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Fasting Ink Slingers Maurisa Prayer

What Are Ember Days?

I’ve been a Catholic for over 20 years and it’s just been recently that I’ve heard of Ember Days. I’m not sure if it’s because the Catholic circle I’ve been traveling in has become more “traditional” or if it’s a reawakening for all faithful Catholics to the many beautiful, historical, and liturgically rich practices, observances, and traditions of the past.  I, for one, am grateful I’ve been introduced to some of these old traditions.

What are Ember Days?

Ember Days are commemorated four times a year over three days (Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday) and mark the changing of the four seasons.  They are observed the weeks following the celebrations of: 

Saint Lucy’s Day for winter

1st Sunday of Lent for spring

Pentecost for summer

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross for fall

They are easy to remember if you think of Lucy, Ashes, Dove and Cross.

Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom, originally established Ember Days for us to focus upon God in His marvelous creation: giving Him thanks for the abundance He provides and asking His blessing upon the earth as we sow and reap in due season.  As our priest so beautifully put it in one of his Ember Day homilies:

“To follow Ember Days is one of the most beautiful traditions of Holy Church. In the breadth of Tradition the cosmic calendar, that is the calendar of the earth that is independent from any kind of human observance, meets the liturgical calendar, the celebration of the mysteries of heaven in the midst of our life on earth.”

Historically Ember Days were utilized for priestly ordinations and 1st Holy Communions. Practices such as praying for priests, the holy souls in Purgatory, and almsgiving were especially encouraged.  Because of their association with the seasons of the year each set of Ember Days is devoted to giving thanks and asking God’s blessing upon some agricultural aspect of the season which is paired with a particular spiritual aspect:

Winter for the olive harvest and in anticipation of the blessing of the holy oils used in anointing of the sick

Spring for the flower harvest and in remembrance of our baptism

Summer for the wheat harvest and in honor of the Holy Eucharist

Fall for the grape harvest and in honor of the Most Precious Blood

Isn’t that just beautiful?

Most recently, due to the current scandals, crisis, and confusion in the Church, Ember Days have become called upon as days for the faithful to especially pray for the cleansing and healing of the Church.

How do I observe them?

As a family we’ve just begun adding the Ember Day observances to our spiritual practices. Typically one would fast and partially abstain as an offering of penance and with the intention of giving thanks to God for His providence in creation.  Ember Wednesday and Ember Saturday one would observe the usual prescribed disciplinary fast of the church of two small meals and one larger meal, abstaining from meat except at the main meal. On Ember Friday both the fast and full abstinence are the rule.

“. . . Ember Days no longer oblige one to fast and abstain.  However, liturgical renewal and a deeper appreciation of the holy days of the Christian year result in a renewed appreciation as to why our ancestors spoke of a ‘fast before a feast’. There may be no great, imposed, universal fast before any feast any more, but . . . the devout will find great Christian joy in the feasts of the liturgical calendar if they freely bind themselves, for their own motives and their own spirit of piety to prepare for each Church festival by a day of particular self-denial, penitential prayer, and fasting.”

—Father Christopher Gray, homily December 22, 2019

These days of prayer, fasting, and partial abstinence are purely voluntary but such a wonderful and fruitful discipline. In just a few days the Lenten Ember Days will be upon us.  I encourage you to join my family in observing this beneficial tradition: fasting and praying for good holy priests and bishops, healing in the Church, and giving thanks to God for the bounty He provides us in nature. 

Sant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia
Ut sit in angaria quarta sequens feria.

Which means:

Holy Cross, Lucy, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost,
are when the quarter holidays follow.


Sources used for this article:

Homily by Father Christopher Gray given on Ember Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Catholic All Year Compendium by Kendra Tierney

Fish Eaters: Ember Days

Categories
Lent Liturgical Year Spiritual Growth Victoria K

The Year I Did NOTHING For Lent

How I gave up nothing, took on nothing…and left everything to the Lord.

I Did Nothing for Lent

 

My Plan for an All-Star Lent

It was Lent 2014. I was a college junior, diving into my faith after my “reversion” (I’m a cradle Catholic, but my faith was rekindled that previous summer). Before my re-version, Catholicism for me had been a series of doctrines and dogmas (and man was I good at following rules…and forcing them on other people!). Even after the re-version, I was slow in adjusting from a faith that was only based on rules to a faith based on a loving relationship with Christ. So, in preparation for Lent 2014, I sauntered confidently into my meeting with my spiritual director. With me, I carried an organized, bullet-point list of everything I planned to do for Lent.

No listening to music or podcasts.

Volunteering once a week.

Rosary every day.

A scriptural reflection throughout Lent.

No gossiping.

Daily Mass.

No snacks between meals.

No sweets.

I kid you not I had fully planned to do each and every one of those things. And would have, too. My spiritual director, a sweet little nun with a big smile and a quiet voice, read through the list thoughtfully. “Yes, Victory” (her very endearing nickname for me) “this is very good.” I beamed, confident in my all-star plan for Lent. “But…” (oh no, the dreaded but) “…but you’re not going to do any of this.” Straining to be humble, or at least not freak out, I replied: “Oh. What would you like me to do then, Sister?” She was quiet for a moment, reading through the list again. “Victory, I’d like you to do nothing for Lent.”

Nothing

Nothing! The voice screamed in my head. I must’ve asked her twenty times just to clarify. You don’t want me to give up anything? Take on something? What about prayer, fasting, almsgiving? This went against literally everything I’d ever known about Catholicism since 1st grade CCD? I didn’t even think it was acceptable to do nothing (definitely talk this over with a spiritual director before you try this at home). But she was completely serious. Nothing.

We set up the parameters: I was to keep up my normal prayer, volunteer, and worship schedule. I was still to abstain from meat on Fridays. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, I wasn’t to cut anything out of the two small meals or one big meal. I was to do the bare minimum and nothing extra. It was…horrible. Everyone else would discuss the struggle and the sacrifice of what they gave up. What could I say? Oh, I gave up nothing? I told only a few people about it, and even then it was humiliating. “Oh you got it easy,” they would say, “I’m so jealous.” And that’s what I hated! I was taking the easy way out. I felt that Christ suffered and died for us, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Christ Gives Us Everything

I carried these feelings all the way through Lent. I would e-mail Sister weekly, asking her what this was accomplishing. She just advised me to continue to pray about it. God gave me no clarity at all about it. My soul was in darkness until Good Friday. I had just knelt down to venerate the cross, kissing the feet of Jesus and felt that had been my only act of love for Christ that whole Lent. Upon returning to my pew, I knelt down. A couple of thin tears fell down my cheeks (I’m not much of a crier, so this was a big deal).

There was my God, my Savior, and King, and all I could give Him was nothing. This whole Lent, I had given nothing. But, even through this, even when my own voice cried out “Crucify Him!”, He gave me everything. My life, my vocation, my talents—but most importantly, His own Life so that I could be with Him. Whatever I did or gave (or lack thereof) could not change His free, incredible gift.

It was in that powerful moment that I came to an incredible realization. Following the “rules” of Lent (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) can be incredibly important, but it’s not the important thing. I found, through doing nothing for Lent, that Lent was really about letting Christ love me. Opening my heart to His Sacrifice and letting Him love me through it. The next time I met with Sister, my tail was between my legs…she had been totally right.

I pray so much, sisters, that you all are able to abandon yourself to the God Who gives us everything—even when we can give Him nothing.

Categories
Celeste Ink Slingers Meatless Fridays Recipes

Meatless Meal~ Beet & Quinoa Stuffed Artichokes

Beet&Quinoa

 

One of my favorite type of recipes are the ones that include a stuffed vegetable. You’re doing two things at once;  using up an abundance of seasonal vegetables and feeding the family at the same time. I love stuffing vegetables with other vegetables as well. You can make an easy meatless meal this way by using other sources for your protein like tofu, beans, or quinoa. For this particular meal I chose quinoa!

I paired the quinoa with some beets that I had laying in my produce drawer. They’d been undisturbed for a while and needed some attention. I personally love beets, not just because they are versatile, but because they are pretty and colorful. If you’d like to check out how I fixed them you can follow this link.

The other part of this particular recipe I love is that it uses artichokes. My family love artichokes. I think they are right up there in the same category as ribs. My suspicion is that it has something to do with the hands-on-hands-messy way that you consume them. That, and I think that they are fascinated with eating a huge flower for dinner. We tend to save things like ribs and artichokes for special “treat” meals. They are definitely not always budget friendly for a larger family, but if you get them at the peak of the season you can usually find them for a pretty good deal. And if you cut them in half and stuff them, they tend to go further in filling tummies. IMG_3380

When I fix artichokes, I spend a little extra time on preparing them. Sometimes it’s nice to make things pretty “just because”, and I would encourage you to do such things for your family, (and yourself), on occasion. Something beautiful on the table can really bring everyone together and be a lovely treat, aside from the treat of the actual food! I start with stemming and topping the artichokes. I trim the thorns from the tops of the leaves. These are both steps that older kids can get involved with as well. My older kids are now to the age where they can reasonably help with some of the dinner prep. Not only does this help me out, but helps them to learn skills int he kitchen that can be helpful to them later on when they are on their own.

IMG_3382The result is a really lovely looking artichoke and no one gets pricked when they are chowing down!

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While your artichokes are cooking in a pot of water, prep your quinoa. To add some extra flavor to your quinoa you can cook it in chicken/vegetable stock. Prepare it according to the package directions. It’s usually 2:1 ratio, however I find that I like to add about a half cup more liquid because I like my quinoa softer rather than chewy. It’s your preference though. On that note, this recipe can be eaten right away, but it was definitely more flavorful the next day when all the flavors in the quinoa had marinated. Leftovers are fabulous! The stock and the marinade together make this quinoa really flavorful. Another option would be to cook the quinoa and make the stuffing for the artichokes a day ahead.

In a bowl with your cooled quinoa add chopped spinach, some fresh Thyme, salt, Feta, and mix together. Prepare the dressing separately, and add it to the quinoa fluffing and mixing to coat everything. When making the stuffing, I waited until the last minute to add the beets so that they didn’t dye everything pinkish purple. Set aside.

IMG_3392Drain and and cool your cooked artichokes. When they are cooled enough to handle, cut them in half with a very sharp knife. Remove the inner petals and “hairs”. IMG_3393IMG_3395

Using a large serving spoon, fill each half with the quinoa stuffing and place them on a plate. Sprinkle the top with extra Feta for a pretty presentation. And serve with a side of Garlic and Tarragon Aioli. You can eat this at room temperature, or cooled. Full recipe follows the photographs.

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Categories
Celeste Domestic Church Ink Slingers Meatless Fridays Recipes

Sundried Tomato & Mushroom Lentil Casserole

SundriedTomatoCasserole

My children and I recently had an extended stay with some family who happen to practice the art of abstaining from meat on Fridays. This was something that wasn’t unfamiliar to me, but it was a tradition that I had come to be more familiarly linked to those times during the Liturgical Seasons of Lent and Advent. Throughout my meal planning, I like to fit in as many meatless meals as I can to help us keep our grocery bill frugal. We often eat beans, lentils, rice dishes and various other alternatives to meat all the while adding in as much fresh produce as we can. While we stayed with family I felt a renewed sense of wanting to incorporate this tradition more into our weekly menu planning. I’m getting deep with my lentil recipe: hold on to your hats!

Some quick reading up on the subject of fasting led me to the following in the Code of Canon Law:

 

…the 1983 Code of Canon Law specifies the obligations of Latin Rite Catholics [Eastern Rite Catholics have their own penitential practices as specified by the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches].

Canon 1250  All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.

Canon 1251  Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless (nisi) they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 

 This led me to a couple of questions. Why haven’t we always done this? And, why don’t we start now? The first, ultimately didn’t matter. The second question had me asking, “Well, why not start now?” I wasn’t aware until I spent time with my family, that all Fridays throughout the year were to be considered Penitential days. What a lovely thing. What a small sacrifice to remember Our Lord everyday Friday through this practical act of giving up eating meat. How beautiful of Mother Church to help us with this reminder of Our Lord’s Passion. Though we observe that event during Lent, is it not every Friday and even everyday that we should keep it at the forefront of our minds and hearts the sacrifice that He made for us.

And so it’s been decided. This is something that we can incorporate into our domestic church. It’s an enjoyable challenge for me to creatively fast, as well. Scripture tells us in Matthew 6:16-18

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you”.

Let’s put on a joyful attitude and proceed! Fasting from meat doesn’t have to be any more difficult than changing up a few ingredients. No gloomy faces here! Let’s make it yummy, beautiful and be creative with what God has provided for us– beautiful and bountiful abundance of vegetarian choices that can be just as tasty and exotic as any recipe that could incorporate meat.

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Fasting with children can be hard, especially if we as adults bring with us this attitude of gloom. If we proceed with an attitude of joy (which, trust me, I know can be hard at times as with anything) the children will see first hand how important it is to do hard things with joy. It starts with the small things. Fasting can be an easy open door for us to incorporate more of the Church life into our domestic life. Our faith is not just for special times during the year, or on Sunday. It is something that we can, and should, be living everyday. As my kids get older, and I learn more about the faith myself, I can incorporate things like fasting on Fridays into our routine with a spirit of joy to help them realize the connection between our faith and everyday life. We’re approaching the teen years with my older kids and I often get the comments like, “But why do we have to do that?” When this attitude of questioning first started to come up, I would answer directly as to the why. Over time the thought crossed my mind that I could help change their perspective from why to “look at what we get to do/how we get to witness and participate”. In that way, our actions become less about the concept of, say, fasting and more about an act of love.

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Categories
Fasting Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year Mary P. Offering your suffering Prayer Spiritual Growth

The Fruit of Fasting

FASTING-3.2Today is the second day of Lent, which hopefully means that most of us are still gung-ho about our Lenten commitments, and are excited about the spiritual growth we hope to achieve in the coming weeks. Either that, or we’re relieved that Ash Wednesday is over so we can have the hamburger we were craving all day yesterday (and thankful that fasting no longer is required for all 40 days). Maybe it’s a little bit of both. I know that’s how I’m feeling. Every year I’m a bit split in my feelings about Lent. I am grateful for the opportunity provided by this season to grow closer to the Lord and deepen my appreciation for Easter, but I also dread the sacrifice and (minor) suffering required for me to take full advantage of that opportunity. My spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak.

The weakness of our flesh – in this case, the difficulty we have in doing spiritually beneficial things such as fasting – is one reason that the Catholic Church and its rules, rituals, and liturgical seasons, is such a gift. I know that a lot of our Protestant brothers and sisters do not understand being required to fast or abstain from meat. They don’t understand the command of the Church to set aside the 40 days of Lent for making an extra effort in the areas of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Even many Catholics do not understand. Why do we need the Church to tell us to do these things? If we are going to fast, pray, and give, shouldn’t it come from our hearts rather than a sense of duty?

