This week on Register Radio, Jeanette DeMelo and Thom Price talk to EWTN's Father John Paul Mary Zeller about the advantages of living Lent to the fullest. In the second half of the show, they sit down with Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond to filter out the frenzy and failure of 50 Shades of Grey.

Living Lent to the Fullest with Fr. John Paul Mary Zeller

Fr. John Paul Mary Zeller, MFVA was born and raised in New Freedom, Pennsylvania. He earned an associate’s degree in engineering from DeVry Institute of Technology in 2000. He became a seminarian for the Diocese of Harrisburg, PA shortly after his graduation.  He entered the MFVA community in 2004 and he professed final vows in 2010. He completed his theological studies at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in 2012, earning a Masters in Divinity. He was ordained a deacon in 2012 and ordained to the priesthood in 2013.  Fr. John Paul is now overseeing the EWTN Pilgrimage Department, and is here to talk with us about Lent.

Lent comes with many visible signs. On Ash Wednesday, we receive ashes as a sign of our fasting and as a reminder of our sins, Fr. Zeller said. 

Lent is a time of repentance, Fr. Zeller pointed out. “We have the outward signs of ashes on our forehead, but does what we do on the outside, the signs we have on the outside, conform to what’s going on on the inside? The signs and symbols we use on the outside should always point to a greater repentance and a greater renewal of our hearts.”

“It all comes back to our relationship with Almighty God,” Fr. Zeller said, “and that’s what Lent is. It’s an opportunity to turn to the Lord again.”

The word conversion comes from conversio, Fr. Zeller said, and that means “to turn away from.” During Lent, we’re turning away from our vices and sins, not with despair but with hope.

“Lent is a preparation for what we’re going to do on Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday: renew our baptismal promises,” Fr. Zeller said. It is then, he said, that we’re “going to have the opportunity to reject sin, to reject Satan, to profess the faith of the Church.”

“Has it gone from your head to your heart?” he asked, pointing out that Lent is the journey that helps us accomplish that. 

“We should always be willing to confess, to do penance, to do almsgiving, especially for our own weaknesses, our own sinfulness, but really the sinfulness of the whole world,” he said. “I can’t think of a better time to do penance for persecuted Christians in the world.”

In his Ash Wednesday homily, Pope Francis mentioned crying in the Father’s arm, an image that can serve as a reminder of the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Links of note for this half of the show:

Talking about 50 Shades with Joan Frawley Desmond

Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical, and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in Menlo Park, Ca, in the San Francisco Archdiocese.

“We need to understand what this hunger is about,” Desmond said, “and it is a kind of hunger. You don’t have one hundred million people reading this [50 Shades of Grey] trilogy or have box office activity that we had over Valentine’s Day weekend.”

Why is this so attractive to women? Desmond considers that one of the most interesting commentaries she read was from a seminarian at the North American College in Rome. “As a young Catholic guy trying to understand this, he said that a lot of young men are uncertain about their roles as providers, protectors, defenders, those traditional roles, so they step back a bit. And yet, many women are still looking for something. They still want some sort of strong male presence, and yet the culture is also saying no, we want gender-free with no distinctions between the sexes. So young men and young women are getting mixed messages about what they should want.”

Desmond continued, explaining that this seminarian said that with the decline in acceptable strong male leadership, women are turning to it in fantasy life.

There have been two levels of response, Desmond said: a spiritual and moral response and a response from the scientific mental health community. “What’s interesting is how the moral spiritual response aligns with the scientific response in some very interesting ways.”

There are two different dangers from the scientific standpoint, according to the experts Desmond spoke with. One is to women who have any insecurities, mental health problems, or tendencies to be attracted to such abusive behavior. This is projecting doubt as to whether it’s a problem to play with abusive relationships, whether it’s okay to accommodate them in small measure. You also have men who get the message that this kind of abuse is permissible and even acceptable

“The Church’s response,” said Desmond, “is both practical and long-term. The Church’s wisdom in such matters: do you want to mix love and violence? Is that a healthy thing to express love through violence?” The mental health experts say no, but there are also, Desmond pointed out, Church leaders speaking up about it too.

50 Shades is being promoted in many different places and ways, and Desmond recommended letting these businesses know that it’s not OK to glamorize violence. 

The two lead actors have gone on record saying that they didn’t even like the film. “When I was interviewing people, the character playing the lead male protagonist said that when he went home, he took a shower before he touched his wife or child. He felt so disgusted by it,” Desmond said. “The woman who played Anastasia said that she didn’t want her family or those she cared about to see the film.”

One of the dangers of the message of the film, Desmond said, “is that love can be expressed in this way, as toleration of an abusive relationship. And of course — this is a spoiler alert — the couple does get married. But how does that happen? What’s the path to that marriage? The path is: he stalks her, he intimidates her, and he physically abuses her, and she accommodates all of that with this happy ending in mind. It’s not a healthy message.”

Links of note for this half of the show:

Coverage by Joan Frawley Desmond:

Other Register pieces:

Listen to the full show.