These “foods” of the soul are also good to give up for Lent — Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture

Fasting is not dieting; fasting is not an end in itself; fasting is not merely an exercise to increase willpower.

via These “foods” of the soul are also good to give up for Lent — Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture


Lent: The 40 Days Challenge


Despite the highly secularized world and decrease in attendance at church services worldwide today, Lent is becoming popular. Thanks to 40 days Lent challenges that has mushroomed in many parts of the world. These Lenten challenges are performed not just for spiritual purposes but many for social causes like care for creation, compassion for the poor and even for weight-loss and physical fitness. Many of these challenges have devised creative ways to utilize Lent for worthy causes.

Lent is the solemn religious observance in the Christian liturgical calendar which serves as the preparation of the believer for Easter through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, and self-denial. Lent lasts for 40 days. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on the evening of Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday). This is actually a period of 46 days. However, the six Sundays within the period are not fast days (Sundays are always feast days in the Christian calendar) and therefore not counted in the 40 days of Lent.

In the early Church most converts were adults, and in order to be baptized into the Christian faith, they had to undergo a rigorous period of preparation. Lent “was the time when the three-fold preparation — instructive, ascetical, and liturgical — was carried on by catechumens (candidates for baptism). Thus, Lent became a time of spiritual preparation and was associated with a number of penitential disciplines, exhorting the catechumens to divorce themselves from a life of sin in order to adopt a new life in Jesus Christ. Eventually it became a season for all of the faithful to prepare for Easter.

In recent years, many groups in Christian churches has expanded the meaning of prayer, fasting and almsgiving (the traditional three pillars of Lenten observance). They went beyond the meaning of fasting as merely giving up or abstaining from food like meat, chocolate, chips, alcohol or personal habits and in most recent times, technology habits like Facebook and Instagram. Besides giving up, abstention and penitence, Lent is doing some positive action.  Lent could be a time of doing worthwhile deeds as well as spiritual discipline.

Comes the Lenten 40 days challenges. Lenten 40 days challenges are exercises, prayers and reflections that certain religious organizations have devised for each of the forty days of Lent. The 40 days exercises, prayers and reflection follow a certain theme patterned in the Lenten spirit of making sacrifice. Some of the themes are care for creation, charity, photography or even physical fitness. Exercises may include cleaning your clutter, donating money to a good cause, volunteering, visiting a sick person and many others. These organizations provide a downloadable list of set things people can use as a guide. The ideas are generally very simple and require not much thought or pre-planning and can easily be swapped for something else.

Here are some of the creative Lenten 40 days challenge. Many of these challenges revolves around the care for the environment.

The Franciscan religious congregation in Cincinnati, for example, has organized a Franciscan Lenten Energy Fast. St. Francis of Assisi walked in the footprints of Jesus, and today the Patron Saint of Ecology saw that all that God created was good and he chose to praise God in prayer and by his daily life choices and actions. How can we praise God in prayer and by our daily life choices and actions this Lenten season? How can we live so that nothing is wasted? (John 6:12) Each week we take a section of “The Canticle of the Creatures” and focus on it for our Lenten fast.


The Global Catholic Climate Movement has organized a carbon fast for Lent. This challenge is to take a carbon fast – to reduce the actions which damage God’s Creation; to reduce use of petrol, electricity, plastic, paper, water and toxins. It takes small steps for a more sustainable world, and by doing so rediscover a different relationship with God, with Creation and with one another.


Another activity that the Global Catholic Climate Movement has organized is a global fast for climate justice. Catholics from more than 40 countries fast during each of the 40 days, joining the Fast For The Climate interfaith effort and the Green Anglicans Carbon Fast. Each fast and pray for bold action to solve the climate change crisis

40 Bags in 40 Days Decluttering Challenge. This is a challenge where one goes through his/her home and declutter one area a day. Since Ann Marie Heasley organized this challenge in 2011, millions of people have learned about #40Bagsin40Days and countless participants have changed their life, created more manageable homes, and refocused their outlook.


Similarly, Patty Knap, a Catholic revert and a blogger with the National Catholic Register organized a Lent challenge: Get rid of 40 things in 40 days, The challenge is finding one thing each day that one no longer need during the 40 days of Lent. For most of us, this should be really easy. It could be a kitchen item, a jacket, a bike, an unopened gift hanging around. Go through your closets, drawers, basement, even the garage.

Another common theme for the 40 day Lenten challenge are actions in solidarity with people in poverty. The 40acts created by UK Christian charity, Stewardship.  Over the years, 40acts has become a movement of over 100,000 people on a mission to impact their communities with generosity – during Lent and beyond.

hamarket-lenten-challengeThe Haymarket Regional Food Pantry has organized a 40 Days of Giving Lenten Challenge.  The daily challenge involved:

– Collect 1 can/box per day, and deliver your donation to the Food Pantry at the end of Lent (or drop off some cans each week).

– Pledge a dollar amount each day, and submit your pledge x 40 at the end of Lent (submit via USPS mail or online).









An interesting challenge is combining Lenten observance and photography organized by Rethink Church. The challenge involves by simply taking a photo related to the theme assigned for each day, and then post and tag with #Rethinkchurch.


Several Lenten challenges combine Lenten fasting and abstinence with physical fitness. The 40 Day Lent Fitness Challenge organized by Fitness and Festivals involves 40 days of exercising. Sundays are rest days and a time to reflect on one’s achievements from the ab-challengeprevious week. A similar challenge was organized by pay as u go gym.  Another physical fitness themed Lenten challenge is 40 Day Lent Ab Challenge.  Day one starts with 20 sit ups.  Everyday after, add 1 sit up, then offer it up in prayer for someone who’s sick. Can you do it for 40 days?  No prize awarded for completion, just good karma, personal satisfaction and a stronger core.


What is your 40 days Lenten challenge? What is the 40 days Lenten challenge of your group or parish?

Ash Wednesday: Return to the Heart


Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Lenten season which is a call to return to the heart. This implies that Lent most of all is a call to a transformation from the deepest core of our being.  Although in Lent we will be doing many sacrificial and penitential acts, all these will come to nothing if there is no genuine inner transformation.

At the heart of our faith is our connectedness with all life rooted in God’s love. We are a being-in-connection not in-isolation. In this context, sin is the condition where we become separated or isolated from God, from others and from ourselves. Thus, during this Lent we are called to reconcile and heal whatever brokenness that has become of our relationship with God, others and ourselves.

Today is called Ash Wednesday because of the ritual of the imposition of ashes on the head during the liturgy of the day. The celebrant says the words: “You are dust and to dust you shall return, (cf. Gen 3:19).” The newer form is Jesus’ exhortation: “Repent and believe the gospel (Mk 1:15).” I kind of prefer the old formula even if is a bit morbid as it reminds us of our death. For me, however, it captures more the penitential character of Lent and the call to return to our origin as well as our end, symbolized by the dust, soil or earth. The earth more profoundly symbolizes the interconnectedness of all life rooted in God’s love.

The readings today expresses these calls to return to the heart and to our connectedness with all life rooted in God’s love.

The first reading from the prophet Joel proclaims the call to a wholehearted return to God: “Return to me with all your heart” (2:12). To return to the Lord with all of our heart means an inner conversion that reaches the deepest place of our selves not merely superficial nor external one. As the prophet says, “Rend your hearts, not your garments.” The heart, as we all believe, is the symbol of love and also the core of our being where our decisions and our attitudes mature.

St. Paul in the second reading also repeats the call to return to God: “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:20)” St. Paul insists that we can return to God not through our own effort but primarily through the love of the Father for us who did not hesitate to sacrifice his only Son.

In the Gospel from Matthew, Jesus reinterprets the three works of mercy prescribed by the Mosaic law: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Jesus warns the people that if these three pillars are not observed through the love and the mercy of God it will be hypocritical. This has been shown over time through the practices of false religious leaders by their insistence on external formalism and social reward. Jesus invites us to do these works without any ostentation and public accolade, but only the reward of the love of the Father “who sees in secret” (Mt 6,4.6.18).

On Ash Wednesday, we are called to return to where we came from. The dust or earth is where we originally came from. Remember the story of creation, God created Adam, the first human being from dust. But also the earth is where we shall all return when we die. I am reminded of a popular Tagalog song by the Philippine folk band Asin in the 80s:

Nagmula sa lupa, magbabalik na kusa,
(From earth we came, willingly we shall return)
Ang buhay mong sa lupa nagmula …
(your life from the earth came)

But not just human beings, all things shall fall and return to the earth. All will turn to dust when they die. Thus the earth symbolizes our oneness as created things. This implies further that all creation is connected with each other. We are all creatures in need of one another. No one can live alone and isolated from creation or worst can dominate over creation. The interconnection of all creation is not meant to serve human beings but on the contrary human being are meant to serve and maintain the harmony and interconnectedness of all creation.

All creation is interconnected because it comes from God. We believe in the one God, three persons. While three persons, God is one because of the interconnectedness of God as shown in God’s inner life and God’s mission to all creation. Hence, we are only interconnected because we participate in the interconnectedness of God.

St. Thomas Aquinas explains this profound belief in his notion of God as exitus-reditus of all creation. According to St. Thomas, all things come from God (exitus) and, in different ways, return to him (reditus). For us human beings, however, the coming forth and returning in a special way reflects the inner life of the Trinity. In fact, the coming forth of the Son from the Father and the coming forth of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son are the cause and exemplar of our coming forth and our returning to God as creatures.[1]

Lent is the season of assessing how we have isolated our lives and endangered the web of interconnectedness of life. Lent is the time to examine the patterns of our lives which severed our need for God and one another through our pride, domination, power, self-centeredness, apathy, insecurity, fear, lust, jealousy and other patterns and tendencies that may lead us to sin. Lent is the realization of the drudgery and wretchedness of a life of separation from the love of God, family, others and ultimately our true selves. The spiritual exercises that we are to observe in the Lenten season like prayer, fasting and almsgiving are not merely private nor external show but our internal journey of reconnecting with the love of God in others, in creation and in ourselves.

On this Ash Wednesday, let us once again begin the journey of returning to the heart and reconnecting with the web of the interconnectedness of life rooted in the love of God. Let us begin our preparation for the renewal of our baptismal participation in the resurrection of Jesus by our wholehearted desire to return to God’s love.




[1] Why Thomism, Dominicana. Accessed 13/02/2018 at

Ash Wednesday: Distribution of Ashes in the Shrine


Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and symbolically done through the imposition of the ashes in the form of a cross on the foreheads of the faithful. In the Baclaran shrine, the ashes are distributed by the nuns and seminarians and although there are thousands of people everything is very orderly.

This was not always so.

The first time I encountered the distribution of ashes in the Shrine there were no lines of people, no nuns and no seminarians. Instead there was a massive crowd of people with only one interest and that was to receive the Ashes. And they wanted to do this as soon as possible. In the center was the priest who was being jostled from side to side as each person pushed against the ones near him to speed them up.

The priest was not only distributing ashes but he would also have to return to the church to help give Communions when the time arrived and was also expected to hear confessions when his schedule came due. At some time in the day he would also have to say a Mass and give one or two Novenas. There were of course a number of priests but they were very few compared to the number of people.

Some priests would get behind a low fence at the back of the sacristy and operate from there. This had the advantage of keeping the people in front of you at least, but succeeded in blocking the pathway of people coming out from the church and wanting to go home. Also parts of the fence had barbed wire on the top which meant that the priest had to be alert at all times, something which was almost impossible as the day progressed. Also the Philippine sun always shone brightly on Ash Wednesday, so that by evening the Fathers would be all colors from pink to dark crimson depending on where they had been stationed.

It was only during the late 70s that people thought of allowing nuns and eventually seminarians to distribute the ashes. In those days we had very few seminarians so we had to invite those of other orders, this resulted in a display of nuns from different Congregations as well as seminarians wearing the traditional habits of their order. While being very colorful, the heat of the day and the heavy clothing often resulted in exhausted and sometimes irritable ash distributors.


Thanks to Vatican II and the new understanding of Liturgical requirements things have improved. And now we can see people lining up to receive the Ashes. We see seminarians in neat barong and nuns in cooler habits distributing the ashes, and most of the time they are under the shade of trees.

Best of all, thanks be to God, many of the nuns are our day to day Mission helpers and the seminarians are from our own seminary.

John Maguire, CSsR

Here is the schedule Ash Wednesday at the shrine.


Pope Francis’ Message for Lent 2019


“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Romans 8: 19)

Dear Brothers and Sisters

Each year, through Mother Church, God “gives us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed… as we recall the great events that gave us new life in Christ” (Preface of Lent I). We can thus journey from Easter to Easter towards the fulfilment of the salvation we have already received as a result of Christ’s paschal mystery – “for in hope we were saved” (Rom 8:24). This mystery of salvation, already at work in us during our earthly lives, is a dynamic process that also embraces history and all of creation. As Saint Paul says, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Rom 8:19). In this perspective, I would like to offer a few reflections to accompany our journey of conversion this coming Lent.

1. The redemption of creation

The celebration of the Paschal Triduum of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, the culmination of the liturgical year, calls us yearly to undertake a journey of preparation, in the knowledge that our being conformed to Christ (cf. Rom 8:29) is a priceless gift of God’s mercy.

When we live as children of God, redeemed, led by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 8:14) and capable of acknowledging and obeying God’s law, beginning with the law written on our hearts and in nature, we also benefit creation by cooperating in its redemption. That is why Saint Paul says that creation eagerly longs for the revelation of the children of God; in other words, that all those who enjoy the grace of Jesus’ paschal mystery may experience its fulfilment in the redemption of the human body itself. When the love of Christ transfigures the lives of the saints in spirit, body and soul, they give praise to God. Through prayer, contemplation and art, they also include other creatures in that praise, as we see admirably expressed in the “Canticle of the Creatures” by Saint Francis of Assisi (cf. Laudato Si’, 87). Yet in this world, the harmony generated by redemption is constantly threatened by the negative power of sin and death.

2. The destructive power of sin

Indeed, when we fail to live as children of God, we often behave in a destructive way towards our neighbours and other creatures – and ourselves as well – since we begin to think more or less consciously that we can use them as we will. Intemperance then takes the upper hand: we start to live a life that exceeds those limits imposed by our human condition and nature itself. We yield to those untrammelled desires that the Book of Wisdom sees as typical of the ungodly, those who act without thought for God or hope for the future (cf. 2:1-11). Unless we tend constantly towards Easter, towards the horizon of the Resurrection, the mentality expressed in the slogans “I want it all and I want it now!” and “Too much is never enough”, gains the upper hand.

The root of all evil, as we know, is sin, which from its first appearance has disrupted our communion with God, with others and with creation itself, to which we are linked in a particular way by our body. This rupture of communion with God likewise undermines our harmonious relationship with the environment in which we are called to live, so that the garden has become a wilderness (cf. Gen 3:17-18). Sin leads man to consider himself the god of creation, to see himself as its absolute master and to use it, not for the purpose willed by the Creator but for his own interests, to the detriment of other creatures.

Once God’s law, the law of love, is forsaken, then the law of the strong over the weak takes over. The sin that lurks in the human heart (cf. Mk 7:20-23) takes the shape of greed and unbridled pursuit of comfort, lack of concern for the good of others and even of oneself. It leads to the exploitation of creation, both persons and the environment, due to that insatiable covetousness which sees every desire as a right and sooner or later destroys all those in its grip.


3. The healing power of repentance and forgiveness

Creation urgently needs the revelation of the children of God, who have been made “a new creation”. For “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). Indeed, by virtue of their being revealed, creation itself can celebrate a Pasch, opening itself to a new heaven and a new earth (cf. Rev 21:1). The path to Easter demands that we renew our faces and hearts as Christians through repentance, conversion and forgiveness, so as to live fully the abundant grace of the paschal mystery.

This “eager longing”, this expectation of all creation, will be fulfilled in the revelation of the children of God, that is, when Christians and all people enter decisively into the “travail” that conversion entails. All creation is called, with us, to go forth “from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). Lent is a sacramental sign of this conversion. It invites Christians to embody the paschal mystery more deeply and concretely in their personal, family and social lives, above all by fasting, prayer and almsgiving.

Fasting, that is, learning to change our attitude towards others and all of creation, turning away from the temptation to “devour” everything to satisfy our voracity and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts. Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy. Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us. And thus to rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness.

Dear brothers and sisters, the “lenten” period of forty days spent by the Son of God in the desert of creation had the goal of making it once more that garden of communion with God that it was before original sin (cf. Mk 1:12-13; Is 51:3). May our Lent this year be a journey along that same path, bringing the hope of Christ also to creation, so that it may be “set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.

From the Vatican, 4 October 2018
Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi