The Significance of Ash Wednesday

For many non-Catholics (and many NEW Catholics) Ash Wednesday can seem weird. Why would anyone want to walk around with ashes on their head all day? And, truth be told, many cradle Catholics have been going to Mass and getting ashes for years without understanding the purpose of Ash Wednesday, as well.

The Significance of Ash Wednesday

Image by Balaska (2009) via Wikipedia, CCO Public Domain

What is the significance of Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten Season, is a day set aside for prayer and repentance. We fast, we abstain from meat, and we get ashes as a reminder of our human frailty. It is also a day to remember the spiritual reality that surrounds us; our earthly life is only part of the journey. Yes, will die and our bodies will “return to dust.” However, it doesn’t stop there. As our bodies return to dust our souls go to heaven, hell or purgatory. Therese aren’t necessary pleasant things to think about but they are important things, nevertheless.

Therefore, Ash Wednesday is a gift. Yes, a gift. This day of repentance is a gift because it gives us the opportunity to take stock of our lives. Think of it like a “spiritual New Year” where we can access our relationship with the Lord and make steps to strengthen our relationship with HIM.

  • Have I grown in our relationship with the Lord over this past year?
  • Have I grown lax or lukewarm?
  • In what areas of my life do I need to change in order to become the person God wants me to be?

From this reflection, we can make “resolutions” or a plan of action for how we will spend our Lent this year. This is where we can decide if we need to give up coffee,  sweets or something else.Or, we can work to change die-hard habits or sins which are holding us back and keeping us in bondage. Additionally, Lent is a great time to make a plan to learn more about our faith or pray the scriptures more often.

Why Ashes?

The use of ashes have a long history as a sign of repentance. I encourage you to read the History of Ash Wednesday over at American Catholic.

As regards to the rite of ashes, it is very simple. We go up to the priest or whomever is distributing the ashes. He makes the sign of the cross (well, it should be a cross. Sometimes it looks more like a blob!) on our forehead while saying “Man you are dust and to dust your shall return” or a similar phrases. This phrase comes from Genesis 3:19:

By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return.”

Our Obligation

Ash Wednesday is NOT a holiday of obligation. We are not required to go to mass, but it is strongly recommended that we go to Mass if we are able to. Going to mass is certainly a wonderful way to start Lent off on the right foot.

However, whether we go to Mass or not, we ARE obligated to abstain from meat and to fast today. The fasting requirement consists of one full meal and two smaller meals that equal one meal. No snacking or eating between meals is allowed. Of course, beverages are allowed at any time.  Everyone over the age of 14 is required to abstain from meat and everyone between the ages of 18-60 are required to fast. (See Canon law 1250-1252) I think pregnant women are exempt, but not sure.

Related Links

Here are a couple of links for further reading.

New Advent

About.com

Fallible Blogma

I pray that your Lenten journey be a blessed and grace-filled time for you and your family!

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PSST: If you are looking for ideas for Lent, read this blog post here. And don’t forget: Today is the last day you can get the printable Lenten Prayer Journal for only 5 bucks.

Tweetable: The Significance of Ash Wednesday

5 Ideas for Lent

Ash Wednesday is next week and I, for one, am excited for it! For a lot of people, Lent is about “giving up” something, such as candy, or coffee or whatever. Other people consider the penances of Lent a drudgery. That’s too bad. Lent isn’t about giving up something and then becoming frustrated – or giving up – when you fail. That’s what New Year’s Resolutions are for! Now, I’m not saying not to give up something for Lent. There is an important place for sacrifice and denial, but Lent is WAY more than that.

5 Ideas for Lent

Lent is about renewal!

The beginning of a new year is a time when many people make resolutions to lose weight, to do “this” or don’t do “that.” August and September is the beginning of a new school year and a time when kids (and adults) resolve to make “this year better than last year.” Of course, technically, everyday is a chance for a restart. But Lent is unique. Lent is a time that is especially meant for a spiritual renewal, even more so than the Advent and Christmas Season. Lent is a time to recalibrate our souls and remind ourselves of what and WHO is important in life. And, it is a time to refocus and rekindle (or deepen) our relationship with Jesus and with the Blessed Trinity.

Therefore, the purpose of the “mandates” of Lent, prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving, is to help us go deeper into the truths of our faith and our relationship with Christ, NOT to give us yet “one thing to do or not do” for the next six weeks. Thus, I’d like to invite you to rethink your strategy for Lent this year. If you have been in the habit of giving up something for Lent and it hasn’t worked for ya, how about instead of giving up something, give yourself something. Here are five ideas of things you can give yourself for Lent:

1. Give yourself the gift of Confession.

If you haven’t been to the Sacrament of reconciliation in a while, now would be a good time to go. The Church requires Catholic to go to Confession at least once a year for a reason. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament of healing and an opportunity to encounter Christ in a very special way.

