Lent 2007: March 2007 Archives

In Voluntate Tua

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Guercino's (1591–1666) Crowning With Thorns depicts two attitudes toward the Suffering Christ. On the one hand we see a soldier clad in armour. With a gloved hand he forces the crown of thorns into the sacred head of Christ. His armour and gloves protect him from any direct contact with the Body of Christ. On the other hand, we see a self–righteous spectator; he holds himself at certain distance from Christ and, like the soldier, protects himself from direct contact with the Body of Christ. He holds Our Lord's scarlet cloak of derision with one hand: signifying his approval of the cruel Passion of the Lamb.

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Introit

This morning's Mass opens with Psalm 21, the very psalm that, in Saint Matthew's Gospel, Our Lord intones from the Cross: "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani?' that is, 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?'"(Mt 27:46). Today's Introit is a solemn entry into the prayer of the suffering Christ to the Father. It is Christ who prays:

O Lord, remove not Thy help to a distance from Me;
look towards My defence.
Save Me from the lion's mouth;
and My lowness from the horns of the unicorn (Ps 21:20, 22).

One cannot sing, or hear, or meditate today's Introit without recalling what is written in the Letter to the Hebrews concerning the prayer of Christ: "In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard for His godly fear" (Heb 5:7). The sacred liturgy during these days of Passiontide and Holy Week gives us the "prayers and supplications, the loud cries and tears" of Christ our Head and our High Priest. In a unique way, these prayers and supplications, these loud cries and tears of His, have passed into the chant of the Church, which interprets them for us. One need only sing the soaring, pleading aspice (see GR, p. 133) of this morning's Introit to experience this.

The verse of the Introit takes up the heart–rending cry:

O God, my God, look upon me:
why hast thou forsaken me?
Far from my salvation are the words of my sins" (Ps 21:2).

How are we to understand such a prayer in the mouth of Our Lord. Jesus crucified is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (Jn 1:29). The immaculate Lamb calls our sins His sins; He has taken them upon Himself. They have been driven into His hands and His feet; they have become a crown of thorns wounding His sacred head. "God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending His own Son in the likeness of flesh and [as an offering] for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom 8:3). Saint Paul goes so far as to say, "For our sake He made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21).

Ecce Agnus Dei

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For Sidney

Some time ago, a remarkable young man named Sidney wrote me from Brazil to ask for a blessed Agnus Dei. I promised him that I would post something about the Agnus Dei here. It is fitting to do so as we prepare to enter Holy Week and, through the glory of the Paschal rites, the mystery of the immolated Lamb.

An Agnus Dei, so called from the image of the Lamb of God impressed on the face of it, is made of virgin wax, balsam, and chrism, blessed according to the form prescribed by the Roman Ritual.

An old Irish prayerbook (Dublin 1860) gives a prayer to be said daily by those who wear an Agnus Dei. Following the impulse given by this prayer, one who wears an Agnus Dei is compelled to “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Ap 14:4) in a spirit of Eucharistic victimhood, that is, of sacrificial love and oblation.

Prayer of One Who Wears an Agnus Dei

O my Lord Jesus Christ,
the true Lamb who takes away the sins of the world;
by Thy mercy which is infinite, pardon my inquities,
and by Thy Sacred Passion, preserve me this day
from all sin and evil.

I carry about me this holy Agnus Dei in Thy honour,
as a preservative against my own weakness,
and as an incentive to the practice of that meekness, humility, and innocence
which Thou hast taught us.

I offer myself up to Thee as an entire oblation,
and in memory of that Sacrifice of Love
which Thou didst offer for me on the Cross,
and in satisfaction for my sins.
Accept this oblation, I beseech Thee, O my God,
and may it be acceptable to Thee
in the odour of sweetness. Amen.

A Paschal Sacramental

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This peculiarly Roman sacramental, goes back at least as far as the ninth century. Amalarius and the Pseudo–Alcuin refer to it. The blessing of the Agnus Dei medallions used to take place at the Lateran Basilica on Holy Saturday. The archdeacon vested in a dalmatic would receive from the Pope a silver phial containing Sacred Chrism. He would pour the Sacred Chrism into a cauldron of liquid wax. The Agnus Dei medallions would be made from this blessed wax and distributed on the Sunday In Albis after the singing of the Agnus Dei at the Papal Mass.

The Cistercian Privilege

The oldest extant Agnus Dei medallions date from the pontificates of John XXIII (1316–34) and Gregory IX (1227–41). Later on, the Roman Pontiffs reserved the blessing of the medallions to themselves, and assigned the privilege of preparing them to the Benedictine–Cistercian monks of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.

At the Banquet of the Lamb

The sixteenth century rite for the blessing of the Agnus Dei medallions makes use of holy water, chrism, and balsam. It was the custom for the Supreme Pontiff to bless the medallions in the first year of his pontificate during the Octave of Holy Pascha, and to bless them every seven years thereafter. The ceremony consisted of three orations addressed to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thus would he bless the medallions themselves and the water mixed with chrism and balsam into which they would be plunged. When the medallions were removed from the water the Paschaltide Vespers hymn, Ad Cenam Agni Providi would be sung. The same blessing was repeated as often as necessary according to need, and also on special solemnities or anniversaries. Every element of the confection and blessing of the Agnus Dei contributes to its mystical significance.

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Recover the Agnus Dei

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, the Agnus Dei was one of those treasured sacramentals that fell into disuse. It is, I think, time to restore the solemn blessing of the Agnus Dei and recover the use of so precious a sacramental. The Church stands in need of “friends of the Lamb,” and of Eucharistic victim souls who will follow the Lamb in purity, in humility, in silence, and in the oblation of themselves.

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Recently a dear friend here in Rome gave me a booklet by Dr. Philip Boyce, O.C.D., Bishop of Raphoe, Ireland, entitled At Prayer with John Henry Newman. The booklet is available from the International Centre of Newman Friends. The Carmelite bishop calls prayer "the texture of Newman's life." He presents some of Newman's own magnificent prayers. All his life the famous Oxford convert sought to pray in spirit and in truth. When I pray using Cardinal Newman' words, I savour in them the same humility and confidence that I have tasted in the prayers of Saint Aelred, William of St–Thierry, and Saint Claude La Colombière.

