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Over this past Lenten season, Fr. Christopher Smith was honored to share a 3-part parish mission at St. Joseph’s Parish in Placentia, CA

This program is the third of a 3-part series.

Be sure to share this podcast!





Originally broadcast on 5/2/20


Earlier in the Lenten season, Fr. Christopher Smith was honored to share a 3-part parish mission at St. Joseph’s Parish in Placentia, CA

This podcast is the second of a 3-part series.

Be sure to share this with someone. You will both benefit tremendously!





Originally broadcast on 4/18/20


Here is a wonderful opportunity to listen to a parish mission without leaving the safety of your home, your car or work space!

Earlier in this Lenten season, Fr. Christopher Smith was honored to share a 3-part parish mission at St. Joseph’s Parish in Placentia, CA

This podcast is the first of a 3-part series.

Be sure to share this with someone. You will both benefit tremendously!





Originally broadcast on 4/4/20




We are in our journey of Lent, the season of sorrow, the season of remembrance of Jesus’ passion. In the past, we spent this time spiritually preparing ourselves and looking forward to the rituals of Palm Sunday, the  Holy Week, and then Resurrection Sunday. We sobbed, joyful to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection. Our communities, our choirs, and even catechumens and candidates looked forward to the Resurrection with excitement. 

This Lent, however, we find ourselves experiencing an indescribable fear and sadness. Every day we hear news about the pandemic and its effects around the world, and today it is here, across America, in our state, in our city, and even in our neighborhoods. Everywhere we go we hear  the  news  on TV and on YouTube of the coronavirus from Wuhan  that makes our lives seem more fragile. We are facing a challenge that we have never experienced, and we are shocked and annoyed that our usual routines have been interrupted. We feel the collapse of the material world that we have invested in.  

We are, however, fortunate to be among those who believe in God and His abundant love.  We are strengthened when we read the Scriptures, especially John 16:33 which says, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” And in the Book of Joshua, “I command you: be strong and steadfast!  Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.”  

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,  we must take courage and be strong, because we know God is walking with us on the way to Golgotha. We should make an effort  during this time with our families to share with one another our moments of grief and happiness, our anxieties, and our hardships, and we should take this opportunity to renew our loving relationships. We should stay connected with our friends, family members, and those with whom we have lost touch because of our busy lives. And we should set aside some time for family prayers during these  precious moments. 

Finally, come to the Lord in online  Masses to find peace, to pray, and to experience God’s love. Please join me in our prayers for the world, for the United States of America, and for Vietnam.   In particular, let  us pray for the patients who are fighting this deadly disease, and especially for the doctors, nurses and healthcare workers  who directly confront the dangers of this disease both day and night.   Please ask God to give them the health and patience to overcome this challenge. 

May the Lord bless us all and grant us peace in our hearts and bodies. May our Lady of La Vang  protect us from the tragedy of the current pandemic. 


In Christ and in our Lady of La Vang. 


During Lent, we are asked to focus more intently on “almsgiving,” which means donating money or goods to the poor and performing other acts of charity.  As one of the three pillars of Lenten practice, almsgiving is “a witness to fraternal charity” and “a work of justice pleasing to God.” – U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops 


As one of the three pillars of Lent, almsgiving – like prayer and fasting – should be part of our lives as Catholics and not merely an annual sacrifice.  

In his 2012 essay, “Introduction to Lent: Almsgiving,” author Mike Aquilina reminds us that Jesus declared almsgiving a necessary part of Christian life: “When you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men,” notes Matthew 6:2-3. “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” 

Like fasting and prayer, almsgiving is a non-negotiable part of Lent. Planning ahead makes donating money part of our annual Lenten sacrifice. Christians traditionally use the Old Testament practice of tithing or giving one-tenth of their income to God – whether that means donating to our church, diocese, or to other Catholic organizations, such as St. Vincent de Paul.  

Many parishes offer additional opportunities for giving during Lent, through outright donations or opportunities to join together for simple meals or providing service to others. 

Indeed almsgiving, notes the website, can take many forms. The site offers suggestions to embark on your Lenten mission of giving.  

