Prayer Life

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Every Catholic is familiar with this phrase. It acts as a reminder of who we are, where we came from, and why we are here. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. For Catholics, it is the beginning of a period of reflection, modesty, and prayer. A number of enduring practices and traditions make Ash Wednesday a particularly symbolic and important date on the liturgical calendar.

Symbolism and Practice

Palm Crosses on Palm Sunday

The ashes are a sign of penance and a symbol of the dust from which God made us. The tradition of wearing ashes comes from centuries-old Jewish traditions stemming from occasions of fasting and repentance. The ashes themselves are the burned remains of palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday.

Generally, everyone is welcome to receive ashes during the Mass, even non-practicing Catholics and those who follow other faiths. Because of Ash Wednesday’s focus on renewal and preparation, it can make for a particularly powerful time to invite newcomers to the faith, as well as welcome home those who no longer practice the faith.

Fasting

As Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, it also begins a period of fasting and abstinence. Barring a serious health condition, Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are encouraged to fast on Ash Wednesday by refraining from eating meat, including poultry. Catholics are permitted one meal on Ash Wednesday, and two smaller helpings of food that are not equal to the larger meal of the day.

Fasting continues for each Friday throughout the Lenten season. Many Catholics follow additional fasting practices by refraining from eating completely on Ash Wednesday or only permitting themselves to eat bread or water.

Prayer

Rosary Beads

Many Catholics choose to refrain from partaking in an action or eating a particular food for Lent. Kids might choose to avoid eating candy or chocolate starting on Ash Wednesday and lasting throughout the Lenten season. However, it can be far more spiritually fulfilling to add to your life, rather than subtract.

Ash Wednesday and Lent offer an opportunity to rethink your prayer life. Rather than give up chocolate, you can make a vow to pray more during the day and choose to say a full rosary each day. Use your rosary beads and choose to say a full rosary each day.

If you find yourself too busy, spread it out throughout the day, starting by saying one decade of the rosary when you wake up in the morning. By making a commitment to prayer, you can use the season of Lent to grow closer to God.

Changes at Mass

Ash Wednesday brings several notable changes to our regular Sunday masses. Beginning with Ash Wednesday and lasting through Lent, the Alleluia and the Gloria are omitted. These joyous songs return on Easter to proclaim the Resurrection. Many parishes also insert Latin phrases and hymns during Lent. This is also true of the Greek phrasing of the Kyrie. Lent is meant to be a solemn time of reflection and our mass changes to reflect this.

Reconciliation

Centuries ago, the day before Ash Wednesday was a mandatory day of penance and reconciliation. Today, many parishes offer additional reconciliation services during Lent. It is common to find community reconciliation services where parishes have several priests available to hear confessions, and a short mass is held.

This is an ideal time to grow closer together, perhaps with friends or family, by attending confession together. It may also be a good time for those with reconciliation anxiety to make it to church. Confession is required at least once a year for every Catholic.

Scheduling

Ash Wednesday is observed 46 days prior to Easter Sunday. The 40-day period of Lent is a reminder of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. Sundays are not counted in the 40-day tally. The scheduling of Easter, and, by extension, Lent, is something that is confusing to many people.

Easter is observed on the Sunday that follows the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. Because of this, the date of Easter changes year-to-year, which is why Ash Wednesday is also not observed on a fixed date. Ash Wednesday is not recognized as a Holy Day of Obligation.

Ashes on Ash Wednesday

However, Ash Wednesday begins our journey to Easter, a season of joy and renewal. To prepare us, Ash Wednesday and Lent serve as a period of reflection, prayer, and sacrifice. The traditions and customs of Ash Wednesday have endured over several centuries. Utilize this time to increase your devotion to prayer and grow your faith. You will get out what you put in, so focus on making Ash Wednesday a day of solemn reflection.

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This weekend our priest challenged us to not become armchair Catholics. It really struck a chord with me either because it’s always been one of my fears, or I’m already on the road to laziness.

