Saint John the Baptist Roman Catholic Parish
Monaca, Pennsylvania

Pastor's Desk
A Message from Fr. Michael R. Ruffalo

First Sunday of Lent [2/18/18]

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is difficult to believe that Lent is already upon us. It seems like only yesterday that we celebrated the Advent and Christmas seasons. Of course, this truncated time is due to the fact that Easter falls so early this year. Although the first of April is not the earliest that Easter can be, it is close enough to make its presence felt. Hopefully we have been contemplating and reflecting these past couple of weeks as to how we would best approach this season. If we haven’t, it is not too late. Begin today and reflect upon what changes need to be made in your life to be a better follower of Jesus Christ.

On December 23, 1776, Thomas Paine said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” He was speaking of the American Revolution and the birth of a new nation. One could argue that the Lenten season is designed in such a way as to ‘try our souls’. Since time immemorial, Holy Mother the Church has likened Lent to the forty days that Christ spent in the desert before His ministry, or the 40 years that the Israelites spent wandering in the desert. Lent, like the desert, is a place of solitude, difficulty, encounter, struggle, hunger and focus. It is a place in which our metal is tested and we either rise or fall. If we pass through Lent without being tried, then we haven’t passed through a desert.

Thus, to get all we can from this season, we must embrace the rigors of Lent with sincerity and devotion. We must pray; we must fast; we must give alms. We must allow the season to stretch and form us, mold and shape us. If we do so, we will be conformed more perfectly to the image of Jesus Christ. In the book of
Sirach, we read, "Gold is tested by fire, and human character is tested in the furnace of humiliation. Trust in the Lord, and He will help you. Walk in His ways, and put your hope in Him. All you that fear the Lord, wait for Him to show you His mercy. Do not turn away from Him, or you will fall." With this in mind, we can turn to Jesus and comprehend His words when He said, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

As we begin, let us ask God to bless the work of our hands and to show us His mercy and salvation. May this Lent be a time of true renewal in the Lord and thus be brought to the glory of our Easter joy.

Fr. Michael


Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time [2/11/18]

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As I mentioned in my bulletin article last week, I would like to continue our reflection on the three disciplines of the Lenten Season. We have already discussed the necessity for intense prayer and offered several suggestions as to how we may incorporate new forms of prayer into our spiritual lives this Lent.

This week, I would like to discuss the two remaining aspects of Lent to which Holy Mother the Church asks her children to embrace. These two final aspects are also found in the Gospel of Ash Wednesday in which Jesus commands His disciples to fast and give alms. However, before I discuss ways in which we can fast and give alms, I would like to remind you of the obligation that is placed upon us in the Lenten season from our Holy Mother, the Church.

  • From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.

  • For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.

  • Members of the Eastern Catholic Churches are to observe the particular law of their own sui iuris Church.

Above and beyond this minimum requirement for the Lenten season, there are many other ways that fasting can be beneficial to us. Remember that fasting, although pertaining most often to food, can be any voluntary self-denial of an earthly good that assist us in becoming detached from the things of this world to become more fully united to the things of heaven.

While reflecting upon our own individual lives, we should ask ourselves some of these questions: Do I over indulge? How much time do I spend watching television? How much time do I spend on the internet? How many times a day do I check my social media? How often do I play video games? How often do I snack?

This is a very short list of commonplace over-indulgences today. The key to a successful Lent is to find what over-indulgence that pertains specifically to ourselves and devise a plan to bring that under control. For instance, begin slowly detaching yourself from that activity. For some people, cold-turkey works best, but for others a slow process may be in order. For those who could not possibly give up social media completely from Ash Wednesday should begin curtailing their usage and slowly increase that throughout the Lenten weeks. Remember that what is most desirable is that we do not return to our former habits, but rather instill new ones that are more in keeping with the spiritual life oriented to Christ.

