Not so holy: How did your Lent go?

March has been a busy month — all the more so because I’ve been getting ready for what I’m calling “Crazy April.”

Monday morning, bright and early, I’m headed to the airport so I can travel to Cincinnati and represent Today’s Catholic Teacher magazine at the NCEA convention and help host a banquet for the Innovations in Catholic Education Awards.

(Related: I had to buy a fancy dress. And shoes that, I hope, will allow me to stand for the better part of the day on a trade-show floor and walk a few blocks each way to the hotel. Tendonitis in both feet and an old stress fracture in one isn’t a good combination when this is on the agenda.)

After four days of travel this week, I’ll have about 10 days at home before I drive to Worcester, MA, for editorial meetings for the magazine.

So I’ve been prescheduling as much content as I can at CatholicMom.com and CatholicTeacher.com, working on final edits for the coming summer issue, and, well, generally neglecting things around the house. On Wednesday it occurred to me that while I’d finished most of the work projects, I had no Easter-basket treats for my family and no idea what I’d be serving for Easter Sunday dinner.

Meanwhile, in the course of my routine correspondence with the authors I work with in both of my jobs, I’ve been getting some variation on the theme of, “How was your Lent?” I’ve even been editing articles along that line.

When you work in Catholic media, you can’t help being bombarded, this time of year, with recaps of people’s holy Lents. And, well, my Lent hasn’t been so very holy. It’s not that I’m not keeping my eyes on my own paper, so much that other people’s papers are being shoved right under my eyes in the course of my job.

I bought this beautiful Lenten spiritual workbook, Above All, from Take Up and Read. I haven’t touched it in weeks. If I’ve completed 1/5 of it, that’s a lot. I just haven’t made the time.

I did manage to give up espresso beverages … whoop-de-do.

But honestly, it’s all been about time management. I love the work I get to do: I have terrific and supportive colleagues at both my jobs, and the writers I work with are wonderful. I call many of them my friends, and I look forward to meeting several more of them this summer at the Catholic Writers Guild Conference. My problem is, in an occupation where there is always new content to prepare, I can get swamped under that and let it spill over into the time I should be allotting for other things.

So I’m packing my copy of When the Timer Dings, and a blank bullet journal, into my tote bag for the airplane trip. I find that when I’m in a different place, I can get out of my head and think more creatively. I have some daydreaming to do about my goals and wishes for next year’s magazines, but I need to do some daydreaming about the way I manage my time (or, more accurately, don’t manage it.)

Lent this year just hasn’t been so holy. Beating myself up about it isn’t going to help. So while the business trips I’m taking this April are taking me way out of my comfort zone (and my comfortable sweatpants) I’m beginning to feel grateful for the opportunity to reboot the way I schedule my work.

After all, Lent isn’t the only season of the liturgical year in which you can grow in holiness. Maybe with improved time management, I’ll be better able to nurture my spiritual life during the Easter season and beyond.

How did your Lent go? If it wasn’t so holy, what can you do about that during the Easter season?

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Product links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Thank you for using these links for our Amazon purchases.

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: What’s New for Lent

Making Room in Lent

Two new books from Ave Maria Press invite readers to open their hearts to God and set themselves free from sin and its trappings.

Lenten Healing: 40 Days to Set You Free From Sin is a do-it-yourself retreat that focuses not only on sin, but on the virtues that will have room in our lives if we free ourselves from sin. Author Ken Kniepmann begins each day’s entry with the line, “Today, I choose to fast from the sin (or wound) of _____.” The exception is each Sunday, when the entry focuses on feasting on virtues. Filled with relatable, concrete examples of the faces of sin in our lives, Scripture passages and questions for meditation (keep a journal handy!),  and short prayers, this book is a gateway for readers to confront — and weed out — those sinful actions and tendencies that keep us far from God.

Each week, after Friday’s entry, there’s a prayer meditation on the sin and the wound that has been the focus of each week. This is my favorite part of the book; I recommend that you bring this book to Adoration, along with a journal, to work through that section of each week’s chapter. The Sunday emphasis on the virtue that is the opposite of the sin you’ve been considering all week is a refreshing and uplifting opportunity to focus on how we can change our lives for good during Lent.

lenten healing

 

Some decluttering books are written by people who act like they have it all together. Those books are not for me. In Making Room for God: Decluttering and the Spiritual Life, Mary Elizabeth Sperry readily admits that she has a lot of work to do, and that her home is not perfectly neat and tidy all the time. I like the connections made between homemaking and the spiritual life. This book addresses necessary topics like spiritual discipline, reconciliation, prayer, and materialism. The best chapter, in my opinion, is the one where the author draws parallels between clutter and sin. This book spoke to me so much, I’ve got whole paragraphs underlined, never mind the circles and arrows …

making room for God

Why is this a book for Lent? While it isn’t designated as one, I can’t help but think its early-February release is providentially timed. In Lent, we seek to reform our hearts. This book is not full of tips and tricks for cleaning out that kitchen-gadget drawer or keeping your linen closet tidy. Instead, it’s an invitation to look at your relationship with your stuff — not just the stuff you have now, but the stuff you may acquire later. Its focus on generosity, the common good, and prayer make it an excellent Lenten read: by Easter, you’ll be thinking about the way you live a whole lot differently.

Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#WorthRevisit: Do We Really Want to Change?

It’s not today’s Gospel, but it’s definitely one worth considering during Lent, when we are doing our best to change our hearts. Today’s “Worth Revisit” looks back at 2009.

Gospel: Jn 5:1-16

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
“Do you want to be well?”
The sick man answered him,
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

Now that day was a sabbath.
So the Jews said to the man who was cured,
“It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”
He answered them, “The man who made me well told me,
‘Take up your mat and walk.’”
They asked him,
“Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”
The man who was healed did not know who it was,
for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there.
After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him,
“Look, you are well; do not sin any more,
so that nothing worse may happen to you.”
The man went and told the Jews
that Jesus was the one who had made him well.
Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus
because he did this on a sabbath.

Be Reconciled to God

Father’s homily today centered not on the fact that Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath, but on the fact that He healed someone who didn’t necessarily consider himself ready to be healed.

Do we want to be changed? Certainly it is easier to keep things the same–even if things aren’t great, at least they are familiar. That man in the Gospel who was ill for 38 years and then healed would now have to find a way to earn a living and find himself food and shelter. In some ways, it might have been easier for him to stay the way he was.

Lent is a time of healing. In my college chapel each Lent, banners were hung with the words: “Be reconciled to God through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.” (I’m not much of a “banner” person but that reminder has stuck with me even after 22 years.)

Our Lenten actions of sacrifice and prayer are meant to heal us, to bring us closer to God, to change us.

So is giving up Milky Ways and designer coffee really going to help me to change? Will it bring me closer to God? Only if I let it. Only if I let those very small sacrifices remind me that it’s not all about me. It’s about letting go of something in favor of a greater good. It’s about turning that sacrifice into an opportunity for almsgiving (that’s what those little cardboard “rice bowls” are all about). It’s about remembering that giving up a candy bar is really small in comparison to what Christ was willing to give up, and allowing that realization to lead me to a greater generosity of spirit.

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

#WorthRevisit: Dread vs. Hope

For #WorthRevisit Wednesday, I’m backing up 10 years and thinking about the hope of the season.

Why is Lent something we seem to dread?

. . . I’ve lost count of the people who have expressed to me how much they “hate Lent.” This morning a fellow church musician mentioned that she finds Lenten music to be full of Gloom and Doom.

Granted, this is not a cheerful time, in the sense that Christmas and Easter are cheerful. But it is certainly a hopeful time. It is a time to look forward to the holiest Three Days that we celebrate as a Church. As we remind ourselves each week as we recite the Memorial Acclamation, “Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.”

During this season of Lent, may we remember that it’s not All About Us. It’s not about whether we can abide giving up chocolate, or soda, or colored sprinkles. These sacrifices are small potatoes indeed when we meditate on what Christ was willing to do for our sakes.