On the last day of the Divine Mercy Novena we pray for those who are lukewarm in their faith. It’s telling that the last day is saved for the lukewarm souls as these are the ones who pain Jesus the most. “These souls wound My Heart most painfully. My soul suffered the most dreadful loathing in the Garden of Olives because of lukewarm souls. They were the reason I cried out: ‘Father, take this cup away from Me, if it be Your will.’ For them, the last hope of salvation is to run to My mercy.” (Diary, Saint Maria Faustina)

In the words of Elie Wiesel, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Both love and hate evoke the color red meaning passion, fire and deep feeling. Indifference is just blah, nothing, empty.

And to be honest, being lukewarm is comfortable. It’s inside a well-cocooned comfort zone where I don’t have to confront my shortcomings or stretch my abilities.

I’m going to assume that you can relate. For me the verve with which I pursue God waxes and wanes entirely based on my own effort. I find myself practicing laziness, resulting in getting better and better at it. Instead of saying a rosary, I say a decade, then just a handfuls of Hail Marys, then later “God – you know I love you, but I’m tired and going to bed now.”

And poof. A hard-won habit is lost.

I read things like what Lis writes about her wonderful experience with adoration and my initial reaction is jealousy at her relationship with God. Seriously. I need to get over myself.

But coming in behind the jealousy is a ray of inspiration. I want what Lis has and I’m the only thing standing in my way. Or sitting in my own way – in that darn armchair Father mentioned on Sunday.

Now is the time to get uncomfortable. Through actions, learning and prayer I once again fuel the flame of love of God. There can be no waiting or excuses. “I don’t have the time” doesn’t cut it. We have one job to do in this life and that is to get to Heaven.

Time to once again role up my sleeves.

1. Learn – even on just the topic of Catholicism there is so much to discover that I won’t be done in my lifetime. Guided education through your parish or online with sites like Formed.org are a great place to start.
2. Act – Using the Corporal Works of Mercy as a starting point. If you’re more than happy donating money to help a cause, ask yourself if that’s too easy. Perhaps it’s time to nudge a little farther out of ye olde comfort zone and try something different.
3. Pray – prayer should not be boring. If you find your mind wandering or anticipating the end of a rote prayer, it’s time to use a different approach. Lectio Devina is one method. Another is just turning your stream of consciousness into a prayer. God knows all your thoughts anyway, you might as well direct them toward him.

The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God’s creation, says this: “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Revelations 3:14-16

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Fountain outside Basilica Church

Between the years 1769 and 1833, Franciscan priests founded 21 missions throughout Alta California—a province of New Spain that encompasses what we now know as California, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico—to bring Christianity to the Native Americans living in that region. Theses missions were also a part of the Spanish government’s attempts to expand their rule over their claims in New Spain.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo

The Carmel Mission’s official name is Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. Named for Carlo Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan, it was originally founded in what is now called Monterey, California, the capital of Alta California at the time. Founded by St. Junìpero Serra, from 1770 to 1778, it was the site of the first confirmation of a Native American in California.

St. Serra moved the mission to Carmel-by-the-Sea after a conflict with the governor of Alta California, Pedro Fages, over how the governor treated his soldiers and the Native Americans.

They used adobe, a combination of mud and organic material, to build the first chapel at the Carmel mission, but St. Serra dreamed of having a permanent stone structure for worship. He drew up the plans for the chapel, but he was unable to build it during his lifetime.

Building the Chapel

St. Serra’s successor, Father Fray Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, convinced the government of New Spain to send qualified architects and skilled stonemasons to carry out St. Junìpero Serra’s plan for the chapel. The government licensed Manuel, an architect, and Santiago Ruiz, a master stonemason, to head up construction. The centerpiece of Manuel’s design was a series of vaulted parabolic arches across the ceiling.

Construction lasted between 1795 and 1797 when it was dedicated for worship on Christmas Day. A major earthquake in 1812 moved the Franciscans to remodel the Basilica. They were terrified by the news that the parabolic ceilings of another church collapsed on worshipers during mass, killing many. They tore down the vaulted ceiling, leaving the stone arches that had supported it, and filled the rest in with wooden planks to prevent a similar disaster from happening at Carmel.

