I was recently speaking with a Jesuit priest about his work. The charism of a Jesuit priest is to go where there is the greatest need.

“What do you think is the greatest need in our city?” I asked him.

He told me that he thought that people didn’t seem to need anything. They have filled their lives with so many things. I thought this was ironic.

How is it that the greatest need in our society is that we have no need at all?

I began to think of myself: How true is this of my own life? I rarely let myself go hungry. I fill my schedule with commitments, I quickly run into new relationships and I consume more food than I need. I chase desires in many different directions all in efforts to satisfy my hunger. Everything is so readily available and easily accessible that I have never truly had to go hungry. My every whim is met instantly.

During Lent, I realize it is a time to do just the opposite of the ordinary. It is a time to leave our desires unchecked as it is a period to abstain from comfort. In Matthew, Jesus was “led by the spirit into the desert,” leaving all comfort behind.

For me, the chance to live out this belief came in the form of a unique initiative.

For five days this Lent, I left the comforts of my home behind. With a sleeping bag, pillow and the clothes on my back, I joined nine other students at the University of British Columbia as part of a national campaign called 5 Days for the Homeless. Together, we camped outside our campus bookstore in efforts to raise awareness and money for homeless youth in our city.

The past days have definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone. It’s been cold and rainy and I’m beginning to dream of hot showers. We’re completely reliant on donations for food and basic necessities like toothpaste and deodorant.

Catherine Doherty, foundress of the Madonna House apostalate, is famous for, amongst other things, having brought the term “poustinia” to the Catholic Church. It is a term that refers to the cabins people go to for retreats of silence and solitude. Poustinia stems from the Russian word for desert. People spend time in these poustinia to encounter God more fully through prayer and fasting. Though far from luxurious, people often feel more fulfilled in the poustinia.

I have come to understand that fulfilment during my time without a home. Without the comforts of home, I have had to come to Jesus for that true fulfilment.

A Catholic Christian Outreach missionary once said to me, “We are afraid to wait long enough to feel that longing.”

What if this Lent, instead of reacting to every desire, you allowed yourself to go hungry? What would happen?

I urge you to be led by the spirit into the poustinia or desert of your heart just as Jesus was 2,000 years ago. See what happens. Allow your true appetite for something greater be restored. I know He won’t leave you thirsty.

(Hii, 21, is a human resources and international relations student at the University of British Columbia.)

Published in YSN: Speaking Out
March 14, 2012

Texting through Lent

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,” reads the Gospel of John. While this opening verse will always be true, I wonder what John would have to say about taking the Word and, well, texting it.

That was the challenge I embarked on this Lenten season with the “Texting through Lent” calendar. Designed as a daily devotional calendar for teens and young adults, it attempts to incorporate various multimedia devices, especially cellphones, into Lenten reflections. When I saw this calendar hanging in the walls of my former high school, I knew it was a challenge I had to accept.

Published in YSN: Speaking Out

Lent this year has been going on for a while now, but it’s not too late to get around it. For those reluctant to join with the many who are making a Lenten sacrifice and are instead looking for reliable methods to escape Lent, I offer six suggestions. Use at your own pace.

1. Don’t enter a church. Lent is everywhere in there these days, in the words, the music, the smells, the wall hangings. Even if you do happen to wander into a church or two, there are still ways to avoid Lent while inside, including the techniques listed below.

Published in Mary Marrocco

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI asked Catholics for their prayers as he began his weeklong Lenten retreat Feb. 26.

Before reciting the Angelus prayer at midday with visitors in St. Peter's Square, he also prayed that all Catholics would "embrace the spirit of this holy season, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving."

Published in Vatican

TORONTO - Students at Marshall McLuhan Catholic Secondary School in Toronto began Lent with a purpose. The 1,000-plus students at the midtown school are raising money to combat child sexual slavery.

Jesuit Father Len Altilia told the students Lent should make us want to reach out to the helpless, particularly the women and children who suffer most from violence and sexual exploitation.

"It's not just an act of charity," said Altilia. "It is an act of faith and an act of justice."

Published in Education

ROME - Receiving ashes at the beginning of Lent is a call to repentance and humility and a sign that believers know that death will not have the final word in their lives, Pope Benedict XVI said.

The Pope's Ash Wednesday Mass Feb. 22 was preceded by a procession from Rome's Church of St. Anselm to the Church of Santa Sabina. Unlike last year, when Pope Benedict walked the block between the two churches, this year he rode in a golf cart modified to be a mini-Popemobile.

Pope Benedict, 84, has been using a mobile platform to process into St. Peter's Basilica since last October. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said then that use of the platform was to help the Pope conserve his energy and that Pope Benedict had no serious health problems.

Published in Vatican

VATICAN CITY - The 40 days of Lent are a time of spiritual renewal in preparation for Easter, but they also are a time to recognize that evil is at work in the world and even the Catholic Church faces temptations, Pope Benedict XVI said.

The Pope explained the meaning of Lent during his weekly general audience Feb. 22, Ash Wednesday.

