TYLER – Bishop Joseph E. Strickland said Ash Wednesday is a time to reflect on the promise and constant availability of God’s mercy.

Celebrating an Ash Wednesday service at the chapel in Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler Feb. 10 for hospital employees, Bishop Strickland said Ash Wednesday is “a time to be aware, yes, of our sinfulness,” but also to know “that we need not stop at our sinfulness. There is always the hope of God’s mercy, and it is extended to all of us, whatever faith journey we might be on.”

See more photos from Ash Wednesday at Trinity Mother Frances>>>

The bishop noted that many of those filling the small chapel might not be Catholic, but said the ashes were available to all.

Bishop Strickland administers ashes to Holy Family of Nazareth Sister Irene Asztemborska at the Feb. 10 Ash Wednesday service in the chapel at Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler. Sister Irene is on the pastoral care staff at the hospital, which is sponsored by her congregation.

“It’s always a joy to me to know that we can all receive these ashes to be reminded of the Lord’s call for all humanity to live in the light of Jesus Christ,” he said. “I think (Ash Wednesday) is a good ecumenical day. We’re reminded that, yes, we have divisions in the world today, even divisions in faith, but those divisions are not in God. They’re manifestations of our own weak humanity.

“Christ calls us to oneness,” Bishop Strickland said. “On this Ash Wednesday, we invite all of you to receive ashes.”

He encouraged everyone present to “rejoice in the opportunity that this Ash Wednesday represents. In our Catholic tradition, it’s the beginning of Lent, what I like to call the retreat of the Church for the six weeks leading up to Easter.”

He urged those gathered to use the Lenten season “to remember the call to turn away from sin and to live the Good News, the message, of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Prior to the service, Bishop Strickland visited patients in the hospital, along with Fransalian Father Luke Kalarickal, hospital chaplain, and Father Christopher Ruggles, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Frankston.

“It was a great experience, as it always is, to bring hope, to bring the salve that is only possible through Jesus Christ,” the bishop said.

He reminded the gathered hospital employees that they are ministers of that hope and that healing.

“We heard in that beautiful reading from Joel, ‘give your whole heart,’” he said. “And I’m sure that many of you, when you hear ‘heart,’ you think of ventricles and aortic arteries and other technicalities, and you hope that the patients you’re working with do have whole hearts that are healthy.

“But that symbolic passage in Scripture that speaks of the heart of God’s people is very significant,” the bishop said. “I think we’d all agree that we need the mercy in the world today that this Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis signifies for us.”

Looking out at the assembled hospital community comprising doctors, nurses, technicians, volunteers, and administrators, Bishop Strickland said, “You may not always look at your work in that way, and I know you represent all the complex aspects of running a health care system. But I encourage you to be aware that, wherever you are working, you can be that minister of mercy, helping others to know healing, helping others to know hope, in the light of Jesus Christ.”

Lent is the penitential season of approximately 40 days set aside by the Church in order for the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. During this holy season, inextricably connected to the Paschal Mystery, the Catechumens prepare for Christian initiation, and current Church members prepare for Easter by a recalling of Baptism and by works of penance, that is, prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Even in the early Church, Lent was the season for prayerful and penitential preparation for the feast of Easter. Though the obligation of penance was originally only imposed on those who had committed public sins and crimes, by medieval times all the faithful voluntarily performed acts of penance to repair for their sins.

Ash Wednesday is the clarion call to “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mk 1:15). For the next forty days, the faithful willingly submit to fasting and self-denial in imitation of Our Lord’s forty-day fast in the desert. It is in these dark and still nights, these desert-times, that the soul experiences its greatest growth. There, in the inner arena, the soul battles the world, the flesh and the devil just as Our Lord battled Satan’s triple temptation in the desert. His battle was external, for Jesus could not sin; our battle is interior, but with a hope sustained by the knowledge of Christ’s Easter victory over sin and death.

His victory is our renewal, our “spring” — which is the meaning of the Anglo-Saxon word, “lengten” or Lent. In this penitential season we have the opportunity to make an annual spiritual “tune-up”, a 40-day retreat with Our Lord. Have we allowed worldly cares and the “daily drama” to obscure our call to holiness? Have self-love and materialism eroded our relationship with God? Then let us renew our efforts, and through our Lenten observance, discipline the body and master it as we “follow in the footsteps of the poor and crucified Christ” (St. Francis of Assisi).