They remodeled the exterior of the basilica between 1817-1822. Among many other improvements, they built true towers to house the bells. The original bell towers weren’t towers at all. They were just walls with arches cut out to house the bells.

Basilica Church at the Carmel Mission

The interior of the basilica was much more opulent than it is today. There were seven major side altars with more than twenty statues of saints. The most beautiful side chapel held a massive crucifix with statues of St. John the Evangelist and Our Lady. Another beautiful statue of La Conquistadora, or Our Lady of Bethlehem, was the center of the large reredos decorated with crystal and fine gilded wood.

Disrepair and Collapse

In 1833, the newly independent government of Mexico secularized the Carmel mission. The roof collapsed in 1851, and many of the statues and altarpieces were destroyed. When the Catholic Church regained control in 1864, the mission was in complete ruins.

Restoration

Father Angel Casanova began the long process of restoring the mission in 1884. Monsignor Philip Scher chose Harry Downie to oversee and to complete the restoration process in 1931. Shortly after that, the Franciscans transferred the mission to the local diocese and the chapel became a parish church. Downie worked tirelessly for the rest of his life to bring all the buildings of the mission back to their former glory.

Because of Downie, the Carmel Mission is one of the most faithfully restored of all the missions in California. It most completely represents the style and design of the original building. Some of the original decorations remain, having been rescued by Fr. Sadoc Villaras when the ceiling showed signs of collapse.

In the 1960s the Diocesan Bishop, Aloyisus Willinger petitioned the Holy See to have the church declared a minor Basilica. There are four major Basilicas in the world: St. John Lateran, St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. Mary Major, and they are all in Rome.

The Holy See designates a church a minor Basilica because they have history, dignity, architectural value, and have significance as a worship site. Pope John Paul XXIII honored the Carmel Mission with this title in recognition of St. Serra’s work establishing Christianity on the west coast of North America and for the work done at the Carmel Mission. It is one of only 69 basilicas in the United States.

Crucifix carved from wood

One of the most important historical California missions, The Basilica Church at the Carmel Mission is not just a relic from the past. Its faithfully restored nave is also a parish church, where priests still celebrate mass. The Carmel Mission, like many historical worship sites, connects the faithful to the living history of the church, helping us to see our place in the long tradition that is our faith.

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O God, whose Son was born
in Bethlehem, on that
wonderous night, lead us to
that same place, where Mary
laid her tiny child.
As we look on in wonder and
praise, make us welcome Him
and all new life, and care for
His handiwork; the earth,
the sky and the sea.
O God, bless us again in Your
great love. We pray for this
through Christ our Lord,
Amen.

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As Catholics, we are familiar with the powerful sacramental holy water. Placed at the entrance in every Catholic church around the world, this sanctified water is part of our life from baptism onward.

Holy water is a very powerful sacramental and should not be taken for granted. It is blessed by God and should be used daily.

Understanding its true significance and uses is an important part of our upbringing.

The History of Holy Water

Although it has not been determined exactly when the Church first started using holy water, it was an integral part of Catholicism beginning after the death and resurrection of Christ.

The use of holy water is closely intertwined with Jewish Law. In Judaism, the Rabbis use blessed water to purify the body and the mind before conducting rituals, such as prior to entering the temple, offering sacrifice, or even eating.

In Christianity, the first uses of holy water are usually associated with Apostle Matthew. According to the writings attributed to Pope Saint Clement, Saint Matthew instituted the rite of using holy water to “protect the soul and body.” Saint Clement’s Constitutions also lists a specific prayer St. Matthew supposedly would say when using holy water.

Where Does Holy Water Come From?

Canon law has evolved, but at one point sacramentals were only blessed on the Epiphany, including exorcised salt, which is sometimes used in Holy Water. However, priests can now bestow these blessings at any time. Water is made holy when it is blessed by a priest. Once it is blessed, the holy water is reserved in a water font at the church entrance. Upon entering the church, we dip our fingers into the font and make the sign of the cross. The holy water reminds us of our baptism and union with Christ. In baptism, we are born anew spiritually, freed from our sins and brought into the covenant family of God.