I concede that it would be better if we were entirely internally motivated and were not behaving simply out of obedience to Church rules when we do good works. I wish that I were more internally motivated to do a lot of things. I’ve always been the kind of person who is very high-achieving and well-behaved when there is someone/something imposing requirements on me. I respond well to rules and threats of consequences. I work well under pressure and with a deadline looming. But I’m not as good at doing something just because it’s what’s best. I confess, this is because I have an undisciplined will. It’s difficult for me to say no to myself when I can’t see the immediate consequences of saying yes. This is a weakness in my character and spiritual development, but being motivated by rules and consequences is still a praiseworthy step on the way to peak moral development – doing things solely out of love for God.

crucifixion-of-jesus-247x300The Catholic Church understands this. Even if it’s not the highest good to do something because you were told to doesn’t mean it’s not a good at all. Whether I fast because I independently choose to or because the Church told me to, I can still reap the spiritual benefits of fasting. I will experience the discomfort of hunger pangs, and that little bit of suffering can remind me to turn my attention to the extraordinary suffering of Jesus on the Cross and unite myself to him there. Hopefully I will think about how my own sins led to Jesus’ suffering on the Cross, and offer back my small amount of suffering in reparation. I may think about the people who go hungry every day because of a lack of resources, and become more motivated to serve those in need with my time and money. All of this spiritual growth can happen because the Church told me that I had to fast and I did so out of obedience.

Abstaining from meat on Fridays and giving up other pleasures during Lent are also forms of fasting, but these practices can seem even more pointless or confusing to some. How does not eating meat or candy help us to grow closer to God, especially if we are giving them up because it’s a Church-imposed season? The truth is that it probably won’t, unless we feel some degree of deprivation when we forego them, and unless we have the proper attitude while we are doing it. Many of us today do not ever have to experience deprivation of any physical comfort. We have everything we need and a whole lot more, and we tend to fill any kind of void that we feel with temporal pleasures (like coffee or chocolate). This experience of always being satisfied — never feeling physical deprivation — can mask our spiritual deprivation, our need for God. Therefore, one benefit of allowing ourselves to feel even a small amount of deprivation from giving up a simple pleasure like sweets is that it makes us more able to recognize what we are lacking in our souls and turn to God, instead of something physical, to fill the void.

Secondly, any sacrifice, no matter how small, can be offered to the Lord as a sign of our love and sorrow for our sins. To an onlooker, it might seem like “just a cup of coffee” that we are forgoing, but in the secret of our hearts, it is a gift to our Beloved, telling him that we love him more than any temporal good – if we choose to see it this way.

Lastly, these small sacrifices ultimately help us to turn away from sin. For so many of us, sin is not a result of malicious intent but a result of weakness of will when it comes to doing what’s right. We know the right thing and even want to do it, but we just … don’t. Practicing saying no to ourselves in little ways, such as not checking our Facebook page, not going for a second helping at dinner, or not drinking our favorite beer when the kids go to bed, strengthens our weak wills. The stronger our wills grow, the more able we are to say no to those things that are truly bad for us. Think of it as a weight-lifting routine – the more repetitions we do with the smaller weights, the more ready we will be for the “heavy lifting.” These “exercises” also carry us further down the path toward doing everything for the love of God rather than out of obligation.

I often have heard people say they are going to forego the traditional practice of giving up something good in favor of adding something, like more prayer time or extra confession. It’s certainly praiseworthy to add in opportunities for spiritual growth (especially prayer, since that is one of the focuses of Lent), but we shouldn’t do it in place of making those small sacrifices of good things. Remember that fasting is one of the three main objectives of Lent, and the fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are just a small part of that. If we want to be in top spiritual shape in time for Easter, we need those little sacrifices to strengthen our spiritual muscles.

This year, one of the ways I am going to practice saying no to myself is by participating in 40 Bags in 40 Days. I have a hard time getting rid of things, especially if they are in any way useful (even if I’m not using them and probably never will). This tells me that even though I’m not exactly materialistic, I have an unhealthy attachment to “stuff” and I need to break free of it. I am pretty sure that each time I try to put something into a bag to get rid of it, a little voice in my head is going to say “Keep it! Keep it!” and I am going to have to tell it “no.” In doing so over and over during these 40 days, my hope is that I will grow more and more able to say “yes” to God.

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