– From CatholicCulture.org

Lenten Information and Resources

The Liturgy of Lent

Austere is the watchword for the liturgical celebrations of the Season of Lent. The Church has proclaimed a time of fasting and self-denial and she teaches by example. The priest is vested in violet, “the gloomy color of affliction and mortification”, except on the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday) when he might choose the festive option of rose vestments. The sanctuary is bereft of flowers, and less ornate linens and candlesticks adorn the altar. The Gloria will not be prayed on Sunday, while the Alleluia will be entirely absent throughout Lent.

The use of musical instruments is limited to the accompaniment of singing. Weddings are discouraged during Lent and in fact, all celebrations should be characterized by restraint. Even the feast days of Saints are observed in a reduced manner, with the priest wearing the violet of the season rather than the red or white of the saint. By this penitential �?fast of the senses’, Holy Mother Church prepares our hearts for a jubilant Easter renewal.

There are two exceptions to the Lenten austerity. On the Solemnities of St. Joseph (March 19) and the Annunciation (March 25) the Church sets aside her purple for white vestments, sings the Gloria and prays the Creed. (We genuflect at the “et Incarnatus est” on the Annunciation.) The Solemnity of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church and foster father of Jesus, is a feast of highest rank – a holy day in some countries and, in some, even a civil holiday! On the Solemnity of the Annunciation, we celebrate a feast that propels us into the Christmas mystery. Jesus, the Savior who will shortly give his life for our sins, is this day conceived in the Virgin Mary’s womb. Her “fiat” to an angel, will undo the subjection to sin caused by Eve’s “yes” to a fallen-angel. This is indeed the most sublime moment in the history of time.

Ash Wednesday inaugurates the Lenten Season, and its readings set the guidelines for our 40-day journey. The Gospel gives us our Lenten “marching orders”: pray, fast, and give alms, not for outward show but with hearts that are converted. We receive the sacramental ashes as testimony to our desire to do penance and bear our cross after Jesus.

Subsequent Scripture readings of the Lenten Liturgies give us daily lessons based on three major themes:

1) The first three weeks call us to repentance and to the practice of virtue, though the Church will suspend her penitential readings on Laetare Sunday, the midway point of the Lenten journey, to rejoice that Easter is near.

2) The second theme that threads its way through the seasonal readings is the instruction of the catechumens who are preparing for Easter-birth. The Rites of Christian Initiation span the season of Lent and culminate in the Easter Vigil Rites of Baptism and Confirmation of the Elect. The various readings put before our eyes many Old Testament characters and events that prefigure Christ and the Paschal Mystery: Christ is the new Adam, and he is the Isaac of the New Covenant; the Church is the new Ark which saves mankind through the waters of Baptism, etc.

3) The final scriptural theme unfolding in the last two weeks of Lent is the mounting opposition of the Jews toward Christ. The sixth and final Sunday of Lent (Passion or Palm Sunday) will usher in Holy Week, the greatest and holiest of all weeks. The liturgies of Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum are so rich and so important that they must be expounded in a section all its own.

– From CatholicCulture.org

Lenten FAQ

When Does Lent Start in 2016?
Lent starts on Ash Wed, Feb 10 and ends with the start of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, which is the beginning of the Triduum. Easter Sunday is March 27.

What is Lent?
Lent is a time when the Catholic Church collectively enters into preparation for the celebration of Easter. Lent originally developed as a forty-day retreat, preparing converts to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. It is now a part of our Church’s liturgical calendar and a season of conversion for all. Conversion is the process of turning away from sin and turning to God.

Are Sundays a part of Lent?
Sundays are always a day of celebration of Christ’s passion and Resurrection, so we celebrate on these days. While still part of the season of Lent, they have a mixture of both celebration (because it is Sunday) and repentance (because it is Lent).

Does this mean I can “cheat” on Sundays?
Since Sundays are not part of the penitential season, you are not required to practice signs of penitence on these days. But, there is no reason you can’t do them either. If you feel you are “cheating” then it isn’t helping! Since the Church has some conflicting information (different documents state different things) I think you should do what you feel is best regarding the Lenten season and Sundays. In other words, follow your conscience.

Why forty days and not some other number?
Because 40 is a special number in the Bible. It signifies preparation for something special – as in the 40 day flood of Noah.

  • *Moses stayed on the Mount Sinai forty days (Ex 24:18),
  •  Jonah gives the people of Ninevah forty days to repent (Jon 3:4) – (there are many other Old Testament stories)
  • *Jesus, before starting his ministry, spent 40 days in the desert in prayer and fasting (Matt 4:2).

So, as in the Bible, we spend 40 days in preparing ourselves to rejoice at the Resurrection of our Lord at Easter.