I was struck in this prayer by the petition, "soothe me with the beauty of Thy countenance":

O mighty God, strengthen me with Thy strength,
console me with Thy everlasting peace,
soothe me with the beauty of the Thy countenance;
enlighten me with Thy uncreated brightness;
purify me with the fragrance of Thy ineffable holiness.
Bathe me in Thyself, and give me to drink,
as far as mortal man may ask, of the rivers of grace which flow
from the Father and the Son,
the grace of Thy consubstantial, co–eternal Love.

And I find this one very close in spirit to Claude La Colombière's Act of Confidence:

O my God, my whole life has been a course of mercies and blessings shown to one who has been most unworthy of them.
I require no faith, for I have a long experience,
as to Thy providence towards me.
Year after year Thou hast carried me on —
removed dangers from my path —
recovered me, recruited me, refreshed me,
borne with me, directed me, sustained me.
O forsake me not when my strength faileth me.
And Thou never wilt forsake me.
I may securely repose upon Thee.
Sinner as I am, nevertheless, while I am true to Thee,
Thou wilt still and to the end,
be superabundantly true to me.

The booklet's sections on intercessory prayer, on Newman's love for the Roman Breviary, and on his devotion to the Rosary are enlightening and inspiring. In conclusion, Dr. Boyce explains the three kinds of divine presence in which Newman's prayer unfolded: the presence of the indwelling Trinity, the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and the presence of Christ in Sacred Scripture.

The Bishop of Raphoe describes Newman's life of prayer as "a persevering effort in the weakness and darkness of our human condition." One recognizes there the experience of the author of Lead, Kindly Light.

Today being the liturgical commemoration of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I decided to turn once again to Cardinal Newman for his Litany of the Seven Dolours. Newman was fond of litanies. I am too. They address a persistent need of the heart for a prayer that is rich in images, yet simple and rythmed by repetition. Unlike the excessively didactic and heavy preces given for Lauds and Vespers in the current Liturgia Horarum, litanies in their classic form allow "heart to speak to heart," and foster the actuosa participatio recommended by the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. Here then, is John Henry Newman's Litany of the Seven Dolours.

Liberator Meus

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O blessed Passion of Christ!
We contemplate Thee bound to the column of Thy cruel scourging
and praise Thee with sorrowing love because
by the ropes that bound Thee, we are set free.

Holy Mass begins today with the words: Liberator meus (Ps 17:48). The same phrase is repeated in the verse of the Introit: Diligam te Domine, fortitudo mea: Dominus firmamentum meum, et refugium meum, et liberator meus (Ps 17:3). The Offertory Antiphon ends with an impassioned plea: libera me, Domine (Ps 58:2). The Communion Antiphon is a song of praise; it sings of the freedom that comes to the soul eucharistically united to Christ in His Passion: Et circuibo altare tuum, Domine (Ps 25:6-7).

The Proper Chants of today's Mass are, in fact, a meditatio and an oratio on the words of Our Lord in the Gospel: "If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed" (Jn 8:36). One sees, from this example, the importance of the Proper of the Mass. When, as so often happens, the chants of the Proper are replaced by other texts, the theological and spiritual architecture of the liturgy is dismantled.

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Numbers 21: 4–9
Psalm 101: 1–2, 5–17, 18–20 (R. 1)
John 8: 21–30

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The Serpent and the Cross

Today the Church gives us a passage from the Book of Numbers that, from earliest times, the liturgy and the Fathers have associated with the mystery of the Cross. This same provided Father Luc de Wouters, O.S.B. with the title of his biography of the foundress of the Congregation of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified, Mother Marie des Douleurs Wrotnowska: Le Serpent et la Croix, The Serpent and the Cross.

The Bite of the Serpent

Father Luc writes: “The episode of the bronze serpent recounted in the Book of Numbers seems to us extremely significant. It projects onto the mystery of the redemptive Cross a light, the importance of which we do not sufficiently grasp.” He writes that Mother Marie des Douleurs encountered the Cross, as we all do, in her own sin. For her, as for all of us, sin was the bite of the fiery serpent. It was, nonetheless, upon this cross, the cross of her own brokenness, weakness, and sin identified with the Cross of Jesus, that she was united with the Saviour, l’Homme des douleurs. The cross of her disfiguration by sin and weakness, assimilated to the Cross of the “Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3), became the Cross of her transfiguration by grace.

The Mystery of Iniquity

Father Luc, with no little eloquence, emphasizes that the Cross is the last word of the Incarnation. We are certain of meeting the Cross at every moment of our existence. Whenever we find darkness all about us, the darkness of our own sins and of the sins of the world, the Cross shines like a saving beacon. Personal sin causes an intimate anguish that only the Cross can alleviate. Consciousness of the evil that inhabits us, and of the evil that stalks the world, brings with it a terrible anguish. Our Lord’s agony in Gethsemani was the manifestation of the anguish of His Heart in the face of the mystery of iniquity.

Wounds Uncovered

It is easy to become hypnotized by the shadow of evil cast by the serpent. How many souls, instead of lifting their gaze to the Crucified, turn in on themselves, see their sin, and sink in the quicksand of despair. Sin, our own sin and the sin of others, exercises a morbid fascination on us. The remedy is to look upon “Him who they have pierced” (Jn 19:37), and to believe in the love of Jesus Crucified. The remedy is to expose our wounds, however purulent and shameful they may be, to the wounds of the Crucified, for “by his wounds we are healed” (1 P 2: 24). One of the prayers before Mass in the Roman Missal has us say: “To thee, Lord, I uncover my wounds; to thee I lay bare my shame. My sins, I know, are many and grievous; they fill me with fear, but my hope is in thy countless mercies.”

Lazare, veni foras!

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Caravaggio's Resurrection of Lazarus depicts a dead man stunned by his sudden return to life. The head of Christ is the very one Caravaggio painted in his Calling of Saint Matthew, but here it is reversed.

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Fifth Sunday of Lent
Note: The "A" cycle of readings may be used in Years B and C.