Setting up a piggy bank reminds us that Lent is a season of sacrifice and service; giving up a weekly lunch out or a trip to Starbucks can add up. Seeking out a service project individually or with a group of friends can benefit local charities, such as homeless outreach or Habitat for Humanity. 

Charity begins at home, where we teach our children to give time, attention, and resources to others. But charity must not stop there, Aquilina writes, “because for Catholics ‘home’ is universal and our family is as big as the world.” Thus, we must dig deep and give generously, recognizing the dire needs of the individuals and families in our community. 

“It is a scandal, after all, for Christians to have closets overstuffed with clothing when there are families who are shivering because they can’t pay their heating bill,” he notes. “It is a scandal for Christians to be epidemically overweight when they have near neighbors who go to bed hungry.” 

We Americans enjoy creature comforts like central heat and air conditioning, electricity, medical care and more – but we often take these commodities for granted. Almsgiving may mean occasionally sacrificing one of these everyday luxuries to experience what our less-fortunate neighbors endure every day. 

We must give with the image of Jesus in our minds, Aquilina reminds us. As He gives Himself entirely to us in the Eucharist – body, soul, and divinity – we must give, too, everything that we have. 

“Whenever possible,” he writes, “our charity should also involve personal acts, not just automatic withdrawals from our bank account. Pope John Paul asked us to see, and be seen by, ‘the human face of poverty.’” 


“What is enough for you?” was a question posed to my husband and me by our financial adviser. 

Many factors competed for consideration: the desire to not be a burden on our kids, people living longer, enormous costs of health care, diminishing social safety nets, ability to travel and a certain standard of living. 

The list goes on and, with our graduate statistics background, we can engage in some rigorous discussion of probabilities and risk minimization. Without getting too heavy into the exercise, it just seems that “more” is better. 

“What is enough?” is the question that permeates all arenas of decision-making and raises its head implicitly or explicitly as we on a personal level determine how much to give to charity, or on a societal level address whether immigrants are draining our resources, whether we can afford food assistance for low income populations, how fast we are willing to raise the minimum wage to $15, how much safety Boeing is willing trade away to grow profits beyond the 2018 level of $10.5 billion, or what we are willing to pay for a low carbon environment. 

For David and me, getting to “enough” poses a tug between the Gospel call to other-centeredness and radical generosity, and the pragmatic drive for control and the reserve that insures against life’s vicissitudes. 

We are conditioned by the virtue of being responsible and unnerved by the uncertainties of the future and disregard for the common good in our policies and society. 

At the same time, we recognize that sin often emanates from a good thing, an appropriate desire that loses balance and assumes disproportionate dominance. 

We know we should relinquish such idols, mind the teachings that worry has not added a day to any one’s life, that building bigger barns is a foolish enterprise, and that we are so much more than the lilies and birds crowned with God’s glory. 

But … 

We all know the “Yes, but …” We all have scary tales that make us shudder and lead us to prioritize security above all else. Within those parameters, we ration how much we can give back to God. This accommodation yields implicitly to the power of fear and the harshness of an impersonal economy over the power of God. 

Our actions indicate that we put our trust in our own planning, effort, self-sufficiency rather than in God. We proclaim our faith in songs and prayers, but where it counts, we cannot let go of the tethers that give us the illusions of safety and certitude. 

We should not be surprised with our half-hearted faith, as it is impossible for us to really comprehend the capaciousness of God’s love. Our failure to live up to the Gospel message may cause us to wonder how much we merit God’s generosity or how we score in God’s counting. 

We follow many others, saints included, with the same struggles to fully surrender to the mystery of God starting with the father who begged Jesus for a cure for his son, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24). 

We may be timid and unsure but we do know that our limitation is no match for God’s grace, mercy and presence; that God wills us to recognize divine goodness at work in us and others. In the end, it is not just what we can do, but what God can do to help us claim our birthright as his children. 

For this Lent, perhaps you can join me to turn over to God our “Yes, but …”


“Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” – Joel 2:12-13 


Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent as Catholics have ashes placed on our foreheads for two reasons: as an act of remembrance and a sign to others of our faithfulness. 