Finally, regarding alms-giving, we should ask ourselves the following questions: How much of my time, talent or treasure do I give to the Church or to those who are less fortunate? What is the percentage of my charity in relation to other things in my life? (Example: How much do I give to the poor compared to how much I spend on coffee, entertainment, eating at restaurants, gambling, etc.?) Can I sacrifice, in part, one of those superfluous things in my life to increase my giving? Do I practice the corporal works of mercy? Do I visit the sick, the elderly, and the homebound? Again, this list can be as individual as all of us reading this article.

Much like fasting, a good method to employ this Lent is to gradually assess these questions and see where changes can be made in our daily lives. If we spend a hundred dollars a week on scratch-offs, perhaps during the first week of Lent, we only buy eighty dollars and give the twenty dollars remaining to the poor. The following week, attempt to increase that number. This only serves as an example, but I'm sure with a little reflection all of us know where we may be able to 'trim the fat' and increase our charity, even by a little. Remember, it isn't about the amount! Jesus teaches us that the widow's mite was a more perfect gift than the rich man who gave so much more.

There you have it. The three disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting and alms-giving. With only three days remaining until Ash Wednesday, we have a lot to think and pray about. Let us make this Lent a truly beautiful season in which our prayer, fasting and alms-giving are increased in ways we could never imagine and thus come to Easter with deeper faith and greater hope in the promises of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Fr. Michael


Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [2/4/18]

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As I mentioned in last week’s bulletin, we are in the throes of pre-Lenten time. Although the Church no longer calls these weeks leading up to
Ash Wednesday Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sundays, we nevertheless should dutifully reflect upon what we hope to accomplish in the holy season of Lent.

Many thinkers believe that success is measured by naming a target and striving for it with all one’s strength and energy. This worldly wisdom applies even to the spiritual life. As such, we must name our goals and strive each day to accomplish them with all the strength and determination that we can muster. Far too often, Catholics approach Lent with the same sacrifice which they have performed for years. We are creatures of routine, but without serious reflection our routine can prove to be ineffective. Sadly, our sacrifices, which are to bear lasting fruit, do not remain after the season of Lent and we return to our former selves. The reason for this could be manifold, but suffice it to say; perhaps one reason is that we haven’t considered what would be most beneficial to our spiritual life today.

Consider the gospel for
Ash Wednesday, which is to be our paradigm for the remainder of Lent. Jesus exhorts his disciples to pray, fast, and give alms. Perhaps this Lent, our Lord is calling us to apply an extra challenge to each of these three categories and to enact them to overcome our propensity toward worldliness. This week, let us reflect upon our prayer life and examine where it is that we need to improve our relationship with God in this area of our spiritual journey.

All of us are invited to look honestly at our lives and reflect upon the areas that need the greatest amount of improvement. Once we locate them, the next step is to formulate a plan to overcome them through Lent. This is a great challenge, one that we can receive with joy knowing that the Lord sends His grace to assist us in this holy endeavor.

Below you will find a couple of suggestions regarding prayer to help you along the way. It serves to begin the process of reflection and to show how a
Lenten Plan is devised.

Prayer: (Spend time reflecting upon your prayer-life.) How often do you pray? How do you pray? What prayers do you pray? Do you pray upon waking and before going to bed? Do you pray with the scriptures? Do you pray the rosary? Do you pray novenas? Do you pray before Mass? Do you offer a thanksgiving prayer after communion? Do you go to
Eucharistic Adoration?

Suggestions: Pray the rosary every day. Pray a novena to a patron saint. Pray the
Divine Mercy Chaplet every day at 3:00PM. Pray each day for 15 minutes. Pray, meditate and read the scriptures for 15 minutes a day. Come to Eucharistic Adoration on Thursdays from 6:00PM to 7:00PM. Attend the Stations of the Cross. Make a promise to attend daily Mass at least once a week. Reflect upon the Sunday readings throughout the week. Make a visit to the church once a week outside of Sunday Mass. Offer Masses for the souls of loved ones.

Next week, I will conclude with the two other disciplines of the Lenten season: fasting and almsgiving. May the good Lord give success to the work of our hands!

Fr. Michael