May we walk through this Lent with a joyful spirit.

bernardine-of-siena-quote-lent

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

worth revisit

Copyright 2017 Barb Szysziewicz, OFS

On Barb’s Bookshelf: 3 Lenten Reads

It’s not yet Lent, but I’ve had the chance to peek into a Lenten book from Ave Maria Press as well as two new daily devotionals from Franciscan Media, each offering a spiritual companion for your Lenten journey. All three books are sure to help readers have a spiritually fruitful Lenten season.

A book doesn’t have to be brand-new this year to benefit its readers. Paula Huston’s Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit (Ave Maria Press, 2011) is packed with timeless wisdom. The cover blurb touts it as a “practical book,” which means it’s right up my alley. I am, at heart, a practical person, and I can get bogged down and discouraged by books that don’t address my pragmatic side.

In the Introduction, Huston notes,

The beauty of the Lenten season is that it encouragees the development of a humble heart. (xiii)

The beauty of this book, for me, is its learn-by-doing approach. Each day begins with a meditation (usually a vignette from the author’s own experience) and ends with a task. The concreteness of this appeals to me. The author explains that this is not a “handbook for self-improvement” but instead “an invitation to self-knowledge and . . . a small step in liberation from destructive complicatedness–that is, from sin.” (xv, xvi)

My challenge, with this book, will be slowing it down. It’s seriously motivational, and I found myself wanting to do All The Things right now. Slowing down, for me, can be almost penitential in itself, and I need to remember to focus on one day’s task and not try to jump ahead. Lent is 40 days long for a reason. But anything that has me ready to scrub gunk out of hidden corners with an old toothbrush gets motivation points! It reminds me of St. Teresa of Avila’s observation that God is with us every moment, “even amidst the pots and pans.”

simplifying_the_soul

Take your Lenten inspiration from Pope Francis with Diane M. Houdek’s The Hope of Lent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis (Servant, 2016.) Each daily entry is divided into 5 compact parts:

  • Bible readings (find those on your own or at USCCB.org)
  • A Word from Pope Francis
  • Taking the Word to Heart
  • Bringing the Word to Life
  • Pope Francis Prays

I was charmed by the “Word from Pope Francis” sections: each one an anecdote or homily excerpt that showcases both Pope Francis’ down-to-earth style and his desire that the faithful deepen and radically live their faith. You’ll want to keep a journal handy for your own reflections, inspired by “Bringing the World to Life.”

From the Introduction:

The greatest hope of Lent is the discovery that it’s not only about penance deprivation, spiritual struggles, and rooting out sin in our lives. Those are often the things we do during Lent. But the hope of Lent lies in what God does. From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has made mercy his hallmark. It’s no surprise that he declared a special year dedicated to the contemplation of mercy. Pope Francis wants us to realize that God’s mercy and grace surround us not just in special times and places but always and everywhere. Lent is a time to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary, to be surprised by God’s mercy when we least expect it. (vii-viii)

Print

Heidi Hess Saxton shares the wisdom of a beloved modern-day saint in Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Servant, 2016.) Begin your daily prayer with a short scripture passage, followed by a meditation with a story or quote from St. Teresa, reflection/application questions, and a brief closing prayer. The book is described by the publisher as a “helpful resource for reflecting upon the mercy of God—and modeling the generous heart of this saint from Calcutta in our own lives.”

Saxton takes an unusual path in the Introduction to the book, dedicating most of it to the story of four Missionaries of Charity who were martyred by ISIS in Yemen in March 2016, while the local priest, Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, was captured (his fate is still unknown). The author notes that this story “calls us to consider just how far we are willing to go when the Lord asks us to take up our cross and follow him.” (ix, x) She continues,

As we contemplate Scripture and the life and teachings of St. Teresa of Calcutta during this Lent, we have a daily inspiration and opportunity to follow her example and that of her community in spreading Christ’s fragrance to others. And whatever the fuure holds–pain or healing, uncertainty or assurance, dismay or delight–we can anticipate with great joy the glory of the Risen Christ at our journey’s end. (xiv)

Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta offers daily reflections in a slightly longer format than Houdek’s book, and the subject matter is a bit more challenging. There are two reflection questions per day, which make excellent journal prompts.

Teresa-21

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#WorthRevisit: Dread vs. Hope

Do you hate Lent?

There’s nothing fun about penance, to be sure, but Lent has its hopeful side. Today I’m revisiting a post I wrote on the First Sunday of Lent in 2007:

Why is Lent something we seem to dread?

It’s only been three days so far, and I’ve lost count of the people who have expressed to me how much they “hate Lent.”

This morning a fellow church musician mentioned that she finds Lenten music to be full of Gloom and Doom.

Granted, this is not a cheerful time, in the sense that Christmas and Easter are cheerful. But it is certainly a hopeful time. It is a time to look forward to the holiest Three Days that we celebrate as a Church. As we remind ourselves each week as we recite the Memorial Acclamation, “Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.”

At Mass today our choir will sing this song by Dan Schutte:

Let us ever glory in the cross of Christ,
Our salvation and our hope.
Let us bow in homage to the Lord of life,
Who was broken to make us whole.
There is no greater love, as blessed as this,
To lay down one’s life for a friend.
Let us ever glory in the cross of Christ
And the triumph of God’s great love.

Let us tell the story of the cross of Christ
As we share this heavenly feast.
We become one body in the blood of Christ
From the great to the very least.
When we eat of this bread and drink of this cup
We honor the death of the Lord.
Let us ever glory in the cross of Christ
And the triumph of God’s great love.

(copyright 2000, OCP)

During this season of Lent, may we remember that it’s not All About Us. It’s not about whether we can abide giving up chocolate, or soda, or colored sprinkles. These sacrifices are small potatoes indeed when we meditate on what Christ was willing to do for our sakes.

May we walk through this Lent with a joyful spirit.

Saint Bernardine of Siena wrote that Saint Francis once said:

May the fiery and honey-sweet power of your love, O Lord, wean me from all things under heaven, so that I may die for love of your love, who deigned to die for love of my love.

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

#WorthRevisit: Meatless Edition

During Lent, Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays as well as on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, when we also fast. Here’s how that works.

There’s more to Lenten meals, though, than fish sticks. No offense, Mrs. Paul, but you’re not our only option when it comes to feeding our family meatless meals.

Lenten Meals 2015

Your Lenten dinners don’t need to be extravagant, but there’s no reason that simple can’t also be delicious and healthy (well, as healthy as mac & cheese with crab can possibly be…)

Over at my cooking blog, Cook and Count, I’ve set up an easy link for you to access all the meatless recipes included there–and I’ve linked to the CatholicMom.com Meatless Friday recipes as well. I’ve been contributing meatless recipes to CatholicMom since 2013, when Lisa Hendey graciously let me run with the ball in the cooking department.

And for the Almsgiving part of Lent, don’t forget to put aside the money you’ve saved by serving a simple, meatless meal on Fridays and donate it to CRS Rice Bowl or other organization that serves the hungry.

Speaking of CRS Rice Bowl, you’ll find me and 4 other CatholicMom bloggers in the CRS Rice Bowl Recipe section this year, sharing our experiences of cooking their recipes with our families.

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Lent and Easter Wisdom from Pope Francis

 

Lent starts tomorrow! Are you ready? No? Join the club. I’m still figuring out my give-ups and add-ons, my physical sacrifices and spiritual practices to put into place.

lent and easter wisdom from pope francisI’ve got a good book to help me stay encouraged and motivated all throughout Lent–and right through Divine Mercy Sunday as well: Lent and Easter Wisdom from Pope Francis by John Cleary.

This book is practical and not at all heavy-duty. There’s no way I could handle a Lent filled with complicated spiritual reading. Pope Francis is down-to-earth; the homilies, encyclicals, letters and addresses quoted here are accessible but still spiritually challenging.

Journal prompts for each day inspire reflection based on the Pope’s quotes, a Scripture passage and a prayer. I’m not the best journal-keeper, probably because journals are so open-ended, but this could work for me.

Each day’s section in the book is 3 pages or less. I like that it doesn’t end on Easter Sunday but instead continues through the whole Octave of Easter, reinforcing the concept that Easter is not just a day!

This is an undated book; sections are divided by the day in the liturgical year, so keep your church calendar handy. The bonus here is that the book isn’t tied only to 2016!

Buy this book through my Amazon link to support Franciscanmom.com!