Ezekiel 37:12-14
Psalm 129: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Romans 8:8-11
John 11:1-45


The Divine and Mystic Gospel

Over the past three Sundays of Lent, the Church has opened for us the Gospel of Saint John, the divine and mystic Gospel, the Gospel that, on every page, shines with the brightness of Christ’s divinity. The Lenten series of Johannine gospels are directed, first of all, to the catechumens, men and women in the last stages of preparation for the mysteries of initiation that will be celebrated in the night of Pascha. The same Gospels are addressed to the penitents, men and women who, having fallen, seek to rise again, washed in the pure water of the Spirit, and infused anew with the life-giving Blood of the Lamb. The Lenten liturgy is profitable to us only insofar as we identify inwardly with the catechumens and penitents, only insofar as we walk with them towards the mysteries of regeneration and reconciliation that ever flow from the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.

Water

On the Third Sunday of Lent we heard the promise of living water made by Christ to the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:14). Each of us is the Samaritan woman; to each of us is disclosed the mystery of the thirst of Christ and to each of us is promised the “spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14).

Light

On the Fourth Sunday of Lent we witnessed the drama of the man born blind to whom Christ gave sight, light, and new life (Jn 9:11). Each of us is that man born blind; to each of us is promised and given the gladsome light of Christ.

Life

Today, on the Fifth Sunday of Lent we follow a very human Christ, a tender and weeping Christ, to the tomb of one greatly loved (Jn 11:34-35). It is four days since the burial of Lazarus; already his body has begun to stink. Each of us is that stinking corpse, bound tightly in the shroud, and belonging already to the darkness of the netherworld.

Divine Promises

Listen with the catechumen’s eager ears to the glorious promises of Ezekiel’s prophecy! “Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live” (Ez 37:12-14). These promises, fulfilled once in the resurrection of Lazarus, are fulfilled again and again in the life of the Church, and principally in the night of Resurrection, in the great baptismal Vigil that Saint Augustine calls the “mother of all vigils.”

Three things are promised, three things are given to every Lazarus of every age and of every place: the resurrection from the grave, the experience of the Risen Christ, Lord of Life and Victor over death, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. What was promised by the mouth of the prophet is fulfilled in Christ. What is fulfilled in Christ the Head is actualized again and again for the members of His Body in the mysteries (sacraments) of the Church. So often as Lazarus is baptized, chrismated, nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ, reconciled and healed there is even now triumph over the grave and the return from corruption, there is even now the experience of Christ the Lord of Life in the face of death, there is even now the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit whose sweet fragrance dispels forever the sickening stench of the tomb.

Ungodly Men Reasoned Unsoundly

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Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Wisdom 2:1a, 12–22
Psalm 33: 16–17, 18–19, 20 and 22 (R. 18a)
John 7: 1–2, 10, 25–30

Darkness

There is a Caravaggian darkness about today’s liturgy. One senses that the plots of the wicked are closing in around Our Lord. You may recall the long, dramatic responsory from the Holy Week liturgy that begins, Collegerunt, “The priests and pharisees assembled in council and said, ‘What shall we do?’”

He Is Inconvenient to Us

The First Reading exposes their secret thoughts and, in some way, presents us with the psychology of sin. “Ungodly men reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, ‘Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us, and opposes our actions’” (Wis 2: 1a, 12). Look closely at the text. The ungodly, that is, those who do not “meditate the law of the Lord day and night” (Ps 1:2), those who make themselves the measure of all things, those who are their own reference, necessarily reason unsoundly. Left to itself, without the light of divine grace, human reason veers into the darkness.

Sick Reasoning

The conscience itself can be perverted by repeated compromises with sin. There are those who would extinguish the light of Natural Law; there are those who would contest the revealed Law of God. The result is a sick conscience. Unsound reasoning means unhealthy reasoning or, put more bluntly, sick reasoning. “Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hope for the wages of holiness, nor discern the prize for blameless souls” (Wis 2:21-22).

The Light of the Word

Sick reasoning is the consequence of pride and disobedience. One can recover from sick reasoning by exposing oneself to the light of the Word of God in the communion of the Church, and by following Christ along the path of humble obedience, along the way of the Cross. Saint Paul, in First Corinthians, addresses this very thing. “We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:7-8).

Judgment

In the Gospel, Our Lord openly professes his identity and mission: “You know me, and you know where I come from? But I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me” (Jn 7:28-29). A blinding light flashes in the words of Jesus; the light of his divinity, the brightness of his life with the Father. It is this light that makes the gathering shadows appear all the darker. “For judgment I came into this world,” he says, “that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind” (Jn 9:30).

Precatus Est Moyses

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Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 105:19-20, 21-22, 23
John 5:31-47

Moses

Today’s liturgy is all about Moses. Moses in the first reading, Moses in the psalm, and Moses in the gospel. Moses has been with us — a companion on our Lenten journey — since the Second Sunday of Lent when we saw him on the holy mountain in conversation with Elijah and the transfigured Christ.

And the People Rose Up to Play

While, during the Exodus, Moses was absent, hidden with God for forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai, the people grew restless and impatient. They turned to Aaron and said, “Up, make us gods which shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what has become of him” (Ex 32:1). Aaron, in an attempt to quiet the people, gave in to their murmurings. You all know the story of the molten calf. I am always struck by what happens after the presentation of the golden calf to the people. Aaron proposes a feast, a party really, to distract the people and keep them happy. In few words, the text conjures up quite a scene. “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play” (Ex 32:6).

Holding One’s Ground Before God

This is where today’s First Reading begins. God sends Moses down to break up the party. “Go down at once to your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, for they have become depraved” (Ex 32:7). Moses’ obedience is very unbenedictine. He does not, “with the quick feet of obedience, follow by action the voice of him who gives the order” (RB V:8). He does not immediately run down the mountain into the madness of the crowd. He holds his ground before God, and has recourse to prayer.

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The Prayer of Moses

Moses’ compelling prayer became one of the most poignant Offertory Antiphons of the Mass: Precatus est Moyses in conspectu Domini Dei sui. “And Moses besought the Lord his God” (Ex 32:11). Listen to a recording of the piece or sing it through for yourself if you have time today. Do it as lectio divina. All the intensity of Moses’ prayer passes into the melody. Listening to it, one has the impression of being right there next to Moses, face to face with God on Mount Sinai. In the prayer of Moses one hears already the accents of the prayer of Jesus crucified to the Father: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

Standing in the Breach

God offered to consume the people, to annihilate them utterly, and to give Moses a fresh start. The Responsorial Psalm evoked the scene for us: “For this he said he would destroy them, but Moses, the man he had chosen, stood in the breach before him, to turn back his anger from destruction” (Ps 105:23). “Let me alone, says God, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation” (Ex 32:10). Quite a proposal! To be free of all the headaches caused by a stiff-necked, murmuring, fickle people, and to start all over again! But Moses cannot accept it. He refuses God’s offer.

Gazing on Christ's Open Heart

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Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Ezechiel 47:1-9, 12
Psalm 45:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
John 5:1-16

All You That Thirst

Today’s texts are just waiting to be developed into a pre-baptismal catechesis. “All you that thirst, come to the waters: and you that have no money come, and drink with joy” (cf. Is 55:1). The Entrance Antiphon is addressed to all who thirst; there is nothing to purchase. The waters flow freely. The last phrase of the antiphon — “drink with joy” — is not found in the biblical text. It is the Church’s word, making clear for us here and now, the prophecy of Isaiah.

Flowing Waters

The Responsorial Psalm sings of the river that irrigates the Church, the new Jerusalem: “The city of God enriched with flowing waters, is the chosen sanctuary of the Most High” (Ps 45:5). The Communion Antiphon praises Christ the Shepherd who, in the Eucharist, “leads us by refreshing waters” (cf. Ps 22:1-2). In the Gospel we see the waters of Bethesda, a bath of healing stirred by an Angel of the Lord. All around the pool of Bethesda lie the diseased, the blind, the lame, and the disabled seeking to recover from the infirmities that oppress them. Bethesda is an image of the baptismal pool of regeneration, the bath from which in a few weeks the catechumens will emerge clean, healed, and altogether new.

Vidi Aquam

The centerpiece of today’s Mass is the reading from the prophet Ezekiel. The title printed in red above the text in the lectionary is most unusual. It reads: “I saw water flowing from the temple, and all who were touched by it were saved.” It adds, “See Roman Missal.” Where in the Roman Missal are we to look? Go to the antiphons sung at the Rite of Sprinkling with Holy Water: the Asperges me, taken from Psalm 50, and used outside of Paschaltide; and the Vidi aquam, taken from Ezekiel 47, and sung at the Paschal Vigil and on the Sundays of Paschaltide.

Look for a moment at the text of the Vidi aquam. The prophet Ezekiel, in a mystical rapture, sees the Temple as the wellspring of an immense river irrigating the whole country and making stagnant waters fresh. The Temple is the abode of the Glory of God (Ez 43:1-12). It is the source of a river, teeming with fish, and on both sides of its banks grow fruit bearing trees because the water for them flows from the sanctuary.

The glorious body of the of the crucified and risen Christ is the new and indestructible temple of which he himself said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19). At the death of Christ, the veil of the Temple was “torn in two from top to bottom” (Mt 27:51); Saint John, by recounting how the side of Jesus was pierced by the soldier’s lance, translates the same mystery. Out of the pierced heart of Jesus flows blood and water (Jn 19:34), recalling the water from the rock struck by the rod of Moses in the desert (Num 20:2-13), the fountains of salvation prophesied by Isaiah (Is 12:3), and the great river of Ezekiel’s vision.

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The Solemn Stational Mass of the Fourth Sunday of Lent
will be celebrated in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
this evening, 18 March 2007, at 18:30.
Procession with the Litany of the Saints.
Ordinary and Proper of the Mass in Gregorian Chant.

"This Basilica is so called, because Saint Helena, not only brought the True Cross there, but earth from Mount Calvary on which the Chapel or the Altar there is built—thus if there be a centre of the Church, we shall be there, when we are on earth from Jerusalem in the midst of Rome."

John Henry Newman, Ascension Day 1847

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Mothering Sunday

The Church is our Mother; we were born of her womb in Baptism. She is our Mother because, as the Introit sings, she “suckles us abundantly with the breasts of her consolations” (Is 66:11). She is our Mother because she cares for us in our weaknesses, welcomes us home after every journey, and never fails to provide for us a table laden with good things.

Tea and Sweet Cake

In England, Laetare Sunday is called “Mothering Sunday” — a reference to the Introit that, while it disappeared with the abolition of the Roman Missal and the coming of the Book of Common Prayer, remained deeply anchored in the sensibility of the faithful. In the nineteenth century, it became customary on “Mothering Sunday” for employers to give servants a day off to go home and visit their mothers. A special sweet cake, called the “mothering cake” was brought along to add a festive note to teatime. Today, “Mothering Sunday” has become the British answer to the secular American “Mother’s Day.” Few realize that it originates in the Introit of Laetare Sunday.

The Golden Rose

There is another custom associated with Laetare Sunday: the blessing of the Golden Rose. It was the custom, at least from the time of Pope Leo IX (1049–1054), for the Pope to bless a rose fashioned out of gold on Laetare Sunday. We still have the text of a sermon preached by Pope Innocent III at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme on the meaning of the Golden Rose. It is a symbol of spiritual joy, a portent of the sweet fragrance of life that will rise like incense from the empty tomb on Easter.

More recently the Pope has presented the Golden Rose blessed on Laetare Sunday to the Virgin Mary, choosing to her honour in this way one of her shrines. Czestochowa, Lourdes, Loretto, and Guadalupe have received the Golden Rose. The prayer used by the Pope to bless the Golden Rose explains its significance:

O God! by Whose word and power all things have been created,
by Whose will all things are directed,
we humbly beseech Thy Majesty, Who art the joy and gladness of all the faithful,
that Thou wouldst deign in Thy fatherly love to bless and sanctify this rose,
most delightful in fragrance and appearance,
which we this day carry in sign of spiritual joy,
in order that the people consecrated by Thee
and delivered from the yoke of Babylonian slavery
through the favour of Thine only-begotten Son,
Who is the glory and exultation of the people of Israel
and of that Jerusalem which is our Heavenly mother,
may with sincere hearts show forth their joy.
Wherefore, O Lord, on this day,
when the Church exults in Thy name and manifests her joy by this sign [the rose], confer upon us through her true and perfect joy
and accepting her devotion of today;
do Thou remit sin, strengthen faith, increase piety, protect her in Thy mercy,
drive away all things adverse to her and make her ways safe and prosperous,
so that Thy Church, as the fruit of good works,
may unite in giving forth the perfume of the ointment of that flower
sprung from the root of Jesse
and which is the mystical flower of the field and lily of the valleys,
and remain happy without end in eternal glory together with all the saints.