Creighton University’s Praying Lent website calls the placing of ashes “one of the most counter-cultural acts of our faith.”  

When the ashes are placed on our foreheads, the minister says one of two things: 

“Remember, man/woman, you are dust and to dust you will return,” or “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” 

The ashes come from the burnt palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday services, bringing us back to the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 

“On this first day of Lent, we begin a journey of renewal – from death to life,” the university site notes. “This is a joyful season. We will make sacrifices, in order to try to let God reform our desiring, but this is a time for God to be generous to us.” 

The ashes remind us of our own death. They also remind us that as mortal creatures we must turn away from sin and accept God’s mercy with the promise of everlasting life. Fr. Andy Alexander, S.J., writing on the Creighton website, notes that because the ashes are easily wiped from our foreheads, our challenge is to remember why they were there and what they mean. 

“We are reminded that our call is to turn away from sin and to believe the Good News of our salvation in Jesus,” he writes. “This is a joyful reminder. It challenges us, for sure, but reminds us of why we want to turn from sin.” 

Rather than a sign that says, ‘Look how holy I am,’ Fr. Alexander notes, the ashes are a sign to the world that we are reminded of where we come from and where we are going – and that we have turned away from our lives of sin to live the lives Jesus calls us to. 

His essay underscores that in today’s world, we deny death as we attempt to stave off old age and try hard to look young.  

“The reality of being mortal is not to surrender hope or vitality,” he writes. “Quite the opposite. To realize that we are limited and fragile, can lead to a humility that opens our hearts to being truly dependent on God, and more profoundly open to the reality of our redemption.” 

Indeed, through Jesus’s death and resurrection, we are saved from the power of sin and the power of death, he notes, opening us to new hope and vitality. 

“That’s why it is so important to remember the ashes all throughout Lent,” Fr. Alexander sums up. “This remembering opens us to the graces of Lent for us. I am a creature in need of God for life itself – the gift that gave me life, the gift that sustains me each day, and the gift of eternal life. The worse than can happen to me is that I will fall into the hands of a loving God.”


Archbishop Fulton Sheen once observed that Protestants think “First comes the feast, then comes the hangover,” while the Catholic attitude is “First comes the fast, then comes the feast.”  

Few of us look forward to fasting. It forces us to relinquish one of life’s basic pleasures, it’s uncomfortable, inconvenient and unpleasant. Still, fasting is a fundamental Lenten practice that prepares us body, mind, and spirit for Easter, the holiest day of the liturgical year.  

Catholics fast during Lent in memory of Jesus’s 40 days and nights in the desert, where he fasted, prayed, and withstood Satan’s temptations. Fasting helps us pray, focuses our minds, and disciplines our bodies as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s triumph over death. 

Giving up meat on Fridays and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday yields some surprising spiritual benefits, notes Suzanne Niles and Wendy Simpson Little in “Five Ways Fasting Can Change Your Life.” Niles and Little say that fasting and prayer can: 


1.Help us hear God’s message 

2.Reveal our hidden sins 

3.Strengthen our intimacy with God 

4.Teach us to pray, guided by the right motives 

5.Intensify our faith 


“When we fast and pray,” write Niles and Little, “we are taking time away from a meal or an activity to devote our entire being to focus on God. We find we are more sensitive to the voice of God, more attuned to hearing what He has to reveal to us. … As we repent, we no longer want to hide, but to praise and worship the very one who confronted our wrong.” 

Intermittent fasting is a current fad embraced by many who want to lose weight. Yet Lenten fasting has nothing to do with dieting. It teaches us instead to embrace the essential virtues of self-denial and self-sacrifice.  