There are a lot of people who are afraid of going to Confession or who think it is a waste of time. “Why go to confession to a priest when I can tell my sins right to God?” However, confession is a gift from God that gives us special graces, allows us to grow in grace and to come back to Him when we fail. I strongly encourage you to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church in regards to confession. Do the research on why Confession is important. It is really a very important sacrament!

2. Give yourself the gift of the Eucharist.

If you aren’t in the habit of going to daily mass, now would be a great time to start – even if it just one or two days a week – or just on Saturdays. The readings for Lent are just as powerful during the week as they are on Sundays.

There is a lot of focus today about the community aspect of Mass which is important. However, we also must never lose sight of the purpose of the Mass. It is the center and source of our Christian Life! When we receive communion, we receive Jesus Himself. We take Him into our souls and our hearts. What an amazing and profound blessing and gift that is!

3. Give yourself the gift of prayer.

The rosary is a particularly powerful prayer and it is a wonderful way to meditate on the mysteries of Our Lord’s Life, Death and Resurrection. It is even better if you can pray together as a family. Also, many Churches offer the Stations of the Cross each Friday which is a beautiful way to enter one’s self into Our Lord’s suffering. If you can’t do that, try to just spend a few minutes or so reading the Bible and Lectio Divina.

There are also a lot of retreats and devotional booklets that are published for the Lenten Season. If that helps, pick one of those up and use it to help guide your prayer. Better yet, scrap that and just talk to God as you would a friend. He is always ready to listen! It may seem strange at first but we can, and should, speak from our souls and pour out our heart.

4. Give yourself the gift of reflection.

Prayer isn’t all about talking! It is also about listening and reflecting on what God wants to tell us. One way to do this is by jounaling. When you journal, you can certainly write down your prayers. However, you can also write down notes, scriptures, and insights that you get during prayer. You can paste prayer cards and pictures, doodle, and make it your safe and private place of encountering God.

To help you do this, last year I created a Lenten Prayer Journal. It is an unguided prayer journal sprinkled with scripture verses from the Mass readings, blank pages, and a section for specific prayer intentions. It is my heart’s desire that the journal be a comforting and “magical” place for you to grow in your faith and love for God.

(P.S. From now until March 1, 2017 – Ash Wednesday – you can get the printable pdf. version of the journal for only $5, regularly $12. Go here to purchase and download instantly. Go here for a free sample of journal. Go here for the paperback version of the journal on Amazon.)

5. Give yourself the gift of intention.

Finally, above all – no matter what you do the Lent – let it be intentional and focused. Be fully present to your devotions, family or whatever it is you are doing or not doing for Lent. That alone will transform your Lenten experience!

So many of us, myself included, live life too reactionary. We don’t take the time to think things through because we are too busy rushing from activity to activity and responsibility to responsibility. This year, take a few minutes to look at your calendar. What can you delegate, reschedule or remove so that you can give yourself some breathing room and mental space?

Now, let’s support each other.

Tell me, what are you doing for Lent this year? What are you going to do or not do in order to truly deepen your relationship with Jesus and renew your spirit this season? By putting it out there, it will help you stay accountable and give me the opportunity to pray for you!

As for me, I am focusing on the Nineveh 90 challenge. We are only a week in and it is proving to be a challenging and yet powerful experience. It is definitely helping me to be more disciplined in certain areas, that’s for sure! I still may give up something specific on top of this but I haven’t decided yet. 🙂

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Have You Heard About Nineveh 90?

I am a little late on this because I just recently found out about it – but not in enough time to get a blog post about it until now!

Have you heard of Nineveh 90

This year, 2017, is the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s apparitions at Fatima, Portugal. The exact date is May 13, 2017. Therefore, in preparation of the anniversary, Fri Heilmann is hosting a 90 day challenge which he is calling Nineveh 90.

The challenge is called Nineveh 90 after the story of Jonah in the Bible. If you haven’t read the book of Jonah, you should take the time to read it. It is the story of the prophet Jonah who is called by God to go to Nineveh to warn them about their sins. Of course, as you may know, Jonah resists, gets swallowed by a whale for 3 days, but finally goes to Nineveh. For their part, when the people of Nineveh hear the message, they cry out to God in prayer and penance. God hears their prayers, has mercy, and does not carry out the punishment on them.