Laetare Sunday, Mothering Sunday, the Sunday of the Rose! Wear pink. Smell a rose. Sing “Laetare!” If you can, have a sweet cake with your tea today. Do something to mark the joy that already rises, like the Paschal Alleluia, in the heart of Mother Church. The mysteries of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection are but a few days away, the mysteries of our joy, the end of every sadness.

Laetare, Jerusalem!

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Fourth Sunday of Lent

1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

“Be glad, Jerusalem! Hold an assembly, all you that love her: rejoice and be glad, you that were in sadness: that you may exult and be suckled plentifully with the breasts of her consolations” (Is 66:10-11). Listen to Dame Aemiliana Löhr’s splendid commentary on the signature antiphon of today’s Mass: “Here is a hymn of joy in the midst of the gloom of Lent. The Church has put on clothing to match it. The long-missed flowers are here in God’s house, and the dark violet of the priest’s vestments has become a gentle rose colour. . . . The first sounds of the Introit lie like a breath of springtide upon the Mass today. The text cannot find words enough for its joy, and the melody is even deeper in its rejoicing. This Laetare, once heard, is unforgettable, and anyone who knows the music of the liturgy knows why. Easter tones ring out of it” (The Mass Through the Year, p. 243).

The Hidden Alleluia

The first few notes of today’s Introit are identical with the last few notes of the great first Alleluia of the Paschal Vigil. [Sing: Al-le-lu- ia —Lae-ta-re.] This no mere coincidence; it reveals the underlying unity of the mystery. The Church cannot wait until the Paschal Vigil, so great is her joy already. Through the eyes of the man born blind, she looks into the face of Christ, “the light of the world” (Jn 9:5), and cannot contain her gladness.

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She already sings the paschal alleluia but, for the moment, disguises it beneath a rosy veil. The alleluia of the Paschal Vigil is given us today wrapped in another word, a single jubilant cry: Laetare! These are mystagogical details of the sacred liturgy, too precious to be missed, too rich to be left aside.

Back to Dame Aemiliana: “Today,” she says, ”the glory of the resurrection is made present out of time, and in a single word all of the splendour of the foreplay for the feast of Easter is gathered. . . . Jerusalem! Sion! It is to Jerusalem that the call goes out. Jerusalem is the shining reason for this joy. Jerusalem, the holy city” (The Mass Through the Year, p. 243).

Jerusalem in Rome

Jerusalem is, according to the psalmist, “the dwelling of all joy” (cf. Ps 86:7). In Rome, where the Lenten liturgy is celebrated in ancient stational churches, the Mass of Laetare Sunday is set in the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. In that context, the great cry, “Jerusalem!” has a special resonance. You may ask why this basilica came to be called “in Jerusalem” when, in fact, it stands in Rome. In antiquity, it was called simply, “Jerusalem.” To go to the Basilica of the Holy Cross was to go “up to Jerusalem.” When, in the year 326, Saint Helena returned from the Holy Land, laden with relics, she had with her the most astonishing treasure: she had filled the entire hold of a ship with earth excavated from the holy places in Jerusalem. She had this sacred earth from Jerusalem deposited beneath the Sessorian palace that, enriched with relics of Our Lord’s blessed Cross and Passion, was to become her own church. Saint Helena’s church became “Jerusalem come to Rome.”

Cistercian Abbey of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

Cistercian–Benedictine monks of the Congregation of Saint Bernard have had the care of Santa Croce for five centuries. Saint Aelred, one of the fathers of the Cistercian Order, said: “Our Order is the Cross of Christ.” For the monks of Santa Croce, this was a prophetic word: their particular vocation is to radiate the joy of the Cross at the heart of the Church.

Up to Jerusalem

Today’s stational celebration is a way of going “up to Jerusalem” without leaving Rome and, in a very real sense, a going up to the joys of heaven, a foretaste of the joy that lies beyond the gates of heaven thrown open by Christ the Prince of Life. The psalm that accompanies the entrance antiphon sings just that: “O my joy when they said to me: Let us go up to the house of the Lord” (Ps 121:1). To go up to Jerusalem is to go up to the highest joy. The psalmist prizes Jerusalem “above all his joys” (cf. Ps 136:6).

Eruditi et Nutriti

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Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

Deuteronomy 4:5-9
Psalm 147: 12-13, 15-16, 19-20 (R. 12a)
Matthew 5:17-19

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The Word Repeated

The liturgy is circular, not linear. The liturgy is fond of repetition, returning again and again to the same word, ever spiraling into the heart of the mystery. Rightly celebrated, the liturgy creates for the Word an acoustical space within the community and within the heart of each one. Within this space, the Word, continually repeated and echoed, reaches optimal resonance. Meditatio is the ceaseless repetition of the sacred text. The repetition of the Word softens the heart, breaks it, and pierces it. Meditation, like holy preaching, is essentially the repetition of the Word in other words.

Day and Night

You may recall that on Ash Wednesday the Communion Antiphon was taken from Psalm 1. “Blessed is the man whose heart is set on the law of the Lord, on that law, day and night, his thoughts still dwell” (Ps 1:2-3). Are we to hear in this antiphon a subtle suggestion that Lent invites us to begin again, to start over at the First Psalm? Yes, of course — but even more — it is a program of Lenten observance, an invitation to repeat the word tirelessly, to repeat the word ceaselessly, to repeat the word assiduously until, having pierced the heart, it becomes prayer within, and returns to the source whence it came. “My word that goes forth from My mouth shall not return to Me empty, says the Lord, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:11).