What is Ash Wednesday all about?
Ash Wednesday is so named because this first day of Lent is where we are marked with ashes to show the repentance of our sins and mourning. This is also a Biblical sign that we live today. We can see this in several verses.

  • “I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (Dan 9:3)
  • Other verses include: 1 Sam 4:12, Jon 3:6, Esther 4:1 and Matt 11:20-21

Today, ashes are still this same sign of repentance and mourning for our sins. They also represent our mortality. “I am nothing but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27). We started as nothing and our bodies will become dust and ashes after our death. Reminding ourselves that nobody escapes physical death, we look forward to eternal life.

So, why are the ashes made into a cross on the forehead?
Because it is the ancient sign of being marked by Christ in our baptism. We are no longer our own, but Jesus Christ owns us. The book of Revelation tells us that all the elect will be marked by the sign of Christ – “On Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” (Rev 14:1)

Where do we get the ashes?
They come from burning the palms from last years Palm Sunday Masses.

Who can receive ashes?
Anyone can receive ashes on Ash Wed. While we have communion only for Catholics who are in good standing with the Church, all may receive ashes.

Is Ash Wed a holy day of Obligation?
No. But all Catholics are strongly urged to attend, because it is the start of the Lenten season.

Do we have to fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wed?
Yes. This means that all Catholics from 14 and up are required to abstain from meat and Catholics 18-60 are required to eat only one average meal and two snacks without anything else. Children, the elderly and those who are sick are not obligated to do this.

Why fast?
Again, this is because we are called to by Jesus. By denying ourselves something good, we remember what the highest good of all is – GOD. We also practice self-discipline and self-mastery, which we need in order to achieve holiness. Jesus fasted in the desert and calls us to as well.

  • “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” (Matt 6: 16)
  • “and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.” (Luke 2:37)
  • Fasting also helps focus us in our prayer. *Yet when they were ill, I…humbled myself with fasting.” (Psalm 35:13)

Why abstain from meat?
Because of the spiritual discipline it provides. “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia . . . �?I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.’” (Dan 10:1-3) We give up meat, which still today is a luxury in some parts of the world, as a good thing that we offer up in order to remember that Christ is better than food and needed more by all of us than anything else.

Why is fish not considered meat?
Because it was the food of the poor who could not afford meat, yet could catch fish to sustain themselves.

So, what are the other days of fast and abstinence?
Good Friday is a day of fasting and abstinence. All Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence from meat, this is because Christ died on a Friday.

So, why do people “give up” things during Lent?
While we are not required to “give something up” we are required to do something penitential. Lent is a great time to break a bad habit and give it to the Lord. These sins and vices we should not take back after Lent. It is also a time to give something up that is good during this season. This is why people give up something they enjoy. In doing so we can draw closer to God by our temporary sacrifice. We should find an appropriate balance of giving something up and not completely cutting ourselves off of good things. We will find our need for God if we do it correctly.

What else then IS required during Lent?
The Church asks us to increase our prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is assumed that we are already doing these things and should merely increase them.

Got any suggestions?
First off, pray about what you are going to do for Lent. Ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your spiritual practice of Lent. Then find a few things that you feel called to do. Don’t do too much or too little. Stretch yourself, but don’t pick things you won’t stick to.

– Courtesy of AggieCatholicBlog.com

Rev. Daniel Dower, STL, has been appointed Episcopal Vicar for Education for the Diocese of Tyler, Bishop Joseph E. Strickland has announced.

As Vicar for Education, Father Dower will assist Bishop Strickland in promoting the Church’s commitment to high quality Catholic education and faith formation in the diocese, and provide overall coordination for those working in the field of education at all levels.

“Father Dower’s work will encompass all aspects of sharing the Catholic faith in the Diocese of Tyler,” said Bishop Strickland. “He will be working with the priests, deacons, and religious, as well as Catholic schools, faith formation, youth evangelization, and Christian initiation and adult formation in order to enhance our efforts to share the treasure of our Catholic Faith.”

Father Dower was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Worchester, Mass., in 1984 and came to the Diocese of Tyler in 2010. He holds a licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

“I am so very honored and excited to have to have been asked by Bishop Strickland to assist him as Vicar for Education,” said Father Dower. “After the celebration of the Sacraments, most especially the Eucharist, there is nothing we do as priests that is more important than proclaiming the Word of God and teaching our faith to both young and old alike. I look forward to the challenges ahead and helping to build upon the good work that has already begun across the Diocese of Tyler as we strive ever more faithfully to go forth and make disciples of all nations.”

As Vicar of Education, Father Dower will assist the bishop in his mandate as Teacher of the Catholic Faith by establishing a framework for fostering excellence in catechetical and academic education in the parishes and schools of the diocese.

