Book Review: The Hope of Lent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis

PrintThere are so many options for Lenten reflections out there. Many bishops and priests will write a reflection series, most parishes will offer some kind of booklet like the Little Black books or a Magnificat Lenten Companion prayer book. If you are starting to think, oh this is just another one of those books/series, keep reading! The Hope of Lent by Diane M. Houdek is a brand new series of reflections….hold it right there. It may say that these are “reflections” in the title, but I would respectfully beg to differ.

What is so delightfully refreshing about Pope Francis is that in one breath he can cause a person to stop, reflect and be moved to act. Houdek has very thoughtfully chosen key moments in Pope Francis’ daily homilies and addresses which invite the reader to not simply consider the daily readings, but to be inspired into practical action.

Lent isn’t only a time for sitting back and internal soul searching, though this can be extremely fruitful. Pope Francis is fearless in his interpretation and explanation of Gospel truths.

How often we find people – ourselves included – so often in the Church who proclaim: “I am a real Catholic!” They should be asked, “What do you do?”

The Lord’s mercy is in doing. Being Christian means acting: doing the will of God. And on the last day – because we will all have one – what will the Lord ask us? Will he ask us: “What have you said about me?” No! He will ask about the things we have done.

– Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

Houdek rightfully explores the exhortations of Pope Francis by offering a brief follow-up meditation which typically includes an idea for how to put our pope’s words into action. The daily entry finishes with a few lines of prayer from Pope Francis.

Something I really appreciated about The Hope of Lent is how Houdek frames the purpose for it. She says:

The greatest hope of Lent is the discovery that it’s not only about penance, deprivation, spiritual struggles, and rooting out sin in our lives. Those are often the things we do during Lent. But the hope of Lent lies in what God does (vii).

So here we have a simple book that has found a way to hold two key truths in balance with one another. In one hand, it isn’t enough to talk the talk, we must walk the walk. However, while we are doing all that walking, we must not get caught up in our own action. Rather, the more we are called to action necessarily means we are called to greater contemplation.

We live in a rush, we are on the run, without noticing what the path is like; and we let ourselves be carried along by the needs, by the necessities of the days, but without thinking…Today, at the moment in which we stop to think about these things and to make decisions, to choose something, we know the Lord is with us, is beside us, to help us. He never lets us go alone.

– Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Even though Lent has just begun, The Hope of Lent is more than worth going back and reading from the beginning. And then reading again in June or July. And possibly in October or November as well. Pope Francis’ meditations are full of spiritual insight and practical wisdom that can inspire us to become hope-filled, joy-filled Christians.

Daily Graces.


A Giving Heart

Have you ever heard a story that tugged at your heartstrings? Maybe you’ve watched a TV show or seen a commercial that was particularly moving. Perhaps you were watching the news and saw a story that struck home, that reminded you that there are others out there who are in need or suffering difficulties. Often, these experiences elicit an emotional response – “How beautiful!” “How awful!” “I wish there were more people out there like her.” “Why isn’t someone helping him?”

I would like to share with you one such story that is near to my heart and I hope, will become dear to yours as well.

Ben’s cousin Colleen is presently working in Hyderbad, India through an organization called Sarah’s Covenant Homes. She is a long-term foster mom for 7 children, all with special needs. Colleen has a true calling to work with these precious children. She has had to overcome an incredible number of hospital visits, late nights, early mornings, and a severe learning and language curve since she is in India, a place she had never been prior. Colleen regularly blogs at Letting My Light Shine where she gives heartwarming and heart-wrenching stories of her everyday life with these little ones.  Colleen does an excellent job of sharing stories of all the children in her care, letting her audience really get to know them and the challenges their disabilities present.

Katherine -, #DailyGraces #WorksofMercy #DonateNowI would like to specifically draw your attention to one of Colleen’s little ones – Katherine. Katherine is a 2 year old who is blind, deaf and has a form of cerebral palsy. When Colleen first met her, she was lethargic and very unresponsive. Colleen’s patient, steady and loving care of Katherine has yield some incredible results. In just 3 short weeks Katherine began responding to the stimuli in her environment by crying when she was displeased with something. Before this, she would not have any response, even if she was uncomfortable or upset, she would just shut down and go to sleep.

