Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen


Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen
Compiled by Judy Bauer
(Liguori Publications, 2005)


It’s now about the middle of Lent and many of us would have started already on our personal observance of Lent, no?

This book is a meaningful Lent and Easter companion, covering every day during the period from Ash Wednesday to the Second Sunday of Easter. (I wish there were devotions for the rest of Easter as well.)

Each day’s devotion has a theme and includes a reflection from Fr. Henri Nouwen’s writings, a Bible passage (not the same as the Mass readings for the day), a prayer and a suggested “Lenten action” or “Easter action”.

For example, the theme for today, Day 17 Friday of the Second Week of Lent, is faithfulness.

The reflection is taken from Nouwen’s The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey. It is an excerpt where he writes about his desire and quest to live in a way in which “Jesus is truly the center”. Fr. George Strohmeyer from L’Arche advised him – “be faithful in your adoration”. This is what Nouwen says dawned on him:
“He kept using the word “adoration”. This word makes it clear that all attention must be on Jesus and not on me. To adore is to be drawn away from my own preoccupations into the presence of Jesus. It means letting go of what I want, desire, and have planned and fully trusting in Jesus and his love.”

The Bible passage is Luke 16:10-13 on “faithfulness in small things”.

The prayer asks God to “let the activities of my daily life be so centred on Your presence that my friendship with You is solidly entrenched in my heart of hearts.”

The suggested Lenten Action is – to spend time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and to be faithful to this even after Lent.

May we have a fruitful Lent and a holy and joyous Easter season!

♫ Makes me want to listen to Beyond the Days



The Jewish Roots of Catholicism


The Jewish Roots of Catholicism
presented by Bob Fishman

 This DVD series is a compilation of presentations by Bob Fishman. There are three episodes:

  1. Judaism 101
  2. Chanukah (Hanukkah, Festival of Lights or Feast of Dedication – commemorating the re-dedication of the Temple after what the Jews went through as recounted in 1 Maccabees 1-5)
  3. The High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah – Day of Awe & Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement).

Apart from occasionally being reminded of how Jesus was a practising Jew, the idea of “Jesus and Judaism” hardly crosses my mind. Hence, I found the content enlightening.

Overall, what I learnt from watching this series was that there are so many beliefs and ideas that we hold dear as “Christian/Catholic” but they originated in the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Thus, we could say that the richness of Catholicism partly grew out of the richness of Judaism.

 Some links between Judaism and Catholicism
The sensory nature of the practice of Judaism partly explains our tactile and sensory elements, such as in the use of sacred vessels and vestments, prayer/worship postures, symbols such as light and images, etc. When Jews pray, they put on the tallis (prayer shawl). Their priests have specific meticulous preparations for their temple duties. All these are to remind them that they are dedicating their time to God. Similarly, when we make the sign of the cross, or when priests vest themselves for Mass and so on, we are also reminded that we are coming away from our mundane world to a holy time with God.

I did not know that the concept of “liturgy” is also important in Judaism. For example, they have a “liturgical year” and they have “liturgical” music. Different music is used for different parts of the Jewish service and for different occasions. Where we see in the psalms words like “for the choirmaster” (I always wondered about that!) and certain instruments or days specified, these are like instructions for how and when the psalm is to be used. In a similar way, we have different types of music for the Mass Ordinaries and different parts of the Mass, as well as for different occasions.

Some interesting explanations
Tashlikh is the symbolic “casting off” of sins and is part of the Rosh Hashanah service. The ancient practice was to break off pieces of bread, symbolising the person’s sins, and “cast” them into the sea. The “sins” were “taken away” by the fish eating the bread and this symbolises God forgiving our sins. Fishman relates this to instances of Jesus using the language of Judaism, such as in “cast your cares on me” and “I am the living bread”. Also, he sees the waters in which our sins are taken away as the ocean of God’s “divine mercy”.

In explaining the Jewish practice of visiting their ancestors’ graves and asking them for help (that’s like the precursor of the concept of the intercession of the saints), he uses an interesting baseball analogy to explain the communion of saints. Many Americans grow up playing baseball and they will all get to a certain level in the game. The greats are inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Saints, he says, are the ones who have made it to our hall of fame. Their images are reminders of the qualities that got them there, just as the images and statistics of the baseball Hall of Famers remind people of their greatness.


Finally, there is the symbolism of light, which is also important to the Jews. For example, during the preparation for Yom Kippur, they light a Yahrzeit candle to remember someone who has died. The candle represents how that person shone his or her “light” while living on earth. The important reflection question for us is – “How will you share your light with others?”

After watching the three episodes as quickly as I could so that I could return the DVDs in a reasonable time, I discovered that episode 3 is available online! Oh well, never mind. I’m glad I disciplined myself to watch the three episodes.

You can find “The High Holy Days” here.
(this link is for Part 1 of six parts)

♫ Makes me think of In Every Age


What Every Catholic Wants to Know: Catholic History


What Every Catholic Wants to Know: Catholic History
by Diane Moczar
(Our Sunday Visitor, 2006)

I’m sure not that everybody wants to read more about history than they have to (e.g. for school) and so I like how this title says that all Catholics want to know more about Catholic history.

Well, why should they know about the history? Here is a quotation from the book:
“… the ancients saw history as part of ethics; one learned about morality by observing how people of the past behaved. For Catholics, history is more that that: it is God’s working in the world. Our “So what?” [one of the “key questions to ask about anything in history”] will therefore always be open to seeing God’s hand in everything that happens in history. In some cases, His guidance will be easy to discern, while in others we may not see it at all. It is always, nevertheless, at work in the human affairs we study.”

That’s why.

Moczar stresses that this is neither a “textbook” nor a “scholarly book” but a “collection of evocative glimpses of the history of the Church”. At just 167 pages, it gives us a quick overview of what happened “from the catacombs to the Reformation”.

She organises the book in pairs of chapters – each pair starts with a commentary on what happened during that particular era and is followed by a chapter discussing “Catholic thought and culture” during that time. Each chapter ends with “Food for thought”, a short reflection section that links the issues of the day with issues of our day, and “Reading suggestions”, comprising her recommendations for further reading on specific topics.

These are the time periods covered and some topics and people (mostly the stout defenders of the faith and the loudest challengers of the teachings of the Church) discussed.

  1. The early Church
  • early Christian communities, persecution by the Roman empire and early martyrs (e.g. Sts. Felicity and Perpetua)
  • “synthesis” of classical learning and Christianity, early Catholic literature, Church Fathers, Doctors of the Church
  1. The Dark Ages
  • fall of Rome, attacks by “barbarians” and nomadic tribes, challenges such as Arianism and paganism, the kingdom of the Franks (“heart of the Catholic civilisation of the west”),
  • decline in learning, the few “pockets of survival” (e.g. Ireland), St. Boethius, Pope St. Gregory the Great and St. Bede
  1. End of the Dark Ages
  • Battle of Tours, the rise of Charlemagne, the Carolingian Renaissance, the challenge of the Vikings and Magyars
  • revival of learning, start of book production, new styles of writing
  1. Early Middle Ages
  • renewal of economic and social life, improvements in agriculture, the feudal system, rise of towns and kings
  • St. Peter Damian, St. Anselm, St. Wulstan
  1. High Middle Ages
  • “the high point of Christendom” – when “Christianity permeated all of society, and shaped everything from economics to politics”
  • The Crusades
  • flourishing of education, literature and the arts, the fight against “heresy, schism and false teaching”, St. Thomas Becket, Abelard, St. Bernard of Clairvaux
  1. The 13th century – “the greatest of centuries?”
  • social and economic growth, religious fervour in England and France, development of the “masterpieces of medieval thought, arts and institutions”
  • Gothic architecture, music, literature, Pope Innocent III
  1. Late Middle Ages
  • famine, the plague, the Hundred Years’ War, Turkish attacks, changing relations between Church and state
  • the Renaissance, trouble for the papacy

It may surprise some people that a book on history can be enjoyable or funny but I certainly enjoyed this book.  It was educational and written in an engaging and sometimes amusing style.  I look forward to reading her book on the later periods.

♫ Makes me want to listen to You Are Mine



Louder than Words: The Art of Living as A Catholic


Louder than Words: The Art of Living as A Catholic
by Matthew Leonard
(Our Sunday Visitor, 2013)

Matthew Leonard explains that living a Christ-centred life is an essential response to God’s love. He writes about the importance of the Sacraments, the Eucharist, Scripture and prayer in our personal conversion and in strengthening us to carry out God’s work in the age of the New Evangelisation. He also includes references to some saints as role models and a few personal stories, with a touch of humour here and there.

An excerpt from the last chapter:
“Paraphrasing Saint Catherine of Sienna, Blessed John Paul II [this book was published in 2013] declared that:
‘… if you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!’

Time is short. You don’t want to get to the end of your life, whenever that may be, and regret that you didn’t live the way you were supposed to.”

Written for Spotlight (July 2014)

Now let me add this –

Leonard approaches the New Evangelisation with a sense of urgency: “We can’t wait for the world to come to Christ; we have to take Christ to the world.”

Our mission in this life is to “shine His love upon others”. In order to do this, we need to evangelise ourselves first, hence the importance of the Word and the Eucharist, prayer and the Sacraments. Our lives must be anchored in Christ: “in Christ we find the key that unlocks everything:… love.” Jesus also gave us the “blueprint for a holy life” – the beatitudes, which are all “ordered to the kingdom of heaven”.

He urges us to live our Catholic lives as Catholics should. The holiness and love that we would then show are what will speak louder than words.


♫ Makes me want to sing Lead Me, Lord

The Mass


The Mass
by Cardinal Donald Wuerl & Mike Aquilina
(Image, 2013)

The book explains the importance and meaning of each part of the Mass, how the parts relate to each other and their Biblical and traditional background. The writers also give an overview of the context of the Mass, for example, the vestments and vessels used, and end the book with “ten ways to get more out of the Mass”. Why is it important that we understand the Mass well? As the writers put it:
“The Mass is what we do; and it’s what we should always be doing, not because we go often, but because the Mass, in a very real sense – and through a very real presence – defines our life.”

Written for Spotlight (July 2014)

Here are excerpts of their ten practical tips for getting more out of the Mass.

[quoted verbatim]
Ten Ways to Get More out of the Mass

  1. Rehearse the readings
    The familiarity will open your heart and mind to see a theme emerging from the Old Testament to the New—and to see clear applications for your own life.
  1. Dress up to the occasion
    God doesn’t need our reverence at all—but Lord knows we need it… Our clothes express our attitude, but they also affect our attitude.
  1. Arrive early
    This gives us time to collect all our thoughts, referring them to Our Lord as they arise.
  1. Take up your part
    The words of the Mass help to form us into the persons God wants us to be.
  1. Open your heart
    We can also approach the altar and offer a heart filled with love. After all, we are participating in the great manifestation of God’s love for us.
  1. Invest your intentions
    When you do this, you place a personal stake in the Mass.
  1. Take one thought home
    While you’re listening to the readings, try to discern a “word” that God intends especially for you.
  1. Say thanks
    … thank God for the gift of the Mass. There is no greater gift. You have received a foretaste of heaven.
  1. Make a good confession
    … good dispositions do make a difference in our understanding, our emotional engagement, and the quality of our prayer.
  1. Forgive someone
    Jesus said: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

♫ Makes me want to listen to Supper of the Lord