40 days with the 40 least

40 Days with the 40 Least is a powerful Lenten reflection produced annually by the Marianists in Spain. 40 Days is an opportunity to increase our awareness and unite in solidarity with the 40 least developed countries in our world. This year’s theme focuses on Human Rights. The following is from the introduction to the resource,

This year we wish to focus our gaze, our heart and our mind on the reality of the human rights of the people who live in the last forty, the forty countries with the lowest Index of Human Development, according to the 2011 Annual Report of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). We will do this in union with the social pain of those who are victims of the violation of their rights, and also with the witness of those who, in the midst of that situation, embrace the responsibility of denunciation, promotion and defense of those rights…

In identifying the current situation of human rights, contemporary reflection tends to highlight three concerns: the degradation of life, the loss of liberty, the lack of justice. Around these three universal principles – life, liberty, justice – in situations where they are lacking and in the forces that defend them, revolves our Lenten campaign this year…

As in other years, for each day of Lent we are offering a passage of testimony and, following it, a juridical text Signed and ratified, taken from the very rich universal legislative sources, which we will see. To help us pass from right to deed, there is a commentary and a proposal for action. Finally, a short Prayer will help us place into the hands of God both our plans and the situation of which we are witnesses. We hope that for another year this recourse to the situation of human rights in the last forty might help us to live this Lent in solidarity and compassion, as we walk with our Savior on his ascent to Jerusalem.

40 Days with the 40 Least is available in English, Español, Français, and  Português. Click on the Calendar on the home page for each day’s resources.

choose life

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days.” Deut. 30: 19-20.

When I was a young university student, our faith sharing community had a long discussion on morality. How do we discern what is right and wrong? We all knew the basic black and white rules and commandments. But what about all those situations in the fuzzy, grey in between? What do we do when the answers aren’t clear? We debated long and hard, with the passion of youthful adults, and came up with the following guide-line… When in doubt, choose the path that is most life-giving. Choose life!

Of all the discussions we had in those early years, this one has remained with both hubby and me. It continues to be at the base of many of our decisions, and a piece of wisdom we’ve tried to pass on to our children. In difficult situations or relationships, we often ask the question; is this situation (or relationship) life-giving or an energy sucker? Life-giving does not mean without challenge, for challenges provide experiences for growth. Also, we can’t just do things that please us, or hang with folks who make us happy all the time. But, if it’s one energy sucking experience after another than we need to re-evaluate our choices. We need to choose life.

I confess to also using this approach when it comes to faith issues and beliefs. Many well-intentioned Catholics will accuse me of being a “cafeteria Catholic”; picking and choosing what I want to believe in. Let’s just say that the over-loaded, groaning buffet table offered by the Church is sometimes too much for me to handle. Trying to take it all in gives me a nasty case of indigestion! I need to focus on that which is pleasant to the palate and leaves me nourished and satisfied. I need to politely refuse that which leaves me angry, frustrated, saddened, and drained of life-giving energy.

There are those who say that if you can’t handle the whole meal deal offered by the Church, then you should dine somewhere else. This is the height of in-hospitality. Would you ask a friend to leave the table just because they don’t like one of the dishes you have offered? Would you leave a table where you are being nourished just because your favorite dessert wasn’t served, or wasn’t served to your perfect standard?

So, what about those issues that we struggle with? A very dear priest friend, whom we’ve known since those early university days, used to tell us to put those issues on the back-burner. Re-visit them as time goes by, but don’t let them drain you of the life-giving energy at the core of our faith. He patiently explained the teachings of the Church to us, but never used vigorous debate to convince us. He encouraged us to question and dialogue without judgment. And, he nudged us to nurture our spiritual lives so that we could listen to the voice of God deep within.

There is so much that is life-giving in our Catholic faith. In this season of Lent, I’m going to try and focus on that which gives me much needed energy, and put aside that which gets my knickers in a twist. I’m going to have a Happy Lent!

(Note: the CHOOSE LIFE logo on the famous Wham T-shirt worn by George Michael above, was promoting an anti-drug and anti-suicide message in the 80’s. It is also used by the pro-life movement. A great logo. A great message.)

remember that you are dust…

My Lenten resolution this year is to rise above the doom and gloom and have a ‘happy’ Lent. Yet here we are on Ash Wednesday, being reminded of our mortality. We are signed with ashes and the words Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. The gentler version intones Repent, and believe in the Gospel. A nice thought, but it lacks the spiritual kick in the rear-end of the former.

Our society is programmed into avoiding thoughts of death. Funeral parlors now handle the messiness of dying and grieving for us. We forget that the process of letting go of a loved one doesn’t end when the funeral lunch is cleared away. Last Sunday, I greeted a man in our parish that lost his wife several months ago. “How are you doing, E—?”, I asked. He answered, “I’m doing it alone. It’s really hard after 47 years together.” With those words, he invited me to share his grief. He reminded me that his grief needed to be shared and not forgotten.

St. Benedict wanted his monks to daily keep death before their eyes. It seems such a morbid practice. But, speak to anyone who has faced and escaped death and they will tell you of a renewed appreciation for life. Keeping death before your eyes helps put the pettiness into perspective. It encourages you to revisit your own “bucket list”, those things that you want to do before you leave this world. These aren’t so much the grand gestures or great adventures, but the more simple “how do I want to be remembered?” Usually the doing won’t be remembered as much as the loving.

Over at the Prairie Messenger, staff and readers are mourning the loss of a great Catholic voice here on the Canadian prairies. Fr. Andrew Britz, OSB, was the editor of the PM from 1983-2004. He fearlessly challenged the Church and each of us to keep the spirit of Vatican II alive. The newspaper he led became known for allowing all voices to be heard in a true spirit of catholicity.

Maureen Weber, associate editor, wrote a tribute to the man who was both long-time friend and mentor to her. She describes well the paradox of death to persons of faith,

Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago, one of Rev. Andrew Britz’s heroes, once said, “We can look at death as an enemy or a friend. If we see it as an enemy, death causes anxiety and fear. We tend to go into a state of denial. But if we see it as a friend, our attitude is truly different. As a person of faith, I see death as a friend, as the transition from earthly life to life eternal.”

When we lose someone, though, death is seen as a thief, not a friend. My friend Andrew Britz, OSB, died Feb. 14. A man of great faith, Andrew viewed death as a friend. But we were robbed. read more