Reflection’s facebook page: www.facebook.com/RomanCatholicReflections.

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Update from Rome!

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I am rushing out the door to catch a cab, but I wanted to first provide an update from Rome. The past 4 days here have been beyond words. Rome is captivating. I have been to Saint Peter’s tomb beneath the Vatican, I have thrown a coin in Trevi Fountain, and I have rested in the Piazza Navona. Today, besides attending Pope Francis’ general audience I also had passion fruit gelato!

Below is a link to a short video I took in Piazza Navona. I will have another video up on the facebook page soon from today’s general audience.

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The Sculptor and the Boy

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“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). In a few moments I will land in Rome and begin fully a pilgrimage which has in so many ways been planned, guided, and illumined by God. While I wrote this poem a while back, it came to mind a few days ago as a representation not only of the historical majesty which awaits me when I step off that plane, but also of the journey upon which I have been lead to arrive even at this point. Without further adieu I present:

The Sculptor and the Boy

 

In dusty shadows, sharp and soft

Crouches a quite child.

His darting eyes peering, searching

His child’s mind, beguiled.

 

Before him stands the master at work,

The marble, smooth and fair,

Tools for breaking, then creating,

And against the wall an empty chair.

 

Days pass as closer he creeps

Watching every blow

The block sheds its perfection

In the dim lit studio.

 

Down the marble the master works

His grim face in silence set

His strong arms, steadily pounding,

In fading light – a silhouette.

 

Closer, nearer, the young boy steals,

Enchanted and unaware,

Shifting, gliding, crawling, sliding

Towards the empty chair.

 

Behind a barrel he swiftly hides,

As marble strikes the wall.

The block towers in the lonely room

And under it the child feels small.

 

Thundering hammer meets pounding heart

Tapping chisel – tottering feet

The sigh of the master sounds –

The child’s task is now complete.

 

From the chair in the corner, seated,

He beholds the final blow.

With tears the master drops his hammer

And gazes up from below.

 

Brawny arms frame an eager face;

No detail did he forget.

Then overwhelmed with exhaustion

In its shadow the master slept.

 

Silent marble guards weary flesh

As still the boy looks on

Listening to the master’s breathing,

Waiting for the dawn.

 

When with relief the master rises

So too does the boy, lost in shock.

“Tell me” he pleads “How did you know

There was David in that rock?”

 

-©Grace Marie Urlakis; August 30, 2017

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