Colleen’s diligence with Katherine has brought an incredible opportunity to her. Colleen has been very good about following up with best care she can for all of her kids, pursuing whatever avenues she needs to with each of their unique disabilities and challenges. For Katherine, she has been trying to figure out what options are available for her hearing loss. After a whole series of doctor’s visits, Colleen was thrilled to find out that not only is Katherine’s cochlear nerve intact, she is still a viable candidate for a cochlear implant! With only 3 of her 5 senses working, regaining some hearing will completely revolutionize Katherine’s world.

As if this wasn’t enough good news, Katherine has been blessed by a local organization who is willing to pay for the implant itself. It is a huge financial burden off of Colleen and Sarah’s Covenant House. However, it means that it is up to Colleen to raise the funds for the surgery and hospital stay. In total, she needs to raise $3,000.

This year, especially during Lent, Pope Francis has really called everyone out. In his address for Lent, Pope Francis said:

For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 15). For in the poor, the flesh of Christ “becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us” (ibid.)

We all can’t travel to India. We all can’t sit with Katherine at breakfast and watch her reveal in a sense she can enjoy. We can’t all sit with Colleen as she struggles to help Katherine engage in the world around her. We all can’t sit by Katherine’s bed when she wakes up from surgery. We all can’t be there the day Katherine begins to make connections between the sounds she is hearing and her environment.

But we can help make this life-changing surgery possible. Lent is a time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. If you have been discerning a new charity or cause to support, consider Katherine’s. Pope Francis wants us all to “reawaken our conscience” by actively performing the corporeal and spiritual works of mercy. By donating for Katherine’s surgery, you are not only helping the sick, you are concretely giving Colleen the tools she needs to shower Katherine with even more love and works of mercy.

Here is the link you need to donate. It is simple and all through PayPal so it is secure. Any amount you can give will help Katherine get that much closer to the gift of hearing. If at this time you are unable to give, please pray for Katherine, Colleen and the other children. You can also share this post or any from Colleen’s blog to help spread the word about Katherine and children just like her in need of advocates, in need of love, in need of mercy.

Thank you so much. Please click through the links so that you can learn more about Colleen, Katherine and the incredible work she is doing.

Salt Cravings


Do you ever have one of those days where you need salt. Everything salty sounds delicious and you find yourself fantasizing about french fries, potato chips, pretzels, or anything with enough salty goodness  to satisfy the craving. And no, this doesn’t just happen when I’m pregnant. I’m sure you’ve all had at least one day like this. Our bodies need salt. It is one of the components necessary to help water move through our systems. Our bodies do not function properly when we do not have enough salt.

Everything in life needs a little salt. Have you ever noticed on pretty much any cooking show that has a judge, someone is always critiqued for not using enough salt. Just the other day I heard a judge say “If you had just put a few more grains of salt, then the flavors would have really popped.” Even desserts need to have some salt.

There was one time, I was in high school, that I was making a new cookie recipe. I believed that the recipe, in my fairly inexperienced baking hands, called for too much salt. These were supposed to be sweet cookies after all. So I left the salt out. I think that we all know how those cookies tasted. Lifeless.

It is interesting, Jesus told his followers to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). He didn’t say to be the yeast, to be the flour, or to be the water – all other fundamental ingredients. What makes salt different is it’s ability to add flavor. Flour, yeast and water are all basic components to make bread. You don’t technically need salt to make bread, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you like to eat cardboard. Maybe you do.

I definitely don’t like cardboard. I like flavor in my food and my life. I like to think that Jesus did too. After all, he did hang out with some pretty “flavorful” people for the time (tax collectors, women, non-Jews, lepers, to name a few) and he certainly spiced up the lives of his followers. Jesus asks us to do the same. We are supposed to spice things up. How? By being fully alive.

To be fully alive, we have to know who we are. We are children of the most high God, the author of all creation. We cannot be fully alive without recognizing that we are not the source of our existence. How can a building stand when it’s foundation is cracked? The basis of our “saltiness” comes from this primary fact of our being.

If you are ever feeling like you are losing touch with your “saltiness” (aka your ability to connect with Jesus and therefore your ability to see the world as he would want you), take some time to think about your encounters with Jesus. Pope Francis just said ““He never forgers, but we forget the encounter with Christ. And this would be a good assignment to do at home, to consider: ‘When have I really felt that the Lord was close to me? When have I felt the need to change my life, or to become better, or to forgive someone? When have I felt the Lord asking something of me? When have I encountered the Lord?’ Because our faith is an encounter with Jesus. This is the foundation of our faith: I have encountered Jesus.” (see more at