Lori Hatcher’s article, “10 Tips for Successful Fasting,” can help us begin. To fast successfully, Hatcher recommends that Catholics: 

  1. Fast from dinner to dinner
  2. Consider an alternate fast
  3. Drink water constantly
  4. Drink herbal tea with a little sweetener
  5. Set a timer
  6. Use a prayer guide for focus and direction


We also must recognize that while Lent requires us to fast from food, other types of fasting offer important spiritual benefits. Several ideas: 

  • Many of us cannot go more than a few minutes without checking Facebook. How many prayers could we say if we stopped spending so much time on social media?
  • We might be in the habit of stopping by the local watering hole or coffee shop every day. How many decades of the rosary could we pray if we skipped the pub or Starbucks?
  • If we habitually tune in to talk radio or sing along with the latest hits, can we try a commute devoted instead to Christian music, a Catholic lecture on CD, or Catholic radio programming?
  • My feet are up in the recliner as I watch mindless TV every evening, but alternatively I can choose to watch a religious film, read my Bible, or silently contemplate the life of St. Catherine of Siena, my patron saint.


Our Lenten fast – abstaining from food, pleasurable activities, and worldly habits – ultimately forces us to prioritize on our No. 1 aim: Deepening our relationship with God, acknowledging Jesus’s abiding love for us, and beginning to understand the myriad ways we can grow closer to Him.


Vatican City, Mar 1, 2020 / 04:59 am (CNA) – Pope Francis said Sunday he will not take part in his annual Lenten retreat with the Roman Curia in Ariccia this week due to a cold he has had for several days.

“I also ask you to remember in prayer the spiritual exercises of the Roman Curia, which will begin this evening in Ariccia,” the pope said March 1.

“Unfortunately, a cold forces me not to participate this year: I will follow the meditations from here.”

The pope announced the decision to stay at the Vatican after giving his Sunday catechesis and leading the Angelus prayer from a window of the apostolic palace.

Francis, who canceled his public audiences starting Thursday, had to pause several times to cough during the Angelus and address.

He added that he will join “spiritually” the curia and all those praying or doing the spiritual exercises at home.

The retreat begins in the evening March 1 with bishops and cardinals of the Roman Curia. It ends March 6.

Starting Feb. 27, a slight illness has kept Pope Francis close to home. He has canceled his larger audiences for three days but continued to offer his early morning Mass in Santa Marta and to keep individual meetings.

Since 2014, the five-day spiritual exercises have been held at the Casa Divin Maestro retreat house in Ariccia, which is about 16 miles south-east of Rome.

Nestled in the woods on Lake Albano, Casa Divin Maestro is just a short distance from the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.

Pope Francis every year chooses someone to lead the spiritual exercises. In 2020, he selected Fr. Pietro Bovati, SJ, a Scripture scholar and secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Institute.

Bovati, 79, will preach on the “encounter between God and man” focusing on the books of Exodus, the Gospel of Matthew, and the Psalms, according to the Vatican.

The practice of the pope going on retreat with the heads of Vatican dicasteries each Lent began around 90 years ago under Pope Pius XI. The spiritual exercises were held in the Vatican, but beginning in Lent 2014, Pope Francis chose to hold the retreat outside of Rome.

According to the Pauline priest who runs the retreat center, a typical day during the retreat begins with Mass then breakfast.

The bishops and cardinals then listen to the first meditation in the chapel. The second meditation is heard after lunch, Fr. Olinto Crespi told CNA in 2017. Other time is devoted to prayer. The retreat house has internet, so dicastery heads who need to answer emails or do some work during the week may do so.



Chances are there’s a fish fry scheduled this Friday somewhere near you. The parishes of the Diocese of Orange are pulling out all the stops to get you to their fish fry at least one day during this Lenten season. Thanks to the Knights of Columbus Council 14581, some creative thinkers and some wonderful cooks, there’s more than fish on this year’s menu at most parish fish fries. 

Take for example the spread offered at St. John the Baptist in Costa Mesa. Instead of the predictable fish and chips, the menu options include grilled shrimp skewers, fish tacos, clam chowder, and cheese quesadillas for the kids. Of course the Knight’s beer battered Alaskan Cod, as well as fries and coleslaw round out the offering. And then there’s dessert. 

Proceeds from the fish fry will support the purchase of an ultrasound machine for Obria Clinic. 

The St. John the Baptist Knights are serving each Friday during Lent from 5 to 8 p.m. in the parish hall at 1021 Baker St. in Costa Mesa.