Like the people of Israel during their 40-year exodus and like Jesus during His 40 days in the desert, the Catholic Church and its members experience the grace of God, but also are besieged by evil around them and are tempted by power and selfishness, the Pope said.

Published in Vatican

More people are practising voluntary fasting than you would ever guess. There is a slow-growing, new awakening to an ancient practice that is cutting across all societal lines and claiming followers from every sector of human experience. Athletes. Secretaries. Store managers. Students. Teachers.

Why are they fasting? Body ecology is often a factor. Many people fast to simply give their physical self a rest, a holiday. The body is constantly absorbed in the work of digesting food, metabolizing it into energy and eliminating the waste materials. To go without eating from time to time is to reward our bodies with the same kind of down-day that we give our minds after we’ve been working hard at reading or writing. Fasting gives the body a chance to renew itself, to burn its rubbish and eliminate accumulated toxins. It’s like a house-cleaning day.

Published in Features

TORONTO - When Fr. Roger Brennan was living and working in a dirt-poor town 700 kms southwest of Manila in the Philippines, he didn’t think he would have to answer questions about whether it was OK to eat chicken during Lent. As far as he could see, his parishioners in Hinunangan were too poor to pass up any opportunity for a little extra protein, no matter what time of year it happens to be.

“Let’s face it, they fasted 12 months of the year,” Brennan, a Scarboro Missions priest, said.

Published in Features

Faith and Las Vegas are an oxymoron. But these two seemingly paradoxical thoughts rattled around in my head as we walked down the busy, glittery Las Vegas strip the other day for the first time.

Sure, Sin City has different types of temples filled with moneychangers of a modern ilk. These temples are named Caesar’s Palace, the Mirage, the Venetian, Bellagio and a host of others. And, sure, churches are hidden so far out of sight that you’d think illusionist David Copperfield made them disappear.

Published in Robert Brehl

VATICAN CITY - In his Lenten message, Pope Benedict XVI called on the faithful to be concerned for one another and "not to remain isolated and indifferent" to the fate others.

Materialism and a sense of self-sufficiency are obstacles to a Christian life of charity, the Pope said.

Instead of looking first to God and then to the well-being of others, people often have an attitude of "indifference and disinterest born of selfishness and masked as a respect for 'privacy.'"

Published in Vatican

This Lent, Emily Dulhanty, a Grade 12 student at Loyola Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., chose to do something nice for someone each day.  (Photo by Sarah Gagliano)

TORONTO - Brad Burt’s Lenten promise was to give up hot showers, which he stuck to for the 40 days. Now, he plans on continuing to sacrifice for the rest of the year.

“I gave up hot showers for Lent as an offering for my relationship with my girlfriend so that we can grow stronger in our faith on our own and as a couple, (and) also as an offering for helping us to discern marriage,” said Burt, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student at the University of British Columbia.

Now that the 40 days of Lent are over, many students have Lenten promise success stories to share, along with some areas for improvement.

Marcio Alves, a fourth-year Portuguese major at the University of Toronto, aimed to give up some of his favourite foods for Lent: soft drinks, pizza, chocolate and popcorn.

Published in Youth Speak News

OTTAWA - The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace launched its annual Share Lent fundraising campaign here March 16 with the goal of raising $10 million.

Under the banner Building a World of Justice, the Canadian bishops' overseas development agency aims to collect $10 million across Canada to go towards more than 200 sustainable development projects it supports in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

The theme for this year’s campaign expresses the collective work of the many local organizations that D&P has supported over the last 40 years.

Published in Canada

Pope Benedict XVI prays during the opening of his Lenten retreat. (CNS photo/ L'Osservatore Romano)VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI asked Catholics for their prayers as he began his weeklong Lenten retreat March 13.

Before reciting the Angelus prayer at midday with visitors in St. Peter's Square, he also prayed that Mary would intercede to help everyone have a Lent that is "rich in the fruits of conversion."

Carmelite Father Francois-Marie Lethel, a theology professor and the secretary of the Pontifical Academy of Theology, was chosen to preach the retreat March 13-19 for Pope Benedict and top Vatican officials. The French priest's topic was to be "The Light of Christ in the Heart of the Church: John Paul II and the Theology of Saints."

Published in Faith

A young woman with ashes on her forehead attends Pope Benedict XVI's general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican March 9. Ash Wednesday marks the start of the penitential season of Lent. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)VATICAN CITY - Wishing all Christians a "happy Lenten journey," Pope Benedict XVI said fasting, almsgiving and prayer are traditionally suggested for Lent because they have proven to be effective tools for conversion.

Lent is a time "to accept Christ's invitation to renew our baptismal commitments" in order to arrive at Easter in a new and stronger state, the Pope said at his weekly general audience March 9, Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent for Latin-rite Catholics.

"This Lenten journey that we are invited to follow is characterized in the Church's tradition by certain practices: fasting, almsgiving and prayer," he told the estimated 7,000 people gathered in the Vatican audience hall.

Published in International