It’s Ash Wednesday: Time to Indulge!

February 10, 2016

Today’s Ash Wednesday.  Wait! What?  Already?  I still have to put some boxes of Christmas decorations back in the attic.

Lent begins early this year–probably about the earliest that it can be.  But, truth be told, Lent always kind of creeps up on me. I never seem ready to begin 40 days of fasting, prayer, and renewing my relationship with God.

Of course, my Lenten resolutions, like my New Year resolutions, end up having a very short life span. It’s hard to maintain any sort of consistent practice–whether it be fasting, doing charity, giving alms, or simply praying more–for 40 consecutive days.

This year, though, I have a little bit of a different attitude towards Lent, sparked by last Sunday’s Gospel reading. It was the story of the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5: 1-11).  Jesus instructs the weary fisherman, including Peter, to continue fishing though they had not caught anything for many hours. Their reward is an overabundant catch of fish.  Peter’s response is a very human one:  he feels that Jesus’ gift of the great catch is not something he deserves because he is a sinner.

I often feel like Peter did.  I never understand why God continues to be so good to me when I have so many faults and do so much that is wrong.  Like many people, I often wonder at the way God works in the world and why so much suffering and struggle have to happen for people to find God in their lives.  When I read this gospel story, I think of how mysteriously God acts in the opposite direction, too:  God is always sending out gifts and graces to people like me who don’t deserve them.

This message is resonating particularly strongly with me this year, as our Church celebrates the Jubilee of Mercy.  It seems to me that one of the messages of this year is that God kind of overdoes it when it comes to lavishing mercy upon humanity.  Unfortunately, our response to that can sometimes be guilt.  God is like the person who gives you expensive jewelry for Christmas when your present is a box of candy.  The dynamic creates an awkward feeling inside.

So, here’s a suggestion for Lent.  Instead of giving up something, indulge.  So, instead of giving up chocolate, allow yourself to indulge in healthy food and snacks.  Instead of sacrificing by doing volunteer work at a soup kitchen, allow yourself to be open to the gifts and lessons the poor can teach you when you are engaged in charitable work.  Instead of forcing yourself to pray every day, allow yourself a half-hour to just be quiet with God and relax in Divine Love.  God is lavishing mercy on us in a special way this year. Let’s learn to accept it and enjoy it.

This kind of exercise is especially helpful for folks who advocate for LGBT equality.  I think that we get so used to the challenge and hardship of the work, that we forget to accept the victories joyfully. I know that even more than seven months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, I’m still having to remind myself that marriage is now a legal right for all.  I’m reminded of a quip a friend once told me:  “Just because you work for justice doesn’t mean you always lose.”

I hope that by celebrating God’s mercy this Lent, by allowing myself to receive and accept that mercy better, maybe I’ll help myself grow out of the attitude that nothing is really changing and start to see and appreciate the small miracles that abound around me each day.

If you read or listen to the lectionary readings in the coming weeks, you will see that Lent is a feast of God’s mercy.  Let’s indulge–and overindulge–in this feast!

Happy Lent!

–Francis DeBernardo

QUOTE TO NOTE: Catholic Parish Hosts Pride Prayer Service

June 13, 2013

computer_key_Quotation_MarksAll Saints Catholic Church in Syracuse held a prayer service during Pride celebrations, which celebrated LGBT people and honored all those struggling for equality. Fr. Fred Daley, the church’s pastor who ‘came out’ as gay in 2004, gathered an interfaith assembly of several dozen for the service. He spoke about why a Catholic church would host such an event:

“Our mission is to be open and welcoming to all people. I think that often religion of all types lose focus on that and can instead become instruments of isolation and segregation. We are trying to be sure to do our best to stop that at All Saints…

“This is about God’s love – God made all of us, and we teach that God is good. This event tonight is about inclusion and where there is inclusion there is light.”

You can read more about the prayer service at and view the video below to hear more from Fr. Daley.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Does the BVM Want France to Oppose Marriage and Adoption Equality?

August 10, 2012

French Catholic bishops are reviving a 17th-century “prayer for France” and updating it to include a reference to oppose same-sex marriage which that nation is considering legalizing, as well as to oppose adoption by same-gender couples which will be legalized next year.

Reuters reported this week that the prayer is to be read in all Catholic churches in France on August 15th, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The French language version of the prayer can be read here. The Reuters report contains the relevant excerpts from the prayer in English:

“In the text, Catholics will pray for newly elected officials ‘so that their sense of the common good will overcome special demands.’ This would include support for traditional families ‘throughout their lives, especially in painful moments.’ ”

“Opposing gay adoption, it says children should ‘cease to be objects of the desires and conflicts of adults and fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother.’ ”

“The prayer is unusual for French bishops, who usually keep a low political profile. Church spokesman Monsignor Bernard Podvin said they wanted to ‘raise the consciousness of public opinion about grave social choices.’ “

On a blog, Judy Mandelbaum reports the reaction to the proposed prayer from one French politician:

“Nadine Morano, a Catholic and pro-gay marriage politician and former family minister for the conservative UMP party, told journalists this morning that ‘the Church is acting within its role when it defends values, particularly those of marriage… But the Virgin Mary, to whom I am very much attached, does not reject any of her children.’ Morano pointed out that blindly praising the two-parent model ‘simply means ignoring the fact that 85% of violence done to children occurs within traditional families.’ She will be boycotting the event.”

The Reuters report provides some background on the history of the prayer:

“King Louis XIII decreed in 1638 that all churches would pray on Aug 15, the day Catholics believe the Virgin Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven, for the good of the country. The annual practice fell into disuse after World War Two.”

Mandelbaum offers the following comment on the prayer’s history:

“The revived prayer seems like an odd way to snipe at gay marriage and adoption. In 1637, desperate to have a son after twenty-three years of marriage to Anne of Austria, Louis had promised to dedicate his kingdom to the Virgin Mary and order annual prayers to be spoken in her name if she would only give him a male heir. The next year, Louis XIV – the famous Sun King – was born, and the rest is history.”

Prayers required by the hierarchy are one thing.  Let’s remember, however, that an important part of the Eucharistic liturgy is that the faithful are encouraged to offer their own prayers of petition, thanks, and praise.  I suspect that the French prayers of the faithful,  probably mostly silent, will be offered in support of marriage equality and adoption by lesbian and gay couples.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry