Recently in Lent 2009 Category

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I preached this homily last year, at the request of Bishop Slattery, in the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Knowing that there are many churches in which the Gospel of the Man Born Blind (Year A in the reformed lectionary) will be read today, I am offering this homily again.

Fourth Sunday of Lent A
Laetare Sunday
Station at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

Laetare

"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).

This morning the Church
opens the celebration of Holy Mass with a chant of rapturous joy.
The dark violet of her Lenten array has become a gentle rose,
the colour of the sky at dawn.
The rigorous Lenten prohibition of flowers in church
is lifted for this one day.
And the first few notes of today's Introit in Gregorian Chant
are a like a breath of spring.
The text cannot find words enough for its joy,
and the melody is even deeper in its rejoicing.

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Once heard, today's Introit is unforgettable,
and anyone who knows the music of the liturgy knows why.
It rings with the sound of Easter!
Its first few notes are identical with the last few notes
of the great first Alleluia of the Paschal Vigil.
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.

Today, through the wide-open eyes of the man born blind,
the Church looks into the dazzling Face of Christ,
"the light of the world" (Jn 9:5),
and cannot contain her gladness.
She already sings the paschal alleluia but,
for the moment, disguises it, wraps it in another word,
a single jubilant cry: Laetare!
Joy, then, is the first distinctive note of today's Mass.

Jerusalem

The second word of the Entrance Antiphon is Jerusalem,
and this is the second distinctive note of today's Mass.
Jerusalem is, according to the psalmist,
"the dwelling of all joy" (cf. Ps 86:7).
Why? Because the temple is there:
God's dwelling in the midst of His people,
the one place on earth
where the God of Israel promised the abiding presence
of His Name, and of His Eyes and of His Heart.
He says to David's son Solomon:
"I have sanctified this house,
which thou hast built to put My Name there for ever,
and my Eyes and My Heart shall be there always" (1 K 9:3).

Today's Mass is a way of going "up to Jerusalem" without leaving Tulsa.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, 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 Introit sings just that:
"O my joy when they said to me:
Let us go up to the house of the Lord" (Ps 121:1).
David, anointed king in the First Reading,
prizes Jerusalem "above all his joys" (cf. Ps 136:6).
To go up to Jerusalem is to go up to the highest joy.

Light

The third distinctive note of today's Mass is Light.
I mentioned that the liturgical colour today is rose
like morning's first glimmers on the eastern horizon.
At Easter the sun will rise over us in all its brightness,
but for the moment, we are content to rejoice
in the rosy radiance of the dawn.

The heavenly Jerusalem is inseparable from today's Gospel
in which Our Lord says, "I am the light of the world" (Jn 9:5).
The New Jerusalem
that comes down out of heaven from God (cf. Apoc 21:2)
"has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it,
for the glory of God is its light,
and its lamp is the Lamb.
By its light shall the nations walk" (Apoc 21:22-24).
The same light that illumines the Jerusalem above
shines for us here and now in Mother Church,
in the proclamation of the Word,
in the sacraments given by her Bridegroom,
and, above all, in the adorable Sacrament of His Body and Blood.
"Enter His presence," she says, and be illumined" (Ps 33:6).

Week after week, we come to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,
limited by our human blindness,
sometimes stumbling along in the blindness of sin.
Those who think they see clearly are the blindest people of all,
and those who admit their blindness,
or at least their very clouded vision,
are those to whom Our Lord promises light and sight.
What takes place in Baptism?
The victory of light over darkness.
What happens when a priest pronounces the words of absolution in confession? The renewal of that victory of light over darkness.
What changes when we approach the altar
to receive the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of the Light of the World?
Darkness is put to flight.

Today's Communion Antiphon
reveals what Our Lord would do for each one of us:
"The Lord made clay of spittle,
and spread it on my eyes:
and I went, and washed, and recovered my sight,
and I found faith in God" (Jn 9:11).
What the antiphon describes in the words of the man born blind,
Holy Communion makes happen, here and now.
The chalice,
with its water and blood from the wound in the side of the Crucified,
is infinitely more than the mysterious pool of Siloe.
None other than Saint Thomas Aquinas
saw Holy Communion as healing from blindness.
"I come to it," he says,
"a blind man to the radiance of eternal light"
(Prayer Before Mass, Roman Missal).

Mother Church

The fourth and last distinctive note of today's Mass
is that the Holy Catholic Church is our Mother.
She is our Mother because we were born of her womb in Baptism.
She is our Mother because, as the Entrance Antiphon 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.
She is the merciful Mother of children who do not always see clearly.
She is the Mother of children whose vision is impaired by sin.
She is the Mother of those who stumble in the darkness.
She is the Mother of those who "sit in the shadowlands" (Lk 1:79),
waiting for the first glimmers of the rising sun.
She is the Mother of those who say with Blessed John Henry Newman,
"The night is dark and I am far from home."

There are in every life moments,
hours, and even long seasons,
when we cannot trust our own seeing,
when obscurity surrounds us on all sides.
Who has not said with the psalmist at one time or another,
"Friends and neighbours gone, a world of shadows is all my company" (Ps 87:19)?
In a world of shadows a Mother waits
for all who would come home to the light.
There are candles shining in all her windows.
There is a fire in her hearth,
and a blaze of light shining through her open door.
"She has sent out her maids to call from the highest places in the town, 'Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me'" (Pr 9:3-4).

Plenteous Grace

For some, Laetare Sunday,
instead of being a day of rejoicing in the light,
may be one of weeping quietly in some dark corner,
of not seeing, not understanding, and not knowing why.
If your soul is not attuned to the jubilant notes of the Introit today,
cling to the experience of the man born blind related in the Gospel.
There is plenteous grace for all in the one as in the other.

Joy in the Heart of the Church

Laetare Sunday:
the Sunday of Joy,
the Sunday of the New Jerusalem,
the Sunday of Light,
the Sunday of Mother Church.
Holy Week will soon be upon us.
The mysteries of the Lord's Passion and Resurrection are fast approaching,
the mysteries of our joy,
the end of every sadness,
the victory of light over every darkness.
It is time to go up to Jerusalem,
time for Jerusalem to descend out of heaven to us.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is just that:
the assumption of the Church into heaven's joy,
the descent of heaven's joy into the heart of the Church.
Laetare!

Fiat mihi secundum Verbum tuum

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It was in 1973 or 74, I think, when a young man, fresh from a heady experience of monastic life in a foreign land, met an extraordinary woman at the beginning of her middle age, brimming over with vitality and with the love of God. She walked with long strides, betraying her youth in the mountains of Savoie. At times an inner joy would illumine her face. Her hospitable heart embraced all who came to her. The young man asked, "Mother, how do you pray?" And the Mother responded, "When I pray, I say, Seigneur je me livre à la puissance de ton amour fécond -- "O Lord, I deliver myself over to the power of Thy fruitful love."

En cette solennité de l'Annonciation prions avec la très sainte Vierge Marie: Seigneur, je me livre à la puissance de ton amour fécond.

On this festival of Lady Day, let us pray with the most Holy Virgin Mary: O Lord, I deliver myself over to the power of Thy fruitful love.


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Saturday in Passiontide

Ezekiel 37:21-28
Jeremiah 31
John 11:45-56

Mother of Sorrows, Keeper of the Door

There is on Mount Athos a greatly venerated icon of the Blessed Virgin named "The Holy Mother of God, Keeper of the Door." The Virgin Mary is indeed the Keeper of the Door. She is the guardian of the threshold, the portress of "the inner sanctuary behind the veil" (Heb 6:19). We prepare today to cross the threshold of Holy Week. Seek our Lady's company, then, and entrust to her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart our "passing over," our "entering into" the mysteries of the Great Week.

In what ways is the Mother of Sorrows the Keeper of the Door? Mary waits for us at the foot of the Cross, pointing to the open door of her Son's pierced Heart. "Enter there," she says, "hide like the dove in the cleft of the rock" (cf. Ct 2:14). She waits for us at the foot of the Cross, the body of her Son resting in death against her breast. "Enter my sorrow," she says, "and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow" (Lam 1:12). She waits for us before the sealed tomb. "Cross the threshold of hope," she says, "for hope does not disappoint us" (Rom 5:5). She waits for us before the empty tomb. "Pass over into my joy," she says, "and no one will take your joy from you" (Jn 16:22). With Mary, then, let us be attentive today to the doors set before us, those through which we have already passed, and those that lie ahead.

After the Resurrection of Lazarus

The traditional baptismal Gospels of the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent -- the Gospels of water, light, and life -- are a succession of thresholds marking our passage into the heart of the liturgy: the Paschal Mystery. There is continuity between last Sunday's Gospel and today's. The Gospel of the resurrection of Lazarus ended with verse 44 of the eleventh chapter of Saint John. Today's Gospel begins with verse 45 of the same chapter. This is a device of liturgical inclusion. It situates the entire week within the mystery of the resurrection of Lazarus: a crossing of the threshold, a passage out of death into life, out of darkness into light, out of the stench of corruption into the sweet fragrance of grace.

Lazare, Veni Foras

The cry of Our Lord before the tomb of Lazarus echoes still in our hearts. "Lazare, veni foras" (Jn 11:43). Hear the immensity of this cry. It is addressed to each of us. Who among us is not Lazarus, called out of the shadow of death into the light of day, out of the bands of death's confining shroud into the freedom of movement in the Holy Spirit? For Saint Bernard, if you are called to a life of penance, you are Lazarus. Nothing better expresses the intensity and power of Jesus' call to life than the melody of the Communion Antiphon over the words, "Lazare, veni foras." The great cry itself is fittingly sung by a single voice, allowing all to pause and hear it before continuing with the rest of the antiphon.

My Sanctuary in the Midst of Them

Why does the sacred liturgy set this "icon" of the resurrection of Lazarus before us? First of all because the resurrection of Lazarus announces the resurrection of Christ. The glorious body of the risen Christ fulfills the prophecy of Ezekiel in today's First Reading: "I will set My sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God and they will be My people. Then the nations will know that I the Lord sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in the midst of them for evermore" (Ez 37:26-28).

The sanctuary of the living God in the midst of us is the Body of Christ, both mystical and Eucharistic. "Now you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Cor 12:27). All prayer to the Father originates in the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is the sanctuary from which the cry of our prayer ascends to the Father in the Holy Spirit. The resurrection of Christ confirms forever God's covenant of peace with us, the everlasting covenant announced by the prophet Ezekiel (Ez 27:36). The risen Christ Himself is the sanctuary of God into which, as we heard in the Gospel, "the children of God who are scattered abroad are gathered into one" (Jn 11:52).

Altar, Priest, and Victim

In one of the Prefaces of Paschaltide the Church sings that Christ himself is at once,"altar, priest, and victim." Without these there can be no sanctuary. As our altar, Christ is the source of our unity. As our priest, He gathers into unity the scattered children of God. As our victim, He gives the sacrifice of His Body and Blood in communion.

Tomb and Womb

Secondly, the resurrection of Lazarus must be seen in the baptismal context of the paschal liturgy. Lazarus emerging from the tomb images the mystery of baptism. Christ's mighty "Veni foras! -- Come forth!" is addressed to those who will descend into the watery tomb of baptism in the holy night of Pascha.

Penitents All

Thirdly, the resurrection of Lazarus is the image of our penitence. We are catechumens but once in life; we are baptized but once. In antiquity Lent was a whole program of restoration, rehabilitation,instruction, healing, and finally, of spiritual resurrection. The rite of Reconciliation of Penitents took place on Maundy Thursday; the penitents, grasping the hand of the bishop, reintegrated the Eucharistic communion of the Church, re-entered the sanctuary of the Body of Christ. When, on Ash Wednesday, we received ashes on our heads, we publicly declared ourselves penitents. Since last Sunday, the voice of Christ has cried out to us, saying, "Veni foras! -- Come forth!" Christ will not leave us to rot in the obscurity of our tombs. He extends his hand. He calls us to newness of life on his side of the threshold.

In the Communion of the Church

There is, for all of that, a detail not to be overlooked. Christ leaves us free to respond or not to his cry, "Veni foras! -- Come forth!" Is it possible to prefer the stench and darkness of the tomb -- isolation and death -- to life, to light, to communion with Christ and with one another? You have not forgotten, I am sure, that Lazarus came forth from the tomb "his hands and feet bound with bandages" (Jn 11:44). He emerged from the darkness into the light of day having need of others to "unbind him and let him go" (Jn 11:44). The new life, the risen life cannot be lived outside the community of the Church, nor apart from the fraternal communion of the monastery. When we withdraw, preferring the isolation of the bands that bind us, to the ministrations of fraternal charity, we refuse life. We have need of the communion of the Church, need of the hands and feet of others, need of the compassionate unbinding of the Mother of God. We find all of this -- communion with whole Body of Christ -- in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Aroma of Christ to God

Holy Mass is, at one and the same time, both covenant and communion. The Eucharist establishes us in the sanctuary of Christ's Body, knits us into the Body of Christ by feeding us with the Body of Christ. And this why today we cross again the threshold into the Great Thanksgiving. We cross it like Lazarus stepping into the light, inhaling "the aroma of Christ to God" (2 Cor 2:15). And the Mother of Christ, the Portress of the Mysteries, is there to welcome us.


The Approach of Passiontide

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Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 7:2-3, 9bc-10, 11-12
John 7:40-53

Passiontide

Everything in today's Mass indicates that Passiontide is upon us. Our Lord, most especially in the liturgy of this fortnight preceding Pascha, teaches us the mystery of the Cross. Our part is to listen well with the ear of the heart, so as to understand. We are already on the threshold of the great fortnight leading up to Easter.

The reformed liturgy conserves the substance of these fifteen days. Even a cursory study of the texts reveals that, beginning this evening, we will be plunged into the mystery of Jesus suffering and of His sorrowful Mother. The hymns at the Hours sing of the Passion, the readings speak of it, and the responsories meditate it. At Mass during the Fifth Week of Lent, the Preface presents the Passion of Christ as the healing of the world, and his Cross as the sign of victory:

Through the saving passion of your Son
the whole world has been called
to acknowledge and to praise your majesty;
for in the ineffable power of the Cross
the judgment of the world
and the power of the Crucified shines forth.

A Prayer Not Without Tears

Already today, the Entrance Antiphon was the cry of the suffering Christ to the Father: "Groanings of death surrounded me, hell's sorrows compassed me about. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and He heard my voice out of His holy temple" (Ps 17:5-7). What is this antiphon if not the prayer described in the Letter to the Hebrews? "Christ, during his earthly life, offered prayer and entreaty to the God who could save Him from death, not without a piercing cry, not without tears; yet with such piety as won him a hearing" (Heb 5:7). In the First Reading from Jeremiah, we are given, already, the image of the "gentle lamb led to the slaughter" (Jer 11:19), and in the Responsorial Psalm, we hear the voice of Christ raised to the Father in a prayer of anguish and, at the same time, of utter trust: "O Lord, my God, my confidence is in thee" (Ps 7:2).

The Blood of the Lamb

Yesterday and today, there is a marked change in the tenor of the Communion Antiphon. The focus is on the precious Blood of the Lamb. In yesterday's Communion Antiphon, we heard, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins" (Eph 1:7), and in today's we will hear, "We are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" (1 P 1:19). Hear the resonance with the "gentle lamb led to the slaughter" (Jer 11:9) in the First Reading. The "Lamb of God" during the rite of the Fraction takes on a richer tone today. So too will the invitation to Holy Communion: "Behold the Lamb of God." The moment of Holy Communion will be yet another voice in the symphony: "The Body and Blood of Christ." The liturgy is all of a piece. We grasp its meaning only in the relationship of each part with the whole.

Vexilla Regis Prodeunt

By means of an ensemble of allusions and resonances, the liturgy directs our steps to the threshold of Passiontide. This evening the Church returns to the ancient hymn in praise of the Cross: Vexilla regis prodeunt: Fulget crucis mysterium; "The royal banners forward go: The Cross shines forth its mystery." The reading at Vespers will repeat this morning's Communion Antiphon: "The ransom that freed you . . . was paid in the precious blood of Christ; no lamb was ever so pure, so spotless a victim" (1 P 1:19). Our gaze, directed by the liturgy, goes to the radiant mystery of the Cross and to the Blood of the Lamb, and remains there.

The Silence of the Word

Just a word on today's gospel. It is extraordinary in that it contains not a single word spoken by the Lord Jesus himself. The Word is silent while all around him others speak. Those who were listening to him speak. The police speak. The Pharisees speak. Nicodemus speaks. But the Word is silent, for "He came to what was his own, and they who were his own gave him no welcome" (Jn 1:11).

The Fall and Rise of Many in Israel

There is no agreement about Jesus and his mission; there is nothing but dissension, discussion and wrangling. "Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, believe me, I have come to bring dissension. Henceforward five in the same house will be found at variance, three against two and two against three" (Lk 12:51-52). Thus is the prophecy of Simeon to the Virgin Mary fulfilled: "Behold, this child is destined to bring about the fall of many and the rise of many in Israel; to be a sign which men will refuse to recognize; and so the thoughts of many hearts shall be made manifest; as for thy own soul, it shall have a sword to pierce it" (Lk 2:34-35).

Jesus is the sign of contradiction. He unsettles the established order. He disturbs the tranquil. He causes the complacent to ask questions. "Do not imagine that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have come to bring a sword, not peace" (Mt 10:34).

Listen

Often we experience dissension and wrangling within our own hearts! Often we hear within ourselves the voices of the many: voices of the faithless crowd, of the police, of the Pharisees, and of Nicodemus, voices of doubt, of accusation, of bewilderment, of contradiction, of inconsistency, of cautious acceptance and of refusal. And in the midst of all this speaking, the one voice of the Word falls silent, or rather, becomes inaudible except to the ear of the heart, for the silence of the Word speaks always to anyone who will be silent long enough to listen. Listen then, during this "great fortnight" to the silence of the Word.

Pater meus misit me

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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

Collegerunt

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?'"

Reason Veering Into Darkness

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.

The Perversion of Conscience

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).

That Those Who Do Not See May See

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).

The Radiance of His Face

Year after year at this time, the liturgy situates us in the same web of shadows and light, and compels us to take our stand with Christ, guided only by the radiance of His Face. To do this, we have all the remedies prepared by God for our frail nature, and adapted to it. The Collect calls them subsidia: subsidies, supports, reinforcements, strong helps. These are the Sacred Scriptures, the sacraments, the Lenten observances of fasting, almsgiving, and silence.

O God, who have prepared fitting supports for our frailty,
grant, we beseech you,
that we may receive their healing effect with joy,
and show it forth in a holy manner of life.

"Once you were in darkness," says Saint Paul, "but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light, for the fruit of light is found in all that is good, true, and right" (Eph 5:8-9). The fruits of light, fostered by the subsidia given us by God during Lent, are a serene obedience and a joyful humility.

The shadows that threaten will not prevail. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (Jn 1:5). The Postcommunion will sum up today's Mass:

Grant, we beseech you, Lord,
that as we pass over from bygone things to what is new,
we may also put aside our old ways and,
with minds made holy, be renewed.

The Secret and Hidden Wisdom of God

God waits for the "Yes" of a few frail but trusting souls, determined to go forward in obedience and littleness, determined, as the Postcommunion says, "to put aside our old ways and with minds made holy, be renewed." It is, after all, only with "minds made holy" that we can penetrate "the secret and hidden wisdom of God" (1 Cor 2:7), the wisdom of the poor and naked Christ, exposed for all to see on the tree of Calvary.

Venite Ad Aquas

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Tuesday Within 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.

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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 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 saints in this painting are Benedict, Francis, and Romuald. To read my commentary on it go here.

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

Hosea 14:2-10
Psalm 80:6c-8a, 8bc-9, 10-11ab, 14 and 17 (R. cf. 11 and 9a)
Mark 12:28b-34

Mid-Lent

Having arrived at the mid-point of Lent, the liturgy calls us to re-focus on what is essential: the charity without which nothing has value in the sight of God.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with the love of thy whole heart, and thy whole soul, and thy whole mind, and thy whole strength. This is the first commandment, and the second, its like, is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is no other commandment greater than these (Mk 12:30-31).

The Apostle on Charity

Saint Paul develops the words of Jesus and points to their implications. The saints understood him; I think, in particular, of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, and of her vocation to be nothing less than "Love at the heart of the Church":

I may speak with every tongue that men and angels use; yet, if I lack charity, I am no better than echoing bronze, or the clash of cymbals. I may have powers of prophecy, no secret hidden from me, no knowledge too deep for me; I may have utter faith, so that I can move mountains; yet if I lack charity I count for nothing. I may give away all that I have, to feed the poor; I may give myself up to be burnt at the stake; if I lack charity, it goes for nothing (1 Cor 13:1-3).

The Charity of Fire and of Blood

There is nothing soft about charity. Charity must not be confused with sentimental fluff. Charity is not conventional niceness. Charity is costly. Charity can never be traded against truth. Charity is not the vapid discourse of I'm OK; you're OK." Charity is fierce. Charity is an inpouring of fire and an outpouring of blood. Charity is the flame devouring Elijah's oblation on Mount Carmel: "The fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench" (1 K 18:38).

What was the reaction of the people when they saw this? "They fell on their faces; and they said, 'The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God" (1 K 18:39). Why? Because "God is love" (1 Jn 4:16) and in the presence of this fire from heaven, they were stricken in their hearts and thrown to the ground in adoration.

Love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned (Ct 8:6-7).

Come up to Jesus

The scribe who approaches Jesus to ask, "Which is the first commandment of all?" represents each of us. His question is our question. Observe this scribe closely. We have much to learn from him. He comes up to Jesus. Therein lies the beginning of wisdom. Come up to Jesus. Approach Him. Draw near to Him. If you would know what secrets lie hidden in His Sacred Heart, seek Him face to face.

The Decision to Ask for Light

The scribe puts his question to Jesus simply and sincerely. There is no concealed agenda here, no manipulative rhetoric, no double-talk. There is a desire to know the truth, a decision to ask for light. Jesus answers the scribe's question and, immediately, what does the scribe do? He repeats exactly what Jesus has said to him and applies it to himself: "Truly, Master, thou hast answered well; there is but one God and no other beside Him; and to love Him with the love of the whole heart, and the whole understanding, and the whole soul, and the whole strength, is a greater thing than all burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mk 12:32-34). "Then Jesus, seeing how wisely he had answered, said to him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God" (Mk 12:34).

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This devotion is the one that is most closely linked to the Eucharistic Sacrifice; like the Mass, it continues to recall to us the death of Jesus: "Mortem Domini annuntiabitis donec veniat -- You proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes" (1 Cor 11:26). Abbot Marmion on the Way of the Cross

If you have not yet purchased your copy of Blessed Columba Marmion's classic work, Christ in His Mysteries, visit Zacchaeus Press and do it now! Passiontide begins in less than two weeks, and you will want to read and meditate what are, to my mind, some of the most beautiful pages ever written on the Way of the Cross. In Christ in His Mysteries, Blessed Marmion offers a meditation and prayer for each of the stations of the Way of the Cross.

Dom Marmion's own devotion to the Stations of the Cross goes back to his seminary days at Holy Cross College in Ireland. There, the young Joe Marmion fell under the beneficent influence of the saintly Father John Gowan, a Lazarist. Faithful to Father Gowan's suggestion, Marmion never omitted his daily Way of the Cross.

During the last years of his life, Blessed Marmion made the practice of the Way of the Cross the object of a vow. Even on his deathbed, Dom Marmion endeavoured to make the Stations of the Cross to unite his last sufferings to those that marked the final hours of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Concerning the Way of the Cross, Blessed Marmion wrote:

After the Sacraments and liturgical worship I am convinced there is no practice more fruitful for our souls than the Way of the Cross made with devotion. Its supernatural efficacy is sovereign. The Passion is the "holy of holies" among the mysteries of Jesus, te pre-eminent work of our Supreme High Priest; it is there above all that His virtues shine forth, and when we contemplate Him in His sufferings He gives us according to the measure of our faith, the grace to practise the virtues that He manifested during these holy hours.
At each station Our Divine Saviour presents Himself to us in this triple character: as the Mediator Who saves us by His merits, the perfect Model of sublime virtues, and the efficacious Cause Who can, through His Divine Omnipotence, produce in our souls the virtues of which He gives us the example.

A few months before his death, Blessed Marmion wrote:

When I have worries, when things go wrong with me, when I endure aridity and dryness, it is enough for me to meditate on the Passion of Jesus in making the Way of the Cross in order to feel strengthened; it is like a bath in which my soul is plunged; it never comes away without its vigour and joy being renewed; it acts upon my soul like a sacrament.

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Third Sunday of Lent (A)

Exodus 17:3-7
Psalm 94: 1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Romans 5: 1-2, 5-8
John 4:5-42

March 15, 2009
Cathedral of the Holy Family
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Mercies Ever New

Today's Mass offers such a richness of images that a preacher hardly knows where to begin. This is one reason why the Church, in her wisdom, repeats the same texts and exposes our souls to the same images, year after year. The liturgy, even when it repeats the same words and gestures, is always new. The prophet Jeremiah says that, "the mercies of the Lord are new every morning" (Lam 3:23). And where do we receive those mercies ever-new most abundantly, if not from the altar in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

Casting Blame

In the First Reading we hear of a people grown weary and irritable: delivered out of oppression in Egypt, they found themselves trudging through the wilderness, a desolate place without water. Three things make people irritable: lack of sleep, lack of food, and lack of drink. In this case, their irritation turns to hostility. They murmur against Moses, their hero, their leader, their liberator. His approval ratings plunge. He is blamed for everything that has gone wrong.

Moses, the Friend of God

Moses, for his part, was only doing what God had told him to do. Moses, in spite of a checkered past -- you will recall that, as a young man, he murdered an Egyptian and then hid his body in the sand -- has become God's obedient servant. Even more, he has become God's friend. We read in Exodus 33:11 that "the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man is wont to speak to his friend." And Moses -- in spite of his ongoing struggle with anger management -- has become, according to Numbers 12:3, "exceeding meek above all men that dwelt upon earth."

Moses Cries to God

Moses turns to God in prayer. Note that the passage in question says that he "cried to the Lord" (Ex 17:4). This gives us an idea of the honesty and intensity of his prayer. The Lord answered his cry: He instructed Moses to strike the rock with his rod (the symbol of his authority). Thus were the people give an abundance of living water gushing from the rock.

Contention and Fault-Finding

Moses, nonetheless, wanted to mark the spot as a place of contention and fault-finding. And so he called it Massah and Meribah because there the people put God to the test by saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?"

The Passion of Christ and the Priest

There is not a single priest, from the Holy Father himself down to the lowliest pastor of souls in the poorest and most obscure of parishes, who has not, in some way, experienced what Moses did. When one represents Christ, one must expect to be blamed for the things that go wrong. One becomes a scapegoat, the target of bitter criticisms, and the object of all sorts of hostilities. This kind of suffering is intrinsic to the priestly vocation. How can the priest act "in the person of Christ" without sharing in His Passion, without being forced to cry to the Father, saying as did Moses, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me" (Ex 17:4).

The Holy Father's Letter

Last Tuesday, March 10th, Pope Benedict XVI addressed a letter to the Bishops of the world in which he expressed, with profound humility, the suffering caused him by the criticisms, hostility, and murmuring directed at him from all sides in the wake of his decision to reconcile four illicitly consecrated bishops to the Church. I can almost see the Holy Father kneeling in his private chapel, asking the Lord, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me" (Ex 17:4). In our day, of course, stoning assumes a more sophisticated but no less lethal form. The projectiles are launched primarily by the media.

Allow me, for a moment, to quote from the Holy Father's letter: "At times," he says, "one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them - in this case the Pope - he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint."

Unity in Charity

In the prevailing social and political climate, it is more than ever necessary to remain united in charity to the leaders set over us by God: the lay faithful to their deacons and priests; deacons and priests to their bishops; and bishops to the Holy Father. Those who shepherd us in the name of Christ and with His Heart will always experience weariness, rejection, and moral suffering, but these things become easier to bear when the family of the Church is a reconciled family, one in which pardon is readily given and received, one in which unity is the fruit of sacrificial love.
The Weariness of Jesus

Moving now to the Gospel, I should like to call your attention to the weariness of Our Lord. 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). The image is profoundly moving: the weariness of a wayfaring Jesus. Not for nothing does the liturgy present us with it 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 reminds us that the journey of God towards us precedes even our first step towards Him. God desires us before we begin to desire Him. God looks for us before we begin to look for Him. God thirsts for us before we begin to thirst for Him.

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 reveals the thirst of man for God, and the thirst of God for man. "Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the scripture), 'I thirst'" (Jn 19:28).

Thirst Divine and Human

This mystery too -- God's thirst for man, and man's thirst for God -- is integral to the life of every priest, to the life of our own Bishop, and to the life of the Holy Father. When the priest stands at the altar facing God, he bears within himself the spiritual thirst of every soul entrusted to his care. He presents that thirst to God; he offers his own heart as an empty chalice waiting to be filled by a spring of living water. And when the priest, turns from the altar to face the people, he bears within himself God's thirst for each one of you. So often as the priest turns to face you, he represents the Eternal High Priest who, from the Cross, said, "I thirst." And the thirst of the Crucified is for you: for your faith, for your hope, and above all, for your love.

The Sacrament That Quenches Every Thirst

Every Mass is a singular opportunity for you to quench the thirst of God. And every Mass is the mystery of Moses' striking the rock fulfilled, for in the Sacrifice of the Mass, the side of Jesus is opened by the soldier's lance. A torrent of Blood and of Water gush out to fill the chalice . . . and you, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion taste of that living stream that alone can quench the heart's most burning thirsts.

Scrutinies

A word to those of you who are here for the Scrutinies, preparing to be received into the Church in the holy and glorious night of Pascha: live well these remaining weeks of Lent. Meditate the thirst of the Crucified. He thirsts for a drink that only you can give him, a drink drawn not out of a well, but out of the depths of your soul. And thirst for God. Feel that thirst; it is a blessing. You will be given to drink in proportion to your thirst. Pray with the psalmist the very words that we will sing at the Easter Vigil: "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. As a deer longs for running streams, so longs my soul for you, O God" (Ps 41:2-3).

God's Desire From the Beginning

And to those here who were baptized and confirmed and received their First Holy Communion ten or twenty or thirty, or fifty, or sixty, or seventy or more years ago, I say, never lose your thirst for God. He has never lost His thirst for you. Approach the Holy Mysteries yearning for the Gift of God, the living water promised by Our Lord to the woman at the well. You will not be disappointed. And God, Who thirsts for you, will find in you the "adorers in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:24) that He has desired from the beginning.

Searching the Scriptures

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Francesco di Giorgio Martin (1439-1502) painted this disrobing of Our Lord in His Passion. The youthful aspect of Christ recalls Joseph, who was also stripped by his brothers before being cast into a cistern, and then sold to traders from Midian.

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a
Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46


Did You Never Read in the Scriptures?

The question that Our Lord puts to chief priests and Pharisees in today's Gospel is addressed to us as well. Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures; 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?'" (Mt 21:42). There is irony in His question. The chief priests and Pharisees were great readers of the Scriptures; they knew the psalms very well, probably by heart. They studied the Scriptures and recited the psalms without recognizing in them the One whose mystery they reveal.

Everything Written About Me

In Saint John, Our Lord says, "You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to Me; yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life" (Jn 5:39). In Saint Luke, He makes this quite clear: "Everything written about Me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled" (Lk 24:45).

Innocence Restored

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Restorer and Lover of Innocence

The circle of the year brings us back to one of the most beautiful Collects of the Lenten series:

O God, the restorer and lover of innocence,
direct the hearts of Thy servants unto Thyself:
that being enkindled with the fire of Thy Spirit,
they may be found both steadfast in faith and fruitful in deed.

I have always related this Collect to that given for the feast of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga (depicted in the image above) on June 21st:

O God who, in distributing Thy heavenly gifts,
didst in the angelic young man Aloysius,
join wonderful innocence of life with an equal spirit of penitence,
grant through his merits and prayers,
that we who have not followed him in his innocence,
may imitate his penitence.

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The Collect for Saint Aloysius, in turn, brings to mind yet another prayer, a devotional one that I learned as a small boy attending the Novena in honour of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal with my Grandmother Kirby. (She knew all the prayers by heart. I remember her saying them with real heartfelt devotion.) Here is the relevant part of the prayer:

You know, O Mary,
how often our souls have been
the sanctuaries of you Son who hates iniquity.
Obtain for us then a deep hatred of sin
and that purity of heart which will attach us to God alone
so that our every thought, word and deed
may tend to His greater glory.
Obtain for us also a spirit of prayer and self-denial
that we may recover by penance
what we have lost by sin

and at length attain to that blessed abode
where you are the Queen of angels and of men.

Hope for Every Heart

There is great comfort in addressing God, with the Church, as "the restorer and lover of innocence. . . ." God loves innocence and, loving it, wants to restore it wherever it has been compromised, corrupted, stained, or stolen. It is indeed a beautiful thing to call God "the lover of innocence," but it is even more beautiful to call him "the restorer of innocence." The heart, even the most desperately sick of hearts, can begin to beat with hope again in hearing God addressed in this way. For our God, "the restorer and lover of innocence," no heart is beyond redemption.

Ad Te

Today's Lenten Collect goes on to make its petition: "direct the hearts of Thy servants unto Thyself." Dirige ad te tuorum corda servorum, says the Latin text; it means, "direct the hearts of your servants towards Thyself," or "put the hearts of Thy servants in the way that goes straight toward Thee." Saint Augustine's unforgettable words from the beginning of The Confessions come to mind: "Thou has made us toward thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in thee." The human heart is easily misdirected; we ask God to put our hearts on the track of happiness, to direct them toward himself. We ask Him, in a word, to convert our hearts.

The Fire of the Holy Spirit

The Collect then adds, "that being enkindled with the fire of your Spirit. . . ." It is striking, this allusion to the fervour or fire of the Holy Spirit in the second week of Lent. The fire of the Holy Spirit is an image more usually associated with the liturgy of Pentecost. What today's Collect suggests is that as soon as a heart is directed to God, "the restorer and lover of innocence," it is warmed by the Holy Spirit.

The heart directed away from God is like a house with no southern exposure. The heart with no Godward exposure becomes a cold heart. Lenten conversion places us, like so many little chicks, under the Spirit's brooding wing, there to be warmed by divine love. I recall the plea of the Pentecost sequence: Fove quod est frigidum -- "Warm with Thy love our hearts so cold."

Once warmed by the Holy Spirit, the heart begins to change. The heart touched by the fire of the Holy Spirit will be firm and steadfast in faith. Firm in faith, it will become effective in deed. We can take "effective" here to mean fruitful. "By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples" (Jn 15:8).

No One Beyond Remedy

"The heart," says Jeremiah, "is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt" (Jer 17:9). Were it not for the revelation of the God of Mercy, the Lover and Restorer of Innocence, the knowledge of one's own corruption would plunge one into despair. Saint Benedict echoes all of Scripture and the experience of the saints when he enjoins us: "Never to despair of God's mercy" (RB 4:74). The God who loves innocence will always find a way to restore it. No one, absolutely no one, is unsalvageable.

Recordare

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Wednesday Within the Second Week of Lent

Jeremiah 18: 18-20
Matthew 20: 17-28

Beata Passio

On Sunday last we celebrated the Transfiguration of the Lord. Today, three days later, the liturgy sets before us the mystery of His beata Passio, as the Roman Canon calls it, His blessed Passion. The Passion of Our Lord is as blessed as it was bitter; its bitterness contains the source of all blessedness, that is, of all our bliss, of eternal beatitude.

The Prayer of Jeremiah

The prophet Jeremiah threatened, hated, and rejected by his enemies, is a figure of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The First Reading gives us Jeremiah's prayer in great anguish:

Give heed to me, O Lord,
and listen to my plea . . .
Remember how I stood before Thee to speak good for them,
to turn away Thy wrath from them.

The Prayer of Jesus

Jeremiah's prayer announces the prayer of Jesus 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). From the Cross, Jesus interceded for those who hated Him, and for those who nailed Him to the awful Tree: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34). Down through the ages, the Holy Spirit has moved the Church to enter into the prayer of Christ: to pray as He prayed.

The Prayer of Mary

So deeply did today's text from Jeremiah penetrate the heart of the Church that it became the Offertory Antiphon of the Mass of September 15th, the feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Recordare, Virgo Mater Dei . . .
Be mindful, O Virgin Mother of God,
when thou standest in the sight of the Lord,
to speak good things for us,
and to turn away His anger from us.

The Church recognizes in the Mother of Sorrows the New Eve, the Woman in whom the whole mystery of the Church is contained and revealed. The prayer of Christ becomes her prayer. Mary, the spotless image of the Church, stands with her Son in ceaseless intercession, "since He always lives to make intercession for those who draw near to God through Him" (cf. Heb 7:25). The prayer of Mary passes entirely into the prayer of Jesus, and His prayer passes entirely into hers.

Et ad salutaria dirigatur

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Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

Isaiah 1:10, 16-20
Iacta cogitatum tuum, GR, 92.
Matthew 23: 1-12

Sighs Too Deep for Words

Today's Collect articulates for us those "sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26) by which the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with the Father from the heart of the Church. What do we pray today?

Keep Thy Church, we beseech Thee, O Lord,
in Thy unfailing grace;
and since without Thee mortal flesh cannot but fall,
help us ever to withdraw from hurtful things
and guide us towards those which are wholesome.

Keep your Church

The Latin text begins with the word, "Custodi." It means to watch over, to keep in sight, to safeguard, to hold close. The versicle at Compline uses the same verb: Custodi nos, Domine, ut pupillam oculi, "Keep us, O Lord, as the apple of Thine eye" (Ps 16:8). We ask God to hold us close, to keep us safe in a grace that never fails, a grace for every weakness, every sin, every circumstance, every moment in life.

Propitiation

We beg God to keep his Church in his unfailing grace. The Latin word here is not gratia but propitiatio. Propitiation means mercy, clemency, favour, or even atonement. We speak of being in someone's good graces. Grace is the favour of God, the assurance of his mercy and atonement. Christ is our atoning Victim, the priest of the sacrifice of propitiation. Christ, our "high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens" (Heb 7:26) is the propitiation of God. "Therefore we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus"(Heb 10:19). "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb 4:16).