Nourished by the Word

Today’s Collect presents the Word of God as nourishment. The Latin text says that we are eruditi (schooled) by our Lenten observance and nutriti (nourished) by the Word of God. The Word proclaimed and heard, the Word repeated, the Word prayed, the Word returning to the Father is the Eucharist of the intelligence.

Food, if it is to profit an organism, must be assimilated. This is why repetition of the same texts, in the same way, at the same time is so important to our prayer. The liturgy itself, repeating the Word in other words, by means of antiphons, responsories, and other chants, by preaching, and by prayer texts quarried from the Scriptures, allows us to assimilate the Word, to chew it, to savour it, and to hold it in the heart.

The Fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets

Today's Gospel can remain somewhat obscure unless we scrutinize it through the lens of the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm. “Do not think that I have come to set aside the law and the prophets; I have not come to set them aside, but to bring them to perfection” (Mt 5:17). The “law and the prophets” include the Psalter; Jesus numbers King David among the prophets. After the resurrection, Jesus is explicit. “This is what I told you, He said, while I still walked in your company; how all that was written of Me in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, must be fulfilled” (Lk 24:44).


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Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

Introit

I cried out and you heard me, O God;
bend your ear and hear my words:
keep me, Lord, as the apple of your eye;
protect me under the shadow of your wings (Ps 16:6, 8).

Today’s Introit asks God to protect us in the way a man instinctively protects the apple of His eye. More recent translations refer to the “apple of the eye” as the “pupil of the eye.” While anatomically correct, the expression is less poetic. The pupil is the contracting and expanding opening in the iris of the eye through which light passes to the retina. One can almost see the gesture of protection: the palm of the hand closes over the eye to shield it from any projectile. We are, each one of us, in the eye of God and, for that reason, cherished and assured of His protection.

Again we ask God to hide us under the shelter of His wings. We are fragile and vulnerable but God is quick to shield us, and ever ready to hide us close to His heart. Traditionally, this same verse of Psalm 16 is prayed every night at Compline, making it all the more familiar and comforting. In the darkness of the night, as well as in the darknesses that steal over the soul, we are in need of divine protection.

Collect

Let your grace, O Lord, not forsake us;
rather may it make us dedicated to your sacred service,
and gain for us your ceaseless help.

In the Collect we beg God that He not allow His grace to forsake us. Gratia tua ne nos, quaesumus Domine, derelinquat. The sense of the petition doesn’t really strike us unless we consider for a moment what it means to be “forsaken by grace.” It should cause us to shudder. Today’s prayer goes to the core of our worst fears: the fear of being left alone, abandoned, and forsaken by the grace of God.

Jesus entered into this worst fear of ours, experiencing it in all its horror, when from the Cross He prayed for each of us, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” (Mt 27:46). By taking the horror of “being forsaken by grace” upon himself, Jesus made it possible for us “never to despair of the mercy of God” (RB 4:74). The grace of God is never far from us. When we pray that grace not forsake us we are really asking that we be kept from ever forsaking grace, that we not cease to believe in mercy and in forgiveness, even after offenses multiplied seventy times seven times. In this way the Collect relates to today’s Gospel.

Quaerens me, sedisti lassus

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Third Sunday of Lent
John 4:5–52

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A Monk’s Prayer

Saint John makes a point of saying that, “Jesus, wearied as He was with His journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour” (Jn 4:6). A monk of the twelfth century, took this one sentence of the Gospel, listened to it over and over again, and repeated it to himself. The word of the Gospel passed from his mouth to his ears; from his ears into his mind; and from his mind into his heart. There, by the light of the Holy Spirit, he was opened to its deeper meaning and, in his heart, the word became prayer, a prayer that found expression in his poetry:

Quaerens me, sedisti lassus:
Redemisti Crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus.

Faint and weary, Thou hast sought me,
Crucified hast dearly bought me;
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?

Translated literally, the connection with today’s Gospel emerges more clearly:

Seeking me, all weary, Thou didst sit:
By Thy suffering on the Cross didst Thou redeem me;
Let not so great a labor come to nothing.


The Weary Christ

“Jesus, wearied as He was with His journey. . . .” (Jn 4:6). The image is profoundly moving: the weariness of a wayfaring Jesus. Not for nothing is this particular image given us today on the Third Sunday of Lent. We are at the midpoint of our own Lenten journey and susceptible, all of us, to a certain weariness. This particular Gospel of the weary, wayfaring Christ is given us today to remind us that the journey of God towards us precedes even our first step towards Him. We are sought by God before we begin to seek Him.
The Journey Driven By Love

Jesus comes to us as one weary of journeying. His journey is driven by love. His journey is towards us. Every step of His signifies the advance of love. The sound of His steps is that of “the Lord God walking in the garden” (Gen 3:8); His voice is that of the Lord God who called to the man and said to him, ‘Adam, where are you?’” (Gen 3:9). The journey is that of the shepherd who, “having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, leaves the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and goes after the one which is lost until he finds it” (Lk 15:3).

The Sixth Hour

Saint John adds a significant detail to his description of the weary, wayfaring Jesus, seated by the well. He says, “It was about the sixth hour” (Jn 4:6). For us to hear the full resonance of this little phrase, we have to turn the pages of Saint John’s Gospel until we come to the crucifixion of Jesus in chapter 19. There we read, “Now it was the Day of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour.” The sixth hour sees Jesus “lifted up from the earth to draw all men to himself” (Jn 12:32). After a three hour agony, the crucified Jesus will reveal the thirst of man for God, and the thirst of God for man. “Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), ‘I thirst’” (Jn 19:28).

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Second Thursday of Lent

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1: 1-2, 3, 4, 6
Luke 16:19-31

My Yearly Rant

The circle of the year brings us back to that frightfully mistranslated line in today’s first reading: “More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? (Jer 17:9). This is something that I cannot let pass by, not because I am bent on picking at the lectionary, but because I would not want even one of you to go away today thinking yourself beyond remedy. So allow me to rant.