The Significance of Holy Water

Holy water cleanses the soul. Sanctified by a priest, holy water repels evil and is used to bless those with whom it comes in contact. The rite of purification before entering a church and baptism, as well as many other Roman Catholic rituals, involve the use of holy water.

When a baby is baptized, holy water expunges the original sin that a person is born with and, in an adult baptism, it removes all mortal and venial sins.

By using holy water as part of mass, we are reminded how God has the power to forgive all our sins. Holy water also prepares us to receive the sacraments and protects us from demons.

The Uses of Holy Water

Baby being baptized in Catholic church

Some of the most common uses of Holy Water:

Baptism. Holy water is a fundamental part of the baptismal sacrament. Just as our Lord and Savior Jesus was bathed in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, the priest uses sanctified water to wash away original sin.

Holy Water Fonts. At the entrance of a Catholic church is a font filled with holy water. Catholics use this to bless themselves and purify their souls before entering the church, so they are spiritually cleansed prior to entering God’s house.

There are three categories of holy water fonts: stationary (as in a church), portable fonts (such as those used for baptism), and private fonts (usually found in homes).

Eastern Orthodoxy still has holy water fountains that are used to wash and hands and feet (likely derived from ancient Jewish rituals).

Home. As Saint Teresa of Avila says, there is “nothing like holy water to put devils to flight.” You can never have too much grace or blessing in your life. A holy water font in your home is a great way to renew your spirit and cleanse your home.

Cars. Though technology has created engineering marvels and changed lives everywhere, Christianity does not change. Holy water is just as effective today, despite technological advances, as it was at the time of Jesus. Many Catholics choose to bless their car using holy water. Blessing your vehicle with holy water reminds us that God is always watching over us and our loved ones.

The Sick. Holy water has the power to heal. Blessing someone with holy water is a spiritual work of mercy. You can use holy water to bless their hospital room and help bring comfort to them.

Font for holy water

Your Pets. Pets are beloved companions and can be blessed with holy water because all creation gives glory to God. On the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, many parishes have a rite of blessing for pets. This blessing can be given to farm animals, too.

Holy water can truly work miracles, and it can help you remain clean, pure, and closer to the Light of God.

Holy water is an integral part of what it means to be Catholic. When you dip your fingers into holy water and make the sign of the cross, you should be mindful of the significance of your baptism and renunciation of Satan. Remember, holy water receives its power through the authority and sanctity of the Church.

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It’s a jungle out there. That used to be a popular way to describe the societal culture we would encounter when venturing outside our homes and intimate circle of friends. That included the time we spent in college.

This was the time that many of us left home for the first time. It was the first time we were out on our own, unencumbered by the watching eyes of our parents. Continue reading Effective Ways to Stay Connected to Your Catholic Faith During Your College Years

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The advent wreath I had when I was little was the construction paper one I made in Sr. Jane’s 3rd grade class. Like most of my Catholic education, I took that little wreath for granted and used it more to count down the slowest weeks of my life – those leading up to Christmas – than as a prayer tool.

There are so many wonderful reasons to have an Advent wreath. Here we’re going to talk about the top seven:

  1. Different form of Prayer
    Prayer is an exercise. And like exercise, it works best if you do many forms – not just bench presses and squats. Having (and using!) an Advent wreath gives you an opportunity to pray in a different way than what you do on a day-to-day basis.
  2. Perspective
    You’re only job in life is to get to heaven. If you read through the 4 weekly prayers below, you can see they are asking God to help us change in ways that make us more holy and reject sin.
  3. Deepen your Relationship with God
    That’s the whole point of prayer, right?
    Advent wreaths are a sacramental, meaning we use them to sanctify ourselves.
  4. Establish a Family Tradition
    Family traditions are a way for families to express their love for each other! Like that favorite serving bowl your grandmother used, a family Advent Wreath absorbs more and more meaning every year it is used.
  5. Teach your Children Well
    The correct reason for the season is the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Giving 30 seconds to Advent prayer every night before supper (or dinner…) brings their attention back to God.
  6. Get Outside your Comfort Zone
    Still not excited about getting an Advent wreath? That can be a good thing! Growth happens fastest outside your comfort zone.
  7. Peace
    There is something mesmerizing about a lit candle. Eating dinner with your family with the light of Advent candles burning gives dinner a refreshing ambiance.