Saint Paul calls Christ the "propitiation" set forth by God (cf. Rm 3:25). Christ is "a merciful and faithful high priest before God, that he might be a propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb 2:17). The deeper meaning of today's Collect is revealed in the mystery of the perpetual propitiation renewed in every Mass: the atoning sacrifice of Christ, Priest and Victim.

Lapses and Relapses

The Collect goes on to say something about us: "since without Thee mortal flesh cannot but fall. . . ." The Latin word labitur translated as fall means to lapse or to relapse. It means to go wrong, to slip down or slide back. Is that being unduly pessimistic? It seems to me, in the light of my own experience of human frailty, of mortalitas, to be perfectly realistic. The spiritual journey is marked by lapses and relapses, and sometimes by re-relapses.

Thy Face, O Lord, Do I Seek

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Second Sunday of Lent B

Mark 9:2-10
Romans 8:31-34
Psalm 115: 10.15-19. R. Ps 114:9
Genesis 22:1-2.9-13.15-18.

Cathedral of the Holy Family
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Eyes for the Face of Christ

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. The Church has left the wastelands of the Judean desert for the heights of Mount Thabor. The liturgy invites us to fix our eyes on the Face of the Transfigured Christ, shining more brightly than the sun. This is the whole reason for today's magnificent Entrance Antiphon: "True to my heart's promise, I have eyes only for Thy Face,Thy Face, O Lord, do I seek. Do not hide Thy Face from me." (Ps 26:8-9)

Conversion and Joy

Think about it. When you want to know what your friend holds in his heart, you study his face. Today the Church would have us look upon the Face of Jesus to our heart's content to discover there all the secrets of His Heart. What do I read on the Face of the Transfigured Christ? When I gaze upon His Face I read there Love's pressing invitation to conversion and to joy.

A Lamp Shining in A Dark Place

When a parent is expecting a child to come home in the late hours of the night . . . or in the early hours of the morning, he leaves a light on in the window or on the front porch. That light is not merely functional; it says "This is your home. We are waiting for you. You are loved." The Eternal Father, too, has left a light burning for us: it is the radiance that shines from the Face of the Transfigured Christ. Thus, Saint Peter says: "You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 P 1:19).

Lead, Kindly Light

Orient your steps in the direction of that inextinguishable Light, and you will, even though it be night, find your way home to the Father's house. This was John Henry Cardinal Newman's experience:

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on.
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

That "kindly Light" is what Saint Paul calls: "the glory of God shining on the face of Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). Do you remember when Thomas said to Jesus, "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" (Jn 14:5) Jesus said to Him, "I am the way . . . no one comes to the Father, but by me." (Jn 14:7).

Turning and Returning

Love invites us to conversion. Conversion is at once a turning and a returning. Conversion is a turning toward the radiant Face of the Son, and then a returning through Him, in the Holy Spirit, to the Father's house or, rather, to the Father's bosom, to the Father's heart of hearts. Only there will be truly at home, for there Love created us to be, to dwell, to live eternally. "Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God," said one wanderer in the night -- Saint Augustine -- "and our hearts are restless until they come to rest in Thee."

Ascension

All of this being said, Lent cannot be described, nor it can it be experienced, in terms of conversion alone. Lent is also about ascension. "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem" (Mt 20:18), says the Lord; and again, "I am leaving the world and going to the Father" (Jn 16:28). Only a shortsighted vision of Lent fails to see it in terms of ascension to the Father, and therefore, in terms of joy. "I am leaving the world," says Jesus, "and going to the Father" (Jn 16:28).

Swept Up Into the Love of Things Invisible

It is impossible to focus on the Face of Jesus without being caught up in His ascension to the Father. One of the Prefaces of Christmas sings: "As we come to know God made visible in the Word made flesh, we are swept up as well into the love of things invisible"(Christmas Preface I). Conversion to Christ and ascension into the joy of the Father -- both experienced by the grace of the Holy Spirit -- are what Lent is all about.

Abraham

The First Reading traces for us the movement of ascension. God called to Abraham, and Abraham, lending the ear of his heart to the Word, replied: "Here am I" (Gen 22:1). This is the movement of conversion, but it is not enough. Conversion without ascension is incomplete. God's most passionate desire is that we should be with Him even as the Son is with the Father. Jesus prayed for this on the night before He suffered: "Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory" (Jn 17:24).

The Wood of the Cross

And so Abraham, having heeded the voice of God, takes his only son with him, sets out and goes to the land of Moriah, to offer his son in sacrifice. "On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off" (Gen 22:4). Leaving behind his attendants, having laid the wood of sacrifice upon his son Isaac -- a figure of Jesus bearing the wood of the cross -- and carrying with him the fire of the holocaust, Abraham ascends the mountain. Look closely at the text. What do you see there? The father, the son, the fire . . . and the wood. In the father, the son and the fire, we contemplate an obscure and mysterious foreshadowing of the saving Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Fire of the Holy Spirit. In the wood, we already see the mystery of the Cross.

The Father's Love

The lonely high place, destined to be the scene of a bloody immolation, becomes instead, at the last moment, the scene of an epiphany of God's saving love, "a love stronger than death" (Ct 8:6). God says to Abraham, "You have not withheld your son, your only son from Me" (Gen 22: 12). If Abraham, a man, is capable of such selfless love, what then are we to say of Abraham's God? Abraham on Mount Moriah is an icon -- a human portrayal -- of the Father's selfless love, the very love revealed in the brightness of Mount Thabor and then in the darkness of that other lonely height called Golgotