Enjoy the February edition of the West River Catholic
We have entered into the season of Lent, a season of grace. The Lord invites us to enter into a very powerful period in the liturgical year in the church. On Ash Wednesday, the Prophet Joel gave us these words of encouragement: “Even now, return to me (the Lord) with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning: Rend your hearts, not your garments … for gracious and merciful is he” (Jl 2:12-13).
The invitation has been extended — return to me and rend your hearts. In other words, tear open our hearts and seek the merciful love of the Father. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, encouraged, “In this season of grace, we once again turn our eyes to his mercy. Lent is a path: it leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children.”
Jesus presented to us the activity of the Lenten season, something far beyond the externals of the scribes and pharisees. Our Lenten activity must be rooted in an attitude of the heart, the interior place of our souls, that inner sanctuary of our relationship with Christ. “Rend your heart.” This is where true conversion takes place, where Christ’s heart and our hearts come together in a quite intentional way for us.
Like those coming into the Church at Easter, all of us are called to be converts, to be looking at our lives and our sinfulness in the light of grace, the light of God’s grace. In response to this season, many people will take on different Lenten practices. Whatever disciplines of Lent we embrace, we do it joyfully in order to thank God for his mercy and to open ourselves more to God’s overflowing life that surrounds us each moment. Our efforts to change and to grow in holiness are not made to earn God’s saving love for us. Rather, they are a consequence of it. I can’t imagine what life would be like without the love and mercy of the Father, whose mercy never tires of forgiving us and always gives us the chance to begin anew.
In this season we are called to fast and abstain. In this culture of excess, it seems easy to give some things up for a few weeks. In doing so, how is this or that practice helping me to become more prayerful, more generous, more holy? Our Lenten practices will only lead to conversion and life in abundance if they are connected to our relationship with Christ — Jesus leading us through conversion. If not, then our fasting from food and drink will be a mere diet and our almsgiving will be merely giving money away.
But Lent can also be more than a just a time for fasting. It should also be a joyous season of feasting — a time to fast from certain things and to feast on others. Perhaps you will find these suggestions I came across many years ago helpful. It was written by William Arthur Ward.
Lenten Litany of Fasting and Feasting
Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ within them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of life.
Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; feast on non-resistance.
Fast from bitterness; east on forgiveness.
Fast from self concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow; feast on the sunlight of sincerity.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that undergirds.
Fast from instant gratifications; feast on self denial.
Fast from worry; feast on divine order.
Trust in God.
And finally, fast from sin; feast on the abundance of God’s mercy.
The joy in doing this type of fasting and feasting is that these practices truly lead to rending our hearts and to conversion. And this conversion is a turning from those things that do not give life and a turning to God, who gives life to us in abundance. As you keep your gaze on the Father’s love and mercy, may this season of Lent be filled with every grace and blessing.
January 17-21, I had the chance to make the pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. to March for Life with our diocese. Thirty young people and eight adult leaders made the pilgrimage together. We spent five days, drove 3,330 miles round-trip, and spent more than 56 hours riding a bus in order to proclaim — and to be living witnesses to our nation and to our world — that we stand for life.
We arrived late Thursday afternoon in time for a quick shower, Mass and dinner. That evening we attended the “Life is Very Good Youth Rally,” sponsored by the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. It was an amazing evening of praise and worship music, confessions, Eucharistic adoration, and an inspirational keynote address by Sr. Miriam James Heidland, a Sister of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. (To hear just how inspirational Sr. Miriam is, go to YouTube, type in her name, and you will have an opportunity to hear for yourself.) Her talk prepared our hearts to March for Life on Friday morning.
As we piled back onto the bus, our driver asked me, “How many people were at the rally?”
I told him, “I wasn’t sure, but it was pretty full.”
He replied, “It is quite a sight to see over 200 charter buses in a parking lot from all over the county. I bet there were over 10,000 people at that rally tonight given the number of buses we counted.”
There were more than 7,500, but it certainly looked and sounded like more than 10,000. It was amazing to see and witness this new generation of young people stepping up to defend a culture of life.
The call to promote a culture of life and not death is central to who we are as disciples of Christ. In Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), St. John Paul II said: “… we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the ‘culture of death’ and the ‘culture of life.’ We find ourselves not only faced with but necessarily in the midst of this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.”