Not Beyond Remedy

When I first encountered the distressing phrase in the 2002 edition of the American lectionary, I knew instinctively that there was something wrong with it. I opened my Latin lectionary, the official text of the Roman liturgy, and there found the human heart described not as beyond remedy, but as inscrutable. Pravum est cor omnium et inscrutabile: “The heart is perverse above all things, and unsearchable” (Jer 17:9).

Grace

Can you think, even for a minute, that God would ever declare the human heart beyond remedy? What then of the redemption? And what of grace? Can you imagine God, our God, saying to anyone at all, “You are beyond remedy, irreparably damaged; I can do nothing for you”? It’s enough to push one off the edge into the deep dark pit of despair! Such is not my religion, and such is not the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ. No one is beyond remedy.

Devious and Perverse

Look at other translations of Jeremiah 17:9. I already said that the Vulgate has, “The heart is perverse above all things, and unsearchable.” The King James has, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” The Jerusalem Bible has, “The heart is more devious than any other thing, perverse too.” My Jewish Tanakh, translated from the Hebrew, has, “Most devious is the heart; it is perverse.” The New English Bible has, “The heart is the most deceitful of all things, desperately sick.”

The Italian lectionary has this: Più fallace di ogni altra cosa è il cuore e difficilmente guaribile. Difficilmente guaribile — now that I can accept!

Ecce ascendimus Ierosolymam

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Second Wednesday of Lent

Jeremiah 18: 18-20
Psalm 30: 4-5, 13, 14-15
Matthew 20: 17-28

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The Sorrowful Passion of the Lord

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem” (Mt 20:17). The whole drama of the Paschal Triduum appears today before our eyes and sounds in our ears. “The Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Mt 20:18). The liturgy invites us to “go up to Jerusalem” (Mt 20:17), to follow Our Lord along the via dolorosa, the way of sorrows, the way of the Cross.

Prayer With Loud Cries and Tears

In the First Reading, the prophet Jeremiah, tracked and persecuted, is an image of the suffering Christ. The intentions of the prophet’s enemies are clear: “Come, let us smite him with the tongue, and let us heed not any of his words” (Jer 18:18). Jeremiah raises his voice in prayer: “Give heed to me, O Lord, and hearken to my plea. . . . Remember how I stood before thee to speak good for them, to turn away thy wrath from them” (Jer 18:20). In the prayer of Jeremiah we hear the voice of Christ in his Passion. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear” (Heb 5:7).

Recordare, Virgo Mater Dei

In the liturgy of the Church — and, therefore, under the influence of the Holy Spirit — Jeremiah’s prayer became the Offertory Antiphon of the Mass of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Friday of Passion Week, and again on September 15th. The Church takes the prophet’s plea and addresses it to the Mother of Sorrows: Recordare, Virgo Mater Dei . . . . “Do not forget us, Virgin Mother of God; speak good things for us there where thou standest in the presence of the Lord, to avert his anger from us” (cf. Jer 18:20).

Over the words, a nobis, “from us,” the Gregorian melody soars higher and higher into the uppermost notes of the first mode and then, peacefully, in a sublime expression of confidence, descends until it comes to rest in silence. The chant melody is a kind of musical icon of the supplication of the Church, and of her reliance on the intercession of the Mother of God.

The Man of Sorrows

One sees in the liturgical use of this text just how the Holy Spirit authorizes us to search out the Scriptures and to find in them, like the treasure hidden in the field, the mystery of the prayer of Christ: a prayer inseparable from that of his Holy Mother, a prayer continued through the ages in the supplications of his Bride, the Church. The original prayer belongs to Jeremiah: innocent and persecuted, he is the figure and the voice of Christ, the “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3).

The New Eve

The prayer of Christ, the New Adam, is inseparable from that of his Mother, the New Eve. She enters heart and soul into his priesthood; standing on Calvary, she receives into herself every word of his uttered from the Cross. She enters into his priestly offering and, in so doing, models our own participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass.

On Monday, 19 February 2007 His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI addressed the Confessors who serve in the four major basilicas of Rome. At the same time, he spoke to "all the priests of the world who dedicate themselves to the ministry of the confessional." My own experience here in Rome is that people do come to confession whenever a priest makes himself available by sitting in the confessional. Time spent waiting for penitents in the confessional is not lost time. It is a means of entering into the eternal patience and mercy of the Crucified who waits for souls to approach His glorious wounds and to yield to His merciful embrace. Besides, one can always use the time praying the rosary for sinners.

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The Ministry of the Confessional

. . . I wish to extend a cordial thought to all the priests of the world who dedicate themselves with commitment to the ministry of the confessional.

A Wonderful Event of Grace

The Sacrament of Penance, which has such importance in the Christian life, renders present the redemptive efficacy of Christ's Paschal Mystery. In imparting absolution, pronounced in the name and on behalf of the Church, the confessor becomes the conscious means of a wonderful event of grace.

Minister of the Consoling Mercy of God

With docile compliance to the Magisterium of the Church, he makes himself minister of the consoling mercy of God, he draws attention to the reality of sin, and at the same time he manifests the boundless renewing power of divine love, love that gives back life.

Through the Words and Gestures of the Priest

Therefore, confession becomes a spiritual rebirth that transforms the penitent into a new creature. Only God's grace can work this miracle, and it is accomplished through the words and gestures of the priest.

By experiencing the tenderness and pardon of the Lord, the penitent is more easily led to acknowledge the gravity of sin, is more resolved to avoid it in order to remain and grow in renewed friendship with him.

Condemned

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Monday of the Second Week of Lent

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Daniel 9:4b-10
Psalm 78: 8, 9, 11 & 13
Luke 6:36-38

Sin’s Slimy Trail

Last Friday the Gospel obliged us to look at the sin of anger. On Saturday the Gospel challenged us to look at the way we treat those with whom we are at enmity. Today the Gospel treats of the sin of judging.

There are but three verses in today’s gospel. Each one is capable of calling forth a lifetime of repentance. True penitence addresses not only the isolated, incidental sin; it also takes on those habits of sin that like the tangled roots of a great tree lie below the surface. Rare are the sins that, popping out of nowhere, surprise us, and leave behind no slimy trail. A careful discernment of the heart reveals that sin, if it goes unchecked, quickly tends to become habitual. One slides imperceptibly from the isolated, incidental sin, into habits of sin.

