Chocolates or Ashes? Is this My Only Choice!

No. Therese’s Aunt Lillie gives up chocolate for the whole forty days of Lent! And then she has some two-fisted fun with sweets on Easter Day.

But this February Fourteenth offers all the rest of us believers a unique challenge. It is both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. Which will be most important? Will we choose chocolate or ashes? How might we reconcile the two?

Self-indulgence or fasting?

Self-absorption or self-denial?

And is this challenge even an issue for most people?

The Archdiocese of Chicago has stated that Lent is more important than candy hearts, and suggested that Catholics pick some other day for paper hearts and Cupid’s arrows.

A statement released by the Archdiocese explained that Catholics will not be dispensed from the laws of fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday, and suggested that we could celebrate Valentine’s Day on Feb. 13th, which is also Mardi Gras. Apparently, rescheduling gratification wins the day in Chicago.

But there is more to this challenge than what we eat. February 14th is an opportunity to look at how we each relate to ourselves. Is it with a sense of entitlement and over indulgence, or is it with patience, sacrifice and forgiveness? Our starting point as Christians is that each of us is created in the image and likeness of God. This is the deepest reality of every human person, as stated in Genesis 1:27. But as we continue reading the Book of Genesis, we also learn about the fall of the whole human race and about our individual and communal tendency towards doing evil, including various forms of self-abuse. In other words, we are made of precious metal, but we are tarnished.

The point is that we often lack the gifts of self-respect and moderation, as characterized by children of God. But when this happens we can ask Jesus for a new sensitivity to the Father’s handiwork within our hearts. We can seek the Holy Spirit for a willingness to be converted over and over. We can make new decisions to truly love ourselves as God’s temples. We can also ask the Holy Spirit for the wisdom to know when to enjoy ourselves and when to fast along with our sisters and brothers in Christ. And finally, we can consider asking this evangelizing question of others, “Are you celebrating Valentine’s Day or Ash Wednesday?” Then listen for clues of God’s presence in the other.

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Jesus… the Measure of Truth and Reality

 Jesus breathes, speaks, and embodies the great truth of God’s love, redemption, and sanctification for all people. Jesus is the foundation and the context for everything we say and do as Christians. This means that we are often called to go beyond our own version of the truth and choose him as our yardstick or measure of what is important and what is ‘real’ or ‘fake.’ For example:

Early in Therese’s third pregnancy, she was sick and exhausted, and her mother was seriously ill. John knew he had to do something. He tried helping around the house, but that didn’t seem to matter; neither did talking things out. He thought of suggesting a call to the doctor, but she had just seen him.

What to do? Then John realized that Therese would experience peace only by talking to Jesus. So each day when he got home from work, he asked her, “Did you have a chance to pray yet?” The usual answer was, “No, and I don’t want to!” But he was convinced that God could help her, so every day he would ask again. About ten days into his campaign, when he began to ask, she cut him off and ran into the bathroom. It would be easier to face God than to face John!

Therese sat on the edge of the tub and cried. She told God about all the diapers, the disturbing visits to Mom, the children’s short naps, the nausea. “Right now, I don’t need one more obligation. I don’t need to pray. I don’t want to! I just need to relax. I need to have some fun in my life! Sorry, God, but you’re not much fun to talk to.”

Then she took a deep breath and closed her eyes so that she could listen to God’s voice. “Well, Therese, right now you are not much fun either!” That was the breakthrough she needed. God’s challenge and sense of humor would keep her going for the next seven months, during which her mother would pass away.

Here are guidelines for sharing the truth in love, as John tried to do.