The fine print: I received a review copy of this book; no other compensation was received and all opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Lenten Resources from Ave Maria Press

Lent sure is sneaking up on me this year; it comes very early! Ash Wednesday is next week, February 10. Here are a few excellent resources for personal and family devotions, brought to you by Ave Maria Press.

sacred reading lent 2016Sacred Reading for Lent 2016, from the Apostleship of Prayer, is a pocket- or purse-sized version of the full-year edition of Sacred Reading, reviewed here. It runs from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday and contains the Gospel for the day, followed by prayer prompts in the Lectio Divina prayer method. Down-to-earth and simple to use, this book takes the mystery out of this prayer process. It’s priced at only $1.75–a bargain, considering all that is contained in the book.

 

 

stations of the cross with the eucharistic heart of jesusStations of the Cross with the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus by William Prospero, S.J., is a unique take on the age-old Lenten devotion. I know many people who pray this devotion year-round, and these meditations can be used in either private prayer or a group Stations of the Cross prayer service. The meditations include quotes from Scripture and the Saints, and are focused on the Eucharist, bringing home the truth of Jesus’ bodily sacrifice on the Cross and in the Eucharist. This book sells for $5.95.

bringing lent home with pope francisBringing Lent Home with Pope Francis: Prayers, Reflections and Activities for Families by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle is the Lenten resource I needed when my kids were younger! It’s ideal for families with school-age children and could be used in elementary-school classrooms as well as in the home. For each day of Lent, this book contains:

  • a quote from Pope Francis (from homilies, General Audiences, letters and addresses, and even Twitter)
  • a Parent Reflection to ponder in advance of praying together as a family
  • a short Family Prayer to pray together (this would work well at the breakfast table)
  • a short story from Pope Francis’ life
  • suggestions for fasting and almsgiving, focused on Pope Francis’ exhortation to keep mercy in mind
  • a concluding prayer, including a special intention and a full-day focus

The Parent Reflections in this book are classic Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle: quietly encouraging and deeply faithful. Throughout the book, the fasting and almsgiving prompts are often accompanied with concrete ways to help both children and adults achieve those spiritual goals.

This book is not tied to the 2016 calendar, so the purchase price of $3.50 is a true bargain for a prayer book that can be used in Lenten seasons for years to come.

Buy these books through my Amazon links to support Franciscanmom.com!

I received review copies of these books from the publisher, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#WorthRevisiting: Less of Me

I’m linking up at Alison Gingras’ Reconciled to You blog, where she’s hosting #WorthRevisiting.

When I saw that the theme for this week was “Less of Me” I knew which post I had to revisit. I reached back 9 years into the archives for this one.

This used to be part of the homemade hymnal at Our Lady of the Flower Children*:

Less of Me

Let me be a little kinder, let me be a little blinder
To the faults of those about me; let me praise a little more
Let me be when I am weary just a little bit more cheery
Think a little more of others and little less of me

Let me be a little braver when temptations let me waver
Let me strive a little harder to be all that I should be
Let me be a little meeker with a brother that is weaker
Let me think more of my neighbors and a little less of me

Let me be when I am weary just a little bit more cheery
Let me serve a little better those that I am striving for
Let me be a little meeker to a brother that is weaker
Think a little more of others and a little less of me.

I’m not sure of the composer but I think it might be Glen Campbell.

Regardless of who wrote it, it’s a good reminder of what we all can do for Lent. I can’t help but think that the memory of this song was a gift–a reminder from the Lord of what I can and should be doing.

Turns out it is Glen Cambell’s song! I found a video of him performing it with Judy Collins and Hamilton Camp. So here you go–a blast from the past. I think this song makes a wonderful prayer.

Today’s Ponder Point:

Music can touch the heart and soul in a powerful way. What hymn or song has touched your heart and soul this Lent? What lesson does that song teach you?

*The real name of the church was not “Our Lady of the Flower Children.” But it was the late 60s and early 70s, and we went to the Children’s Mass where we sat on folding chairs in the church basement, and, well, you know the rest. The music made a huge impression on me and, I believe, is a very real part of the reason I’m a musician at church today.

Go on over to Reconciled to You and see the other blogs in the linkup!