Thus, the Nineveh 90 is a 90 day challenge to convert our hearts and minds and bodies to God. It consists of the 54 day rosary novena, the 33 days of preparation for Marian Consecration, and the consecration itself on May 13. In addition, participants are called to exercise regularly, get at least 7 hours of sleep each night, and offer prayers and mortifications daily.

The recommendations are all laid out on the Nineveh 90 website but some suggestions include daily Mass, frequent confession, daily holy “hour,” and fasting from alcohol, sweets, television, etc; and accountability. If you can’t do all the suggestions, don’t get overwhelmed. Like it says on the website, just pick one or from each category and commit to doing those. Starting this challenge now will be a good segue into Lent which starts in only a couple of weeks, March 1.

Now, the challenge started Monday, February 13, but it not too late to join in! Go to the website to sign up, join the Facebook group, and get going. You in?!

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Tweetable: Do You know about Nineveh 90?

St. Valentine, Priest and Martyr

Today, many people will be getting or giving candy and flowers and planning delicious meals (or going out to dinner) because of SAINT Valentine’s day. That’s right. Most people have taken off the “saint” part of St. Valentine’s day, and it has been hijacked as a “Hallmark holiday;” however, today is the feast of a priest who was martyred for his faith. Actually, it is believed that St. Valentine’s day commemorates several martyrs.

St Valentine

Image by David Teniers III (1600) via Wikipedia, CCO Public Domain

We don’t know much about the St. Valentine that we celebrate today. We know that he was a priest in Rome who often gave comfort and support to those suffering persecution from Claudius II. He was arrested and sent to the emperor of Rome. Then, when he refused to renounce his faith, St. Valentine was beaten with clubs and beheaded on February 14, 270 (or thereabouts).

However, there are other speculations about Saint Valentine. According to Wikipedia, the origins of St. Valentine are not confirmed and that there may have been many saints martyred on February 14:

“Saint Valentine (in Latin, Valentinus) is the name of several (14 in all [2]) martyred saints of ancient Rome. The name “Valentine”, derived from the word valens (worthy, strong, powerful), was popular in Late Antiquity.[3] Of the Saint Valentine whose feast is on February 14, nothing is known except his name and that he was buried on the Via Flaminia north of Rome on February 14, he was born on April 16. It is even uncertain whether the feast of that day celebrates only one saint or more saints of the same name. For this reason this liturgical commemoration was not kept in the Catholic calendar of saints for universal liturgical veneration as revised in 1969.[4] But “Martyr Valentinus the Presbyter and those with him at Rome” remains in the list of saints proposed for veneration by all Catholics.[5]”

Catholic Online gives us the origins of the celebration of “St. Valentine’s Day”

“Historian Jack Oruch has made the case that the traditions associated with “Valentine’s Day”, documented in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules and set in the fictional context of an old tradition, had no such tradition before Chaucer.[18] He argues that the speculative explanation of sentimental customs, posing as historical fact, had their origins among 18th-century antiquaries, notably Alban Butler, the author of Butler’s Lives of Saints, and have been perpetuated even by respectable modern scholars. In the French 14th-century manuscript illumination from a Vies des Saints (illustration above), Saint Valentine, bishop of Terni, oversees the construction of his basilica at Terni; there is no suggestion here yet that the bishop was a patron of lovers.[19]”

Interesting isn’t it?  I encourage you to read more about St. Valentine and St. Valentine’s day over at Catholic Online. You’ll notice that none of it has to do with the secular celebration of romance and candy and flowers. etc. (Not that I’m opposed to candy or flowers, or romance, of course!)

BUT, it does have everything to do with real agape love – love of neighbor and love of God, even to the point of martyrdom!

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Tweetable: SAINT Valentine, Bishop & Martyr

The Presentation of Jesus

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,”and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.” Luke 2:22-24

Image by Collinson (1878) via Wikipedia, CCO Public Domain

Tomorrow is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, formally known as “Candlemas.” In many cultures, the Presentation the Lord used to be the official ending of Christmas, therefore one of the traditions for this feast is to light lots of candles and decorate with greenery.

It is a lovely feast. We hear the words of Simeon who rejoices in seeing the Lord before he died. We hear the words of Anna who “spoke about the child.” These are glimpses of what is to come when Jesus begins his earthly ministry of our redemption. It is worth spending some time today, if you can, to reflect on the meaning of today’s feast.

To help you, here are some explanations and  meditations on this feast to check out:

Fisheaters

Churchyear.net

New Advent

celebrating candlemas

catholicculture.org

americancatholic.org

about.com

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Today’s feast is also a good lead in for this month’s devotion: The Holy Family. It is good for us, as Catholics, to strive to imitate our families after the Holy Family. It is good for us to pray to the Holy Family, asking them to bless our family and help us in our needs. I encourage you to go here for some prayers to the Holy Family to get you started.