  1. Speak with gentleness and confidence in God’s love for the person whom you address. This does not mean that difficult feelings won’t emerge. It does means that your goal is another’s wholeness. You are not adversaries but brothers and sisters in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
  2. Try presenting the truth through a question. “Have you ever thought of . . . ?” “What would happen if . . . ?” “What have you tried so far?” “What are you options when . . . ?” Then listen carefully for the other’s point of view and needs.
  3. Report just your own observations about another’s behavior using “I” statements: “I noticed that you . . . ” or “I felt . . . when you . . . ” And do so in private. Remember the way Jesus spoke to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. It takes humility to approach another this way, especially if you have been trained to assign blame for hurt.
  4. Admit that you may not be the right person to share what needs to be said in a serious situation. If that is the case, then turn to someone who may be able to help you sort out your options in the relationship. This is especially true when the behavior of a public person is causing a stressful and angry response in you.
  5. Consider the quality of your relationship and the importance of the matter at hand. Is this person a parent? A spouse? A friend? An employee? Ask if the matter is serious enough for a challenge. We are called to honesty in all things unless the role we have in a relationship, makes it inappropriate to speak.
  6. Try making an agreement about challenging behavior. For example, Mark and Barbara were in the habit of criticizing the Sunday sermon after Mass on the way to the coffee shop. Mark realized how inappropriate and unkind this was. So he asked Barbara, “Next time I start complaining, would you please say, ‘Mark, you told me you didn’t want to do this anymore.’”
  7. Be aware of the prevalence of relativism in our culture. It can erode our ability to share objective truth. Some believe that any position or “truth” is as good as any another “truth.” Some believe that ‘my truth’ is real and yours is fake.”Excerpted from Mending Broken Relationships. by the Bouchers
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Six Ways to Pray to and Share the Newborn Jesus through a Christmas Carol

“Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope.” *

At the heart of the most endearing Christmas Carols is a glimpse into the manger scene in ancient Bethlehem. The kernel of meaning in these Christ-centered Christmas carol is contained in four small words: “Jesus Christ is Lord!” (Phil. 2: 11). First, the name “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew, “Yeshua,” and means “God saves”. Carols that help us recognize Jesus include What Child is this? and Silent Night. Second, are carols about Christ, Greek for “the anointed one.” These include Angels We have Heard on High and Hark the Herald Angles Sing. Finally, the experience of choosing Jesus as Lord is described in O, Come All Ye Faithful and Joy to the World. When we sing any of these Jesus-centered carols we have an opportunity to revisit Bethlehem ourselves and then share Christ with others through these songs.

Below are six ways to find and to share Jesus, the Christ, through a carol:

1)  **Sing a carol aloud, like “Silent Night.” Let its melody wash over your heart and touch your soul. Sing it aloud again, allowing its message to sink in – God so loves you, that he sent his son, Jesus, to become one with us. **If you don’t have any lyrics, download a free copy of fifteen Christ-centered Christian carols at

2) Read the lyrics, after asking the Holy Spirit to speak to you and touch you.  Read them aloud or in silence slowly, three times. Whenever a word, phrase or image touches you (calms or excites you), stop and repeat that line, holding it in your heart for a time.

3) Reflect on one title/name for Jesus from within this carol (i.e. Holy Infant, Christ, Savior, Son of God, Light, or Redeemer). What does it say about Jesus? What does it say to you or about you?

4) Carry this title/name for Jesus with you into your day. Pray this title for a few moments before you send an email, text message, or before making a phone call. When you feel rushed or anxious, pause and let this name for Jesus echo in your heart and calm your spirit.

5) Write out your description of what this carol is saying to you. Then condense it down to one sentence for possible sharing with someone who has a need for Christmas peace and joy. Remember. Your experience with this Christmas carol can connect others to the Christmas event and to Jesus.

6) Consider preparing a longer sharing for more serious conversations about how you were moved from… fear to courage, or from hatred to love, weakness to strength, despair to hope, guilt to peace, loneliness to community…  through singing and praying this carol. But remember most sharings will normally be of the one sentence variety.

For video clips that feature images/titles for Jesus from two carols each… visit

*Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) Seek That Which is Above, Ignatius Press, 2007


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