The Sin of Judging

This is as true of the sin of judging as of any other sin. With each repeated sinful act we grow less sensitive to the horror of the sin, hate it a little less and, finally, grow accustomed to living with it. Habitual sin, like habitual virtue, is the result of repeated acts, often of very little acts. One judges just a little the first time, a little more the next and, finally, by linking judgment to judgment, one forges a heavy chain of condemnation that is nearly impossible to break.

First Step: I Notice

Look for a moment at the classic sin of judging. The first step is taking note of the behaviour of another. I observe that my brother or sister does this or does not do that. Rarely are one’s observations lucid and dispassionate. If the person being observed has already been a cause for annoyance, if there is a pre-existing antipathy or an old resentment, one’s observation is clouded and one’s perceptions distorted. How can one cut off the sin of judging in the first step? By minding one’s own business. By saying to oneself, “that is no concern of yours.” By imposing silence on one’s thoughts and by mortifying one’s curiosity.

“Whenever Abba Agathon’s thoughts urged him to pass judgment on something which he saw, he would say to himself, ‘Agathon, it is not your business to do that.’ Thus his spirit was always recollected.” Centuries later, Saint John of the Cross says the same thing: “Pay no attention to the affairs of others, whether they be good or bad, for besides the danger of sin, this is a cause of distraction and lack of spirit.” Not too long ago it was common for religious to write pious initials on their papers. Benedictines: U.I.O.G.D. (That in all things God may be glorified.) Jesuits: A.M.D.G. (To the greater glory of God). The wisdom of the saints suggests another motto: M.Y.O.B. (Mind your own business).

Vultum Tuum, Domine, Requiram

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The Second Sunday of Lent
The Transfiguration of the Lord

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Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Psalm 26: 1, 7-9, 13-14
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 9:28-36

The Transfigured Face of Jesus

Twice yearly, on August 6th, forty days before the feast of the Glorious Cross, and again on the Second Sunday of Lent, the Church is illuminated by the glory of God shining on the Face of the transfigured Jesus. The Introit of today’s Mass is the same one used on August 6th. It directs the gaze of our hearts to the Face of Christ. “Of you my heart has spoken, ‘Seek His Face.’ It is your Face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your Face” (Ps 26:8-9). Some of you know the text, “Tibi dixit” in its chant melody, so full of longing, of desire, of peace.

To Seek God Truly

When our father Saint Benedict speaks of the dispositions to look for in one who seeks to enter the monastery, he emphasizes, above all, that one come to seek God truly. How are we to orient this search for God? God is elusive, hiding himself from those who seek Him, seeking those who hide from Him. “Where shall wisdom be found, asks Job, and where is the place of understanding? Man does not know the way to it, and it is not found in the land of the living. The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It is not in me’” (Jb 28:12-14). The bride of the Canticle speaks no differently. “Upon my bed by night I sought Him whom my soul loves; I sought Him but found Him not; I called Him but he gave no answer” (Ct 3:1). Are we to look up or down? Are we to search within or without? Where are we to seek God first? “If I climb the heavens you are there, if I lie in the grave, you are there. If I take the wings of the dawn and dwell at the sea’s furthest end, even there your hand would lead me, your right hand would hold me fast” (Ps 138:8-10). God is everywhere and yet our gaze has to be somewhere if it is to rest upon Him.

When God Brings One Outside

Today’s first reading may give us a clue. It begins with a curious little phrase. “God brought Abram outside” (Gen 15:5). Two things strike me. First, God takes the initiative, coming first in search of Abram, meeting Abram on his own ground, in his own space. God accommodates His immensity to the limits of Abram’s little domestic world. He comes to the nomad Abram in his tent, in surroundings that are intimate, familiar to Abram, and secure. Second, he brings Abram outside, outside the tent, outside the familiar, obliging Abram to “look toward heaven” (Gen 15:5), to stretch toward the vastness of stars too many to be counted. Then, no sooner has God shown Abram the stars than he hides them. “A deep sleep fell on Abram, and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him” (Gen 15:12).

Lest We Stop Seeking

The search for God —and the monastic vocation, a particular response to God’s search for us— may begin in a familiar place but, inevitably, it leads us outside — outside of our tents, outside of ourselves. For some, paralyzed by fear, incapable of leaving the comfort of the narrow spaces that we call our own, the search is thwarted from the outset. Mercifully, God is patient, and a late response is rewarded, in every way, as generously as one made early. “God brought Abram outside” (Gen 15:5). He does the same in the life of anyone who seeks Him. Just when we think we have found the place of the encounter with God, He calls us outside, lest we stop seeking, even for a moment. He calls us into a dread and great darkness lest we mistake any lesser light for the light of His Face. “‘What can bring us happiness?’” many say. “Lift up the light of your Face on us, O Lord” (Ps 4:7).

Convertens Animas

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Saturday of the First Week of Lent

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Entrance Antiphon

The law of the Lord is unspotted, converting souls:
the testimony of the Lord is faithful, giving wisdom to little ones (Ps 18:8).

Today’s Entrance Antiphon, taken from Psalm 18, tells us two things about the Word of God. First, it converts souls. Convertens animas. This means that the Word of God turns back souls, places them in a face-to-face with God.

Second, the Word of God gives wisdom to little ones. Sapientiam praestans parvulis. For the proud, the sophisticated, and the grand of this world the Word of God is a closed book; it is all foolishness. For the little, the humble, and the poor in spirit, the Word of God is a ceaseless communication of wisdom. Recall the words of Jesus: “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will” (Mt 11:25-26).

All of this is, of course, contingent on one thing: our persevering, faithful, self-exposure to the Word of God, first of all in the Mass and Divine Office, and then in lectio divina. If you really want the conversion of your own soul, expose yourself relentlessly to the Word of God. If you would learn the “secret and hidden wisdom of God” (1 Cor 2:7), immerse yourself in the Word of God with humility.

The liturgy of Lent insists on the primacy of the Word. Lectio divina is the foundational Lenten observance; everything else flows from it. It is the beginning of true penitence, the taste of divine wisdom to the palate of the soul.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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