Catechist Corner

It's all about sharing the faith.

Penance and Detachment

penance-Fr.-Lawrence-Lew-OP-flickrCC-1110872_200x200[1]Our fallen nature leads us to pleasurable things.  As we see throughout history, whether salvation history or world history, in many cases it is about the “us”, not the “them” or the “Him”.  As a catechist, it is difficult to explain and “get through” the benefit and value of penance to young people.  No one likes to suffer and young people cannot rationalize the need or benefits of offering penance.  Some not-so-young people have that same challenge.

In its most basic form, penance is a way of making up for a wrong done.  In a Catholic sense, it’s a way of making up for a wrong or offense done to God.  The three most common forms of penance are prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Prayer forces us to stop and prioritize God above all else.  It acknowledges that God is greater than us and by raising our hearts and minds to Him, we endeavor to grow closer to Him.  Fasting is the forgoing of something we find desirable.  Normally food, but it really can be most anything.  This causes suffering, whether an actual physical hunger for food or the fighting of another desire that we have chosen to set aside.  Need I say that suffering is not “fun” and can easily get a frown (and much more negative responses) from students?  Almsgiving is doing for others, generally for the glory of God and to please Him.  Most commonly viewed as helping the poor by providing money or goods, it can actually also be much more.  Giving alms includes giving of your time through volunteering or by helping a neighbor, giving of yourself to others in need, including emotional need, spiritual need, etc.  This means you have to forgo something to offer the other person.  Again, this can produce a form of suffering by not being able to use the thing being given or the time being offered for something else that might be more pleasurable.

However, the wisdom of penance is much greater than the obvious products of our efforts noted above, as is the case with all suffering.  A practice of penance and suffering can lead to detachment.  As you focus on these acts of penance, over time you begin to place less importance on the things you are giving up and even the pleasure they might otherwise bring you.  You begin to refocus your life through this detachment of earthly “things” and begin to focus on God and love for Him.

This is what Lent is all about.  Taking 40 days “in the desert” to refocus our lives back on God — to acknowledge where we have gone astray, with contrition ask for forgiveness and make up for our sinfulness.  By refocusing back on God, we should expect to take what we’ve learned and changed during Lent and do it for the rest of the year and the rest of our lives.

As catechists, we must bring these principles back to the forefront of our students’ lives.  While we can plant the seeds, the students must make the changes themselves, preferably with the guidance and support of their families.  We, however, should be tools to help them better understand the importance and value of these traditions that, through the Wisdom of God, the Church has charged all the faithful to follow.

Until next time, keep sharing the faith!


(Jonathan Sullivan has invited Catholic bloggers everywhere to write on a common theme today — penance — as part of the first Catholic Blog Day.  Please visit the Catholic Blog Day site to find other great posts from a variety of Catholic bloggers.)

Which way do I go?

Have you ever felt lost?  Maybe you weren’t sure of what to do next or where to go next.  Maybe it felt like you were following a map and you reached the edge of that map with no idea which path you’re supposed to take next to get to your destination.  That’s what I feel like sometimes.

Lately, I feel like I’m walking down a dark path and I stop and yell out to see if someone can direct me.  I know someone is there willing to, but I can’t quite make out where they are telling me to go.  So, I keep walking down the path I’m sure is the right one and in a short while, I yell out again to see if the person I know is out there somewhere can tell me the way, but I end up with the same result.  That pretty much sums up my spiritual life these days.  I know someone’s there trying to tell me where I should go next, but I can’t quite make out what they are saying.

As I’ve reflected on this feeling, not really one if despair, but more of confused longing, I keep focusing on something I read a couple of years back in the Guide for Catechist, which was issued in 1993 by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.  It states, “To help catechists in their spiritual life, spiritual direction should be made available” (#22) and “… spiritual direction is very important, as it touches the depths of a person’s soul and helps open it to God’s grace” (#28).  Additionally, as I’ve read other blogs, such as Joe Paprocki’s Catechist’s Journey, he has mentioned once or twice about the benefits of spiritual direction, even for the laity.  I also have recalled a news piece a few years back where the Holy Father himself encouraged everyone to seek spiritual direction.

This is a journey that I have contemplated taking from time to time.  I’ve given myself the excuses that I don’t have time, or that a potential director’s time would be better spent on someone else, that this is not for me, etc.  And those times that I’ve brushed aside all those excuses, I’ve faced apprehension, intimidation and at times, downright fear of the process.  That smells like attachment to me, and not in any good sense.

So, enough is enough.  It has become quite clear to me that I am being called to find a companion to help guide me down the path and to help me interpret what that voice, God’s voice, is actually guiding me to do.  I’ve been fortunate to find a number of resources to help prepare me for this journey.  Sites like Catholic Spiritual Direction have been extremely eye opening.  A number of other bloggers like Fr. Charles Sammons from a minor friar and Becky Eldredge from Everything Is Holy Now have inspired me through some of their blog posts and comments to take this very important next step in my spiritual journey.  As a final step in preparing to begin the process, I’ve also discovered and have been reading “Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Life Within” by Thomas Dubay, S.M. on the Catholic Spiritual Direction site.  I’m almost done with reading the book and it has proven to be a wonderful resource!!  I would highly recommend it to anyone who is considering finding a spiritual director.

My initial meeting with my new director is tomorrow.  I have mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension, but I am committed to this process  and am looking forward to seeing where God is leading me next in my spiritual journey.  Please pray for me as I take this next step down the path unknown with the Lord.

Until next time, keep sharing the faith.

In a Year

First, let me wish all of my readers a Happy and Blessed New Year!  I hope you have much joy throughout 2012.

As I look forward to the new year, I have been trying to set some goals for myself.  One thing I’ve been considering doing for some time now is to read the Bible completely.  It can easily be a daunting task when you look at the thickness of the book itself, but there is no doubt as to the value one can obtain from reading all of salvation history in Holy Scripture.

As I’ve considered how to best tackle the undertaking, I’ve come across a number of suggestions on how to read through the Bible.  The approach I’ve settled on is to read the Bible in one year.  Many of the one year plans I’ve seen are based on the Protestant Bible, but I did come across a document from an organization called The Coming Home Network International.  They have a plan to not only read the Bible in a year, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well.

I’ve taken their plan schedule and also built it into a spreadsheet format that allows me to keep track of my progress right on my iPad as I use my Bible app and a CCC link right off of that device.  I can read my daily reading from anywhere, and if I miss a day along the way, it’s very easy to catch right back up.  For those interested in the plan, below are links to the original PDF as well as my spreadsheet versions. I would suggest that one always looks at the PDF first, even if they want to use the spreadsheets because the PDF contains some additional guidance where the spreadsheets are exclusively the listing of the daily readings.

Read the Bible and the Catechism in a Year
Original PDF Format
Excel Spreadsheet Format
Open Document Spreadsheet Format


I’m looking forward to my own personal growth as I read through the Bible fully, along with the Catechism and I know it will absolutely help in my catechetical ministries.  I hope it can be helpful to all of you as well.

Until next time, keep sharing the faith.

The Spirit and the Bride

I wanted to offer one brief follow up on my previous post titled “Come!”  The retreat started out with a YouTube video for Matt Maher’s new song, “The Spirit and the Bride”.  I had not heard this one before since I had not yet purchased his album, but it was so powerful to me and it was such a great way to start off the retreat around Advent that I wanted to post it here.  Enjoy!



Until next time, keep sharing the faith.


Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young AdultsI was blessed to attend a one day Advent retreat put on by the Office of New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults (ONE) for the Archdiocese of Boston. This retreat was for anyone involved in youth ministry within the archdiocese. Our retreat director was Fr. Matt Williams, the Director of ONE and what a spiritually powerful retreat it was!

This retreat was completely structured around Advent with a focus on the word “come”. It gave me a new appreciation for the meaning of the season. It began with a reading from the Song of Songs 3:1-4. This passage speaks about searching for God, and when he is found, bringing him into the deepest, most private place in the house. We then had a silent meditation around our readiness to bring Christ into the deepest, most private place in our hearts, in our souls. Am I ready? What’s holding me back?  That was followed by a discussion that Jesus wants all of us, not just the perfect parts and that we need to remember that we need to bring everything, including the good and the bad, to God.  He wants us all!

Do you have any sense of how much the Church uses the word “come” in its prayers during the season of Advent? The Liturgy of the Hours uses the response, “Come, Lord Jesus”. Various antiphons, readings and Alleluia versus of the Masses throughout Advent all ask our the Lord to come. Just look at the O Antiphons for a perfect example of the Church, as the bride, asking her bridegroom, Jesus, to come. What a great image!!

Lastly, we focused on part of the nativity narrative from Luke (Luke 2:1-14). We had another terrific period of silent prayer to meditate on the scripture passage. Silence is underrated, by the way. What a wonderful opportunity to put oneself there with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. From the journey to Bethlehem, to the birth and the message of the angel to the shepherds, it gave me an opportunity to appreciate what people must have felt, not only emotionally, but physically as well.

In between all of that we had Mass, opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, lunch with friends and a sharing circle to round the day off. I’m so glad I went. The Lord spoke to me in a very special way at the retreat, not only through Fr. Matt and the other participants, but directly when in silent prayer. He knew what I needed (no surprise there) and showed me the way, not only for my ministry, but for me as well. I really need to make time to go on retreat more often, or at least find more opportunities for silent prayer during my day. Did I mention that science is definitely underrated?

Until next time, keep sharing the faith.