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Tweetable: The Presentation of Jesus

The Conversion of Saint Paul, the Apostle

Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,  went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, for they heard the voice but could see no one.Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.”  Acts 9:1-9

(Read the rest of Paul’s conversion here.)

Conversion of Saint Paul

Image by eugeniu (2015) via Pixabay, CCO Public domain

Today is the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. What I love most about this feast is the message of hope. I’ve said this before: where there’s life, there’s hope. There is no one beyond God’s reach, even the most “lowliest” of persons. Look at Saint Paul (Saul, before his conversion), a fierce persecutor of the early Christians. Jesus touched him in a powerful way that transformed his life forever. And his conversion changed the world in many ways, ways that affect us to our own day.

God CAN touch those we love. God WANTS to bless those we love. We must keep on praying and trusting that one day our those we love who are from the Lord will return. He probably won’t knock them off a horse as He did with St. Paul, but He can touch them in a powerful way, even if that way is gradual. God’s ways are not our ways and so we just need to trust in Him!

By the way, If you are looking for ideas on how to celebrate this feast with your family, there isn’t much on the web. I did find this link to coloring pages that your kids can color, maybe while you read the story of St. Paul’s conversion to them. (Non-Catholic link, but there is nothing objectionable that I can see, at least not this page.)

Here are some other links to learn more about this feast:

Catholic Encyclopedia

Catholic Culture

Women for Faith and Family

P.S. Here is a wonderful prayer that I found over at Our Beautiful Catholic Faith. It is directed specifically to non-Catholics, but it is very much applicable for our fallen-away Catholics, too:

Prayer for a Loved One’s Conversion to Catholicism (Colossians 1:9-14)

O Father, in the name of Your Son Jesus, and in the power and authority of the Holy Spirit,
with the knowledge of Your will,
I ask that You fill null with the knowledge of Your will through ALL spiritual wisdom and understanding.
Enlighten this precious child of Yours, dear Lord!
Teach this dear one to live in a manner that is worthy of You,
so as to be fully pleasing to You,
full of good works bearing good fruits and ever growing in knowledge of You.
Strengthen this lost lamb, dear Lord,
with every power of Your Holy Spirit,
in accordance with Your might, for all endurance and patience,
with joy, giving thanks to You O Father!
Make Your child fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in the Light.
Deliver this beloved one from the power of darkness
into the kingdom of Your Beloved Son, Jesus,
and transfer null into the kingdom of Your Beloved Son, Jesus,
in whom is redemption and the forgiveness of sins.

Amen!

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Tweetable: The Conversion of Saint Paul

The Holy Childhood of Jesus

Did you know that January has always been dedicated to the Holy Childhood of Jesus? It is a devotion that dates back to the 300’s AD – and even earlier.

I confess that up until a few years ago, I never had any particular devotion to the Childhood of Jesus; however, I have a statue of the Infant of Prague that my Aunt Pat gave me years ago. She always said that if I kept a dollar bill under the statue I’d always have money. (Is that because there’s always a dollar under the statue or because the Lord is watching over me, or a little bit of both?!)

There isn’t a lot of information about devotion to the Childhood of Jesus; however, if you’d like to explore the history and practices of devotion to the Childhood of Jesus (and the Infant of Prague), you can check out the sites here, here and here.

What We Can Learn from Devotion to the Childhood of Jesus

It is a deep and tremendous thing what God has done for us. He sent His only son, Jesus, to save us and show us the way to Him and to heaven. Crazier still, God sent His son to us as a baby. A baby! A humble, helpless baby. Jesus, human in all respects, grew into childhood and teenhood and adulthood. Truly amazing.

As we reflect on the childhood of Jesus we learn humility, obedience, patience, and love. Humility, obedience and patience are not particularly popular in today’s world. It wants what it wants and wants it now! But, it doesn’t always work that way. Through devotion to the Childhood of Jesus we can learn to see the world with a new perspective and understanding of God’s ways – at least in a very small way. Devotion to the Childhood can be (and is) an important part of our spiritual life. I hope that you will take some time to learning about this devotion and consider adding it into your life.

Prayer to the Infant Jesus

“O Jesus, Prince of Peace and King of the Universe, you chose to humble yourself and come into the world, not as a powerful ruler, but as a helpless infant; grant us the grace of humility and gentleness before you and our brothers and sisters. Grant, too, O Lord, that we may always strive to achieve the virtue and innocence of your own Holy Childhood. Instill in us a growing faith you, O Lord, and the strength to resist temptation in a world which so widely rejects you. Look upon us with compassion and forgive us our sins. Fill our hearts with kindness and understanding, especially for children, the aged and those we dislike or who dislike us.