For me, the March for Life was a surprising experience of prayer, joy and hope. Throughout the march there seemed to be moments of great silence where we pondered the reality of over 58 million infants who have been aborted since the Roe vs Wade decision on January 22, 1973 and yet, at the same time, there were groups carrying signs and banners, praying the rosary, singing and chanting about a culture of life, filling the parade route with sights and sounds of joy and hope — echoes of the “Life is VERY Good” youth rally, the night before. As we marched, I felt there was a cloud of witnesses overshadowing us with the Holy Spirit, who is the Lord and Giver of Life, encouraging us to be bold witnesses to a culture of life.
Here are some of the ways others on the trip experienced the March for Life:
“This was my second year attending the March for Life, and I am so grateful for the opportunity that I had to go! What brought me back again to this year’s march was the joy that I had experienced the previous year. The speakers who shared their stories all relating to the overall theme for the march touched me: Love Saves Lives. It was truly empowering to be around hundreds of thousands of people who have the same pro-life beliefs as myself.”
— Mary Kinyon, Cathedral of Our Lady Perpetual Help
“My experience on the March for Life was incredible. I met some amazing people and got to see what can happen when such a great number of great people come together to fight for the end of abortion. It was amazing to be a witness to the love and support that these people showed to others. I am proud to have been a part of this amazing experience and to have the opportunity to march for the lives of those who aren’t given the opportunity to live.”
—Kiah Trainor, Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
“A few years ago, my life was transformed by the birth of our third daughter, Blakely Anne. Diagnosed in pregnancy with numerous health issues, we continued to trust in God and his plan for her life. Although her life was short, it was not without meaning. It meant so much for me to be able to march in solidarity, with thousands of others from across the country, sharing love for the dignity of all human life.
“I was struck especially by the youth in our diocese who said ‘yes’ to participate in a pro-life pilgrimage. During our journey, we had the opportunity to pray, laugh, and share life together. I am filled with hope because we stand together supporting the beauty of all life and God’s unique plan for each one of us.”
— Jenny Scherr, adult leader/youth minister, Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
“When I got to the march, I realized that I wasn’t just standing up for the unborn; I was also standing up for the pregnant women who don’t know how they are going to have the child. They are scared and don’t always have the support they need. So being there showed that there are people out there that care for her well-being, even if we don’t personally know her.”
— Jadyn Zentner, St. Mary, Lemmon
“My March for Life experience was definitely one that I will never forget. I not only marched with some of my best friends, but I made new best friends along the way. My outlook toward life changed in so many ways for the better. About 500,000 people came to Washington, DC, to march for the same cause. Thousands of people held up signs to protest for not only the lives of unborn, but for the lives of every human being. God blessed me that weekend by making me witness the true beauty of all lives, and what our lives can do to impact others.”
— Jordan Miller, Blessed Sacrament, Rapid City
“One of the many things I took away from this trip was that, truly, all life is precious. Whenever abortion is brought up in conversation it’s easy to get wrapped up in ‘saving the babies’ (which is very important), but we often forget about the parents and how they are affected by abortion.
“During the march, people spoke about how abortion affected them. Their testimonies were heart breaking and impactful and really gave you a different view on things. It’s easy to blame and condemn the parent for the choice they made, but this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. We must be kind, compassionate and caring toward all who are affected by such a tragedy because more times than not they are suffering from a choice they made and they must live with that. I wish I could personally thank those who had the courage to stand up for the pro-life movement and share their story because they were so inspirational.”
—Thérèse Wilhelmi, Our Lady of Black Hills, Piedmont
“My experience in D.C. attending the March for Life rallies and the march itself was an incredible experience! We went to save lives but the Lord taught us to open our hearts to him so he can give us the graces to march strongly to save our brothers and sisters!”
— Taylor Murphy, Blessed Sacrament, Rapid City
“Attending the March for Life this year was definitely an unforgettable experience. Marching with hundreds of people from age 70 to even babies, all praying and standing up for something much bigger and so important leaves one feeling content with pure joy from God.”
—Hannah Dillion, St. John the Baptist, Custer
The March for Life is not just another “march.” For 45 years, it has been a powerful witness to the sanctity of life, to the culture of life. It will continue to be that witness so long as a culture of death grips our country. May we continue to pray for the strength to loosen that grip so all may enjoy their right to life.