“Father Dower’s efforts are inspired by the ‘Great Commission’ in the 28th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. I have asked that he begin with an initial assessment of where we are and where we need to go.  He will focus especially on developing ways for our Catholic schools and parish faith formation to collaborate more effectively,” Bishop Strickland said.

Father Dower will continue to serve as pastor of Christ the King Parish in Kilgore where he has been assigned since 2011.  He also serves on the Priests’ Pension Board and is Assistant Dean for the East Central Deanery.

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) –  On Friday the Vatican announced that while on his way to Mexico, Pope Francis will stop in Cuba to meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in the first meeting between a Pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the Great Schism 1,000 years ago.

“The Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow are pleased to announce that, by the grace of God, His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will meet on February 12 next,” a joint Feb. 5 press release from the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church read.

Kirill, patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, will arrive to Havana Feb. 11 for an official visit to South America. His Feb. 11-22 visit includes stops in Cuba, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay.

Pope Francis himself will arrive to Havana’s José Martí International Airport the next day while on his way to Mexico, where he will be on an official visit until Feb. 17.

The Pope will be greeted by both the Patriarch and Cuban president Raul Castro at the airport. From there, they will head to the presidential room of the airport, where Francis and Kirill will have a lengthy private conversation and sign a joint declaration.

In the press release, it was noted that the encounter is the fruit of “a long preparation,” and will be “the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches.”

While Roman Pontiffs have met with other Orthodox Church leaders, this marks the first time a Pope has met with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch since the Eastern Churches split with Rome during the Great Schism of 1054.

Both the Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate expressed their hope that the meeting “will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will,” and invited all Christians “to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits.”

In a Feb. 5 press briefing on the encounter, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. told journalists that when Pope Francis arrives to Havana, he will be greeted with the usual protocol.

Among those present to greet the Pope when he lands will be Cuban president Raul Castro, Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, as well as the president of the Cuban bishops conference, Archbishop Dionisio García Ibáñez of Santiago de Cuba.

The private meeting between the two is expected to last “a couple of hours,” Fr. Lombardi said, noting that the time allotted for the encounter lasts from around 2:15-4:25p.m. Afterward, they will head to a separate room to sign a joint-declaration and exchange gifts.

Two interpreters will assist in the conversation: one in Spanish, and one in Russian. The declaration, however, will be drafted in Russian and Italian.

Once the joint-declaration has been signed and the gifts exchanged, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will each give short speech. The Pope will give his speech in Spanish, and the patriarch in Russian.

According to the Vatican spokesman, the speeches will not be long and complicated, but more like a “spontaneous expression of their feelings for this beautiful occasion.”

Delegations from both the Pope and the patriarch, consisting of roughly 10-15 people each, will be presented before Francis boards the plane again around 5:30p.m., bound for Mexico. Both Patriarch Kirill and Cuban President Raul Castro will see him off.

Fr. Lombardi said that while the stop in Havana has been added, Pope Francis’ trip to Mexico has otherwise not been modified, and he should stay on schedule.

Also present for the encounter in Cuba will be Hilarion Alfeyev, who currently serves as Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, is the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations and is a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow.

In an interview with Corriere della Sera in June 2015, Metropolitan Hilarion hinted that a possible meeting between the Pope and Patriarch Kirill could be close. He told the agency that “such a meeting is getting closer every day, but it must be well prepared.”

Fr. Lombardi confirmed that meeting between the two was “not improvised,” but has in fact been in the works “for a long time…a couple of years.”

– Elise Harris

In 1986, St. John Paul II gave us a mission. A mission to build the Catholic Church in East Texas, to develop the Diocese of Tyler. A mission to give all of God’s flock a shepherd’s care.

Many said it couldn’t be done, but today that mission is alive. And one of the greatest resources we have to continue it is the Bishop’s Annual Appeal.

Your contributions to the Appeal are vital to the growth of our Church.

Each year your gifts fund the many youth, family, and charitable ministries that make sure all of God’s Flock receive a shepherd’s care in East Texas.

Your support to the Appeal forms our priests, chosen by God to shepherd our families. Through your generosity, we are able to vastly grow our number of seminarians, providing future shepherds for all our parishes and missions.

Most of all, your gifts provide for the men who have given us a lifetime of service, our retired priests. You make sure they have the love and care that they need in their old age.

The 2016 Annual Appeal will kick off this weekend, February 6th and 7th. Check your mailbox this coming weekend for an invitation to give.

God’s flock is in your midst. Join Our Mission and help give them a shepherd’s care.