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I Sought Him

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Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

Micah 7:14-15, 18-20
Psalm 102:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Draw Near to Hear

The first line of today's Holy Gospel is the key to all the rest: "The tax collectors and the sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus" (Lk 15:1). They drew near to hear Jesus; this is the listening that changes life, and in this, tax collectors and sinners are our teachers. One cannot hear rightly while remaining at a distance.

God Seeking Man

Our Lord says, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (Jn 6:44). The Father seeks us to draw us close to the Son. In the canticle at Lauds we sang: "He sought them out in the wilderness, there in the fearful desert spaces, gave them the guidance, taught them the lessons they needed, guarded them as if they had been the apple of His eye" (Dt 32:10). God seeks us. When one consents to being found by Him, a flame of desire begins to flicker within: an inarticulate yearning to be enfolded in God's protecting love, and to be sheltered in the "shadow of His wings" (Ps 16:8).

Repentance

One begins to turn one's life around when one begins to experience one's need for God painfully. So it was with the prodigal son. "Then he came to himself and said, How many hired servants there are in my father's house, who have more bread than they can eat, and here am I perishing with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee; I am not worthy now to be called thy son; treat me as one of thy hired servants" (Lk 15: 17-18).

Feeling the Pain

One experiences this painful awareness of the need for God in different ways. Loneliness, for example, can be an immense grace if it orients the heart towards God alone. Failure can serve the designs of God's mercy when it obliges one to seek Him, to call to Him out of the depths of one's brokenness. Illness can become a gift; the awareness of one's weakness can become the discovery of Christ's unfailing strength. Disappointments in human love can lead to drive one to the only Love that never deceives nor disappoints. God alone can satisfy the deepest longings of the heart.

Upon my Bed by Night

The bride of the Canticle of Canticles describes the experience of every human heart tormented by the desire for God: "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. I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves" (Ct 3:1-2). The nocturnal disquiet of the beloved in the Canticle is the image of restlessness in the soul. There is, within each one, an appetite more relentlessly gnawing than the appetites of the senses: the appetite for intimacy with God.

Where Art Thou?

The Word of God Himself has come down into the streets and squares of the city in search of all who search for Him, just as in the first pages of Genesis, the Father walked in paradise in the evening breeze (Gn 3:8) and called to Adam, saying, "Where art thou?" For this very reason does He abide, day and night, in the tabernacles of our churches. There too does He say, as the Father said in paradise, "Where art thou?" For He who has come in search of us, He who waits for us, is left alone. Though He searches for every man, there are few, very few, who search for Him. Though He is patient in waiting for man; there are few, very few who know how to wait in silence for Him.

And Cleanse Me From My Sin

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Monday Within the Third Week of Lent

2 Kings 5:1-15a
Luke 4:24-30

Water

What is the link between yesterday's liturgy and today's? It is water. Yesterday: the water of Jacob's well: a sign of "the spring of water welling up to eternal life" (Jn 4:14. Today: the water of the Jordan by which Naaman was cleansed of his leprosy, the water of Jesus' own Baptism.

Psalm 50

In the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict places Psalm 50 at the beginning of Lauds seven days a week. Why? Because he understood it as a daily renewal of Baptism, as the psalm of resurrection to new life with the joy of a heart made clean. What makes every day so exhilarating is the possibility of a fresh start, of a clean slate, of a new beginning. Each morning we can say, "Today, I begin" (Ps 77:11). Try saying that every time you take Holy Water: "Today, I begin, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

God Alone Can Make Me Clean

In Psalm 50 we repeatedly and persistently ask God to cleanse us. "Blot out my iniquity" (Ps 50:3). "Wash me clean from my guilt" (Ps 50:4). "Purge me of my sin" (Ps 50:4). "Sprinkle me with a branch of hyssop, and I shall be clean" (Ps 50:9). "Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow" (Ps 50:9). We cannot cleanse ourselves because we do not see where we are soiled. We are as blind to our own sins as we are quick to notice the sins of others. The stain of sin has seeped deep into the very crevices of our souls. God alone can reach into those hidden places and make them clean.

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Holy Water

I don't know why, but a lot of folks, even among practicing Catholics, seem to pooh-pooh the use of Holy Water just the way Naaman, in his pride, pooh-poohed the water of the Jordan River. They find it hard to believe that God would make use of something so simple. Do you remember what Saint Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church, wrote about Holy Water?

From long experience I have learned that there is nothing like Holy Water to put devils to flight and prevent them from coming back again. They also flee from the Cross, but return; so Holy Water must have great value. For my own part, whenever I take it, my soul feels a particular and most notable consolation. In fact, it is quite usual for me to be conscious of a refreshment which I cannot possibly describe, resembling an inward joy which comforts my whole soul. This is not fancy, or something which has happened to me only once. It has happened again and again, and I have observed it most attentively. It is, let us say, as if someone very hot and thirsty were to drink from a jug of cold water: he would feel the refreshment throughout his body. I often reflect on the great importance of everything ordained by the Church and it makes me very happy to find that those words of the Church are so powerful that they impart their power to the water and make it so very different from water which has not been blessed.

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Monday Within the Second Week of Lent

Daniel 9:4-10
Luke 6: 36-38

I Set My Face to the Lord

I don't know why the editors of the Lectionary did not begin today's First Reading with Daniel 9, verse 3. In few words it sets the tone for the magnificent act of contrition that follows. The missing verse is this: "And I set my face to the Lord my God to pray and make supplication with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes" (Dn 9:3).

Only then does the prophet Daniel give us the fruit of his compunction: a prayer of confession and an act of contrition.

Compunction

What is compunction? It is the cutting awareness of our sins. Compunction is not something that we can produce in ourselves and of ourselves. Compunction is a grace: it is a fruit of the combined action of the Word of God and of the Holy Ghost within the soul.

Sword and Fire

What do we read in the Letter to the Hebrews? "The Word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two edged sword" (Hb 4:12), and in another place, "Our God is a consuming fire" (Hb 12:29). It is a perilous thing to expose oneself to the Word of God because one risks being pierced through and purified by fire. This is why so many people turn a deaf ear to the Word, or hide from it, or say, "Ah, this is not meant for me, but it perfectly suits so and so. It is just what he (or she) needs to hear."

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 passage 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

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.

Fulget Crucis Mysterium

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Our Lady Saint Mary, Saint John the Beloved Disciple,
and the Wounded Side of Christ


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With First Vespers of the Fifth Sunday of Lent we enter into the last phase of preparation for the Pasch of the Lord: Passiontide. The Church places on our lips the great hymn of Christ’s Cross and Passion, and so we sing: fulget Crucis mysterium, “the mystery of the Cross shines out.” The second to the last verse of this age-old hymn is a confession of hope, hope in the power of the Cross:

O Cross, all hail! Sole hope, abide
With us now in this Passiontide:
New grace in loving hearts implant
And pardon to the guilty grant!

The station today is at Saint Peter’s Basilica. The solemnity of this Fifth Sunday of Lent required that the faithful of Rome assemble at the tomb of Saint Peter. The purple veils that, during these last two weeks before Pascha, will hide our sacred images, recall the great veil that in ancient times was stretched across the whole sanctuary, obliging the faithful to go by faith and longing into the inner sanctuary, the invisible one, where Christ is Victim, Altar and Priest.

I Will Not Be Forgetful of Thee

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Wednesday Within the Fourth Week of Lent

Isaiah 49:8-15
John 5:17-30

An Inward Quickening

In every single line of today's prophecy from Isaiah, there is a grace of consolation that penetrates the soul. One reads Isaiah 49:8-13 — or hears it read — and straightaway one experiences its effect: an inward quickening of hope, of confidence, and of thanksgiving.

God's Word is efficacious. The Word of God accomplishes what it announces, so often as we receive it with humility and with faith. The Word of God is a sacramental infusion of divine grace. Hold the Word in your heart, and it will change your life.

If you have ever felt forgotten by God or insignificant in His sight, ponder today's First Reading (Isaiah 49:8-16). Savour the last verse given in the Lectionary and the one that follows it in the Bible. I prefer Monsignor Knox's translation, and so give it here.

I Will Bring Thee Aid

Thus says the Lord, Here is a time of pardon, when prayer of thine shall be answered, a day of salvation when I will bring thee aid.
I have kept thee in readiness, to make, by thy means, a covenant with my people.
Thine to revive a ruined country, to parcel out forfeited lands anew,
men that are bound in darkness restoring to freedom and to the light.

Theirs Is a Merciful Shepherd

There shall be pasture for my flock by the wayside, feeding grounds they shall have on al the barren uplands;
they will hunger and thirst no more, noonday heat nor sun overpower them;
theirs is a merciful shepherd, that will lead them to welling fountains and give them drink.
And I will turn all these mountains of mine into a highroad for you;
safe through the uplands my path shall lead.
See how they come from far away!
Exiles from north and west, exiles from the south country return.
Ring out, heaven, with praise;
let earth keep holiday, and its mountains echo that praise again;
the Lord brings consolation to his people, takes pity on their need.

Before My Eyes Continually

Did Sion complain, the Lord has forsaken me, my own Master gives me never a thought?
What, can a woman forget her child that is unweaned, pity no longer the son she bore in her womb? Let her forget; I will not be forgetful of thee.
Why, I have cut thy image on the palms of my hands;
those walls of thine dwell before my eyes continually.

In Spiritu Humilitatis

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Tuesday Within the Third Week of Lent

Daniel 3:25–43
Matthew 18:21–35

Azarias Found Utterance

Look for a moment at the context of today's First Reading: the magnificent prayer of Azarias "as he stood in the heart of the fire" (Dan 3:23). If you opened the Book of Daniel in your lectio divina this morning, you will have remarked that the prayer of Azarias comes just before the Canticle of the Three Young Men. It is the first of three movements in a glorious symphony of prayer: Daniel 3:26–45; Daniel 3:52–56; and Daniel 3:58–88.

The Benedicite

The Benedicite or Canticle of the Three Young Men is familiar to all who pray the Divine Office. The Church places its lyrical verses on our lips every Sunday, Solemnity, and Feast at Lauds. In addition, the Roman Missal proposes that the priest say the Canticle of the Three Young Men daily after Mass. It is part of the official liturgical Thanksgiving After Mass. Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion was faithful to saying the Benedicite after Mass all his life. In Christ, the Life of the Soul, he writes:

The Church, the Bride of Christ, who knows better than anyone the secrets of her Divine Bridegroom, makes the priest sing in the sanctuary of his soul where the Word dwells, the inward canticle of thanksgiving. The soul leads all creation to the feet of its God and its Lord, that he may receive homage from every creature . . . . What a wonderful song is that all creation sung thus by the priest at the moment when he is united to the Eternal High-Priest, the one Mediator, the Divine Word by whom all was created!

The Flames of Vice

The Missal provides an incisive little Collect after the Canticle. The Roman Rite never minces words when it comes to sin . . . and grace. I so appreciate the realism of this prayer that the Church would have her ministers say daily after Mass.

"O God who didst allay the flames of the furnace
for the three young men,
in thy mercy, grant that we thy servants,
may not be consumed by the flames of vice."

Yonder Scarlet Stain

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Tuesday Within the Second Week of Lent

Isaiah 1:10, 16–20
Matthew 23:1–12

Come back, says the Lord,
and make trial of me.
Crimson-dyed be your guilt,
it shall turn snow-white;
like wool new-washed yonder scarlet stain (Is 1:18).

Innocence Restored

Were more comforting words than these ever spoken to souls besmirched by sin? Such is the hope held out to each one of us: a snow-white purity and an innocence like wool new-washed. God Himself longs to restore us to the innocence lost by sin. For this did the Lamb of God pour out His Blood in all the sufferings of His bitter Passion. Saint John said it: "The Blood of the Son of God Jesus Christ washes us clean from all sin" (1 Jn 1:8).

The Blood of the Lamb

The Blood of the Lamb makes saints out of sinners. The Blood of the Lamb cleanses hearts defiled by the world, the flesh, and the devil. The Blood of the Lamb heals the soul's deepest wounds and cures the festering malignancies of sin.

Only one thing can come between the sinner and the Precious Blood of the Lamb, and that one thing is pride: the pride of self-righteousness. If you can save yourself, you have no need of Jesus whose very Name means "God saves." If you can heal yourself, you have no need of the Divine Physican. If you can cleanse your own conscience, you have no need of the Precious Blood. But the truth is that we can do none of these things. We need to be saved. We need to be healed. We need to be washed in the Blood of the Lamb.

The Power of the Blood

The Lord asks, "Will you think better of it, and listen? Or will you refuse and defy me?" (Is 1:19). Woe to the recalcitrant and the obstinate. Woe to those who seek to justify themselves. Woe to those who resist the grace of God and rebel against His plan. Blessed are the humble. Blessed are those who abandon themselves to grace. Blessed are those who trust in power of the Precious Blood.

I Have Sought Thy Face

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I arrived home from Ireland last evening and returned to my post this morning. The "mission" in Ireland was in every way blessed. Even the weather was lovely! I made many new friends in Ireland and saw old ones with joy. After three days at Knock in County Mayo, I went on to Drumshanbo in County Leitrim to preach a retreat to the Poor Clares of the Perpetual Adoration Convent. People from the surrounding towns were present at daily Mass in the morning and at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the evening. Thanks to John Flynn who drove me from one place to another, I had the opportunity to visit two families of Irish "Travellers" to pray with them and bless their sick. I was humbled and blessed by their faith.

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The Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 12: 1-4
2 Timothy 1: 8-10
Matthew 17: 1-9

Vultus Christi

My heart hath said to Thee:
I have sought Thy Face.
Thy Face, O Lord, will I still seek:
turn not away Thy Face from me.
V. The Lord is my light and my salvation:
whom shall I fear?
Psalm 26: 8-9, 1.

Today's sublime Introit (Tibi dixit cor meum) summons us to lift our eyes to the transfigured Christ and to fix our gaze on His Holy Face. One who seeks the Face of Christ will find the strength to do whatever God asks of him.

To seek the Face of Christ is to place all one's trust in Him. It is to await from Him all that one needs. The contemplation of the Holy Face of Jesus
— exorcises the fears that paralyze us spiritually;
— frees us from anxiety and fills the soul with peace;
— purifies us of our sins and opens us to an infusion of grace;
— glorifies Our Lord because He desires that we should discover on His Face the glory of the Father (2 Cor 4:6), and the secrets of His Heart.

The Example of Abram

Abram trusted God with his life, his family, his possessions, his past, his present, and his future. It was Abram's faith expressed in an unconditional trust in God that enabled him to leave "his country, his kindred, and his father's house" (Gen 12:1). Abram consented to such a radical uprooting because he was deeply rooted in the faith that places no limits on God's faithfulness to what He has promised.

One who seeks the Face of Jesus is saying, albeit wordlessly, what Abram demonstrated by setting out as the Lord commanded him: "I trust Thee, Lord, with my life. I trust Thee with my family, my loved ones, my possessions, my past, present, my future . . . and even with my sins." There is no better place to do this than in the presence of the Eucharistic Face of Christ.

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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