O Jesus, who so loved children that you admonished us, “Unless you become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven,” grant us a child-like faith and purity of heart. Give us the grace not only to pray fervently, but to help spread your Gospel by deed as well as word. Amen.” (From Franciscan Mission Associates pamphlet)

(Found the prayer here.)

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Tweetable: Devotion to the Childhood of Jesus

The Miracle Prayer

The following prayer was passed out during the Women’s Conference that I attended in December. I have no idea where it came from or who wrote it but think it is a perfect prayer to pray as we get into the New Year.

The Miracle Prayer

I recommend you find a quiet place and pray the Miracle Prayer slowly and with intention. Let the Lord’s love surround you and fill your soul.

The Miracle prayer

“Lord Jesus, I come before You just as I am. I am sorry for my sins. I repent of my sins, please forgive me. In Your Name, I forgive all others for what they have done against me.

(Pause for a short time here and allow the Holy Spirit to bring to mind anyone you need to forgive. When He does, for each person say out loud, I forgive. Then continue the prayer.)

I renounce satan, the evil spirits and all their works. I give you my entire self. Lord Jesus, now and forever, I invite You into my life. Jesus, I accept You as my Lord, God and Savior. Heal me, change me, strengthen me, and deliver me in body, soul, mind, and spirit.

Come Lord Jesus, cover me with Your precious blood and fill me with Your Holy Spirit. I love you, Lord Jesus. I praise You, Lord Jesus. I thank You, Lord Jesus. I shall follow You every day of my life.

Amen”

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Tweetable: The Miracle Prayer

My Word for 2017

For the last couple of years, I have followed the example of Chris Brogan and set “3 words” to focus on for each year. This year, I am doing it a little differently. As I was praying for my words, only one word stood out:

COURAGE

No matter how I prayed or thought about it. It is the only word that stood out for me so I guess God is telling me something here!

My Word for 2017

Thus, 2017 will be a year of courage for me. It will be a year of action and a year of getting out of my comfort zone. I don’t know for sure what this will look like but I know it will mean some stretching and growing on my part. It makes me nervous but I know it will be a good thing!

I do know that I want to put myself out there more in an authentic and helpful way. This blog is all about encouraging and supporting women in their journey of faith and I want to do just that. And that leads me to my question:

What do you need? What struggles or questions of faith are you having? Would you be interested in coaching, retreats or courses about our Catholic faith? How do you think you can best be supported in living out a flourishing Catholic life? You don’t have to answer publicly in the comments. Feel free to use the contact page or email me a carol (@) simplecatholiciving (dot) com.

I’m not Making Goals This Year and Here’s Why

If you are a regular reader here, you know that a few years ago I switched from making “resolutions” to making “goals.” It was more of a mindset and perspective thing but it made a difference for me. I made those goals specific and measurable and I made great strides in accomplishing my goals.

I'm Not Making Yearly Goals This Year

Nevertheless, I sometimes got overwhelmed looking at the whole year and everything I want to do. (Anyone else?) Last year in 2016, especially, was a challenge for me. I struggled physically, emotionally, and felt like failure when I feel behind in my goals/plans. Some goals, like the making videos, were dropped altogether.  By October, I knew I needed to make a change but felt stuck.

That is why I decided not to make yearly goals this year, and instead, I made an outline. As a writer, I often read or hear about the importance of using outlines to guide authors in their writing endeavors. Thus, I sat down and wrote a broad outline of the things I want to accomplish for 2017 and used my calendar to fill in deadline dates. As the year progresses, I will readjust monthly and quarterly.

How does this look like?

For example, I want to write/create a lot of books in 2017. Thus, I  made an outline of how many books I want to write each month for January, February, and March. Then, I took my calendar and picked a “due date” for each book. Then, at the end of each month, I will re-evaluate and see if my goal is realistic or needs tweaking.

For January, I want to create a planner and a short grammar guide (for my carolda.com website). Thus, I took some time during the week between Christmas and New Year’s to fill in the blanks: I created a working title, scheduled writing time, and made a bare-bones outline of the books themselves.

Basically, instead of making goals this year, I am scheduling this year. 🙂

I am really excited about this plan and I can’t wait to see what the New Year will bring. I am ready to take better control and be more intentional with my life and business! How about you? What are your plans for the New Year? What are you doing to take control and make 2017 your best year yet? Do share!

P.S. Don’t worry, I won’t bug you will posts every month and/or quarterly with updates!