Continue reading 7 Reasons Why You Need an Advent Wreath

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No matter what country we are in, or what culture we live in, a universal image comes to mind when the word “angel” is spoken. Looking back through human history, as evidenced by our art, architecture, literature, and even the names of our children, we can see the influence of the belief in angels. Continue reading Angels – What the Catholic Faith Believes vs. Angels in Popular Culture

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Let Go and Let God!

Man, that sounds so easy, right? Just let go!

It just doesn’t work that smoothly for me.

This summer I had the opportunity to do a high ropes course, and at the end, they would hook our safety harness into a little zip line and we’d float to the ground. All we had to do was step off the platform.

Just step off… don’t over think it.

High Ropes Course

I botched it every time. The first time my left foot refused to leave the platform, so while my right foot stepped off, the weight of my body followed, but the toes of my left foot were awkwardly dragged off the platform. It was like Buddy the Elf on an escalator, only in reverse.

Buddy the Elf on an Escalator

The second time, I forgot to put my feet down and landed flat on my butt, taking out the guy on the ground out with me.

The third time I leapt off the platform instead of stepping gently. That didn’t end well either.

The problem was, every instinct I had was looking at the ground 20 feet below and refused to let my muscles follow the very simple instructions of “Simply step off the platform.” I saw other people do it and float easily and safely to the ground.

The same has happened when I ponder the phrase “Let go and let God.” I’ve seen it work out for other people, but to subject myself totally to God’s will and trust Him for everything my family and I need? That’s a mighty high platform to step off of.

Putting it Into Practice
I have been praying for a long time for guidance on a major life decision. I knew what I wanted the answer to be, but I wanted it to be easy, without risk, and a safe, happy choice for all involved.

I had been contemplating for a very long time leaving my job as an accountant that provides a roof, groceries and Catholic school tuition – a job for a company overflowing in creativity, lead by a devoted Catholic man, and filled with my closest friends and longtime mentors, none of whom I wanted to disappoint or upset. Leave that job and step into entrepreneurship full time; seeing how far I could go with DiscountCatholicProducts.com.

At every turn, the answer to my inquiring prayers was “Yep. Do it.” Then I would back away from the ledge and think to myself “Nah. That is not what that meant.”

And again I would pray … “Is this the path You meant for me?” and the response would come: “Yes.”

I keep botching it, all because this whole “Let go and let God” thing seems harder than it has to be.

Oddly, I can look back at numerous times in my life where trusting in Him worked out – maybe not right away, sometimes taking even years. But He has never failed me. So why is it so hard to trust?

Stepping off the Ledge
Finally today was the day I mustered up just enough trust. I broached the topic with my boss and mentor of six years. It’s a scary first step and I doubt the trip to the bottom will be smooth and I’m not guaranteed to land on my feet.

What “Let go and let God” is not is a promise for an easy life and that things won’t get difficult. Just because I don’t want to take the trash out, doesn’t mean I am not the tool God choose to take that trash out. He gave me legs, hands, and muscle power enough to take the trash out.

Same for my career situation. Praying to win the lottery isn’t going to cut it. God gave me talents and a touch of chutzpah. It’s a long row to hoe, and it’s not my place to question God, or even give Him the side eye. This is the work He wants me to be doing. It doesn’t mean it’s not scary.

Relevant Bible Verse:
Cast your care upon the LORD, who will give you support. He will never allow the righteous to stumble. ~Psalms 55:22

Tonight before bed, my Lectio Divina reading is Chapter 4 of Philippians. I hope to gain some insight there and deepen my trust in the Lord.

Talk Back
Do you have tips for me? How do I get that last toe on my left foot to take the leap? What stories do you have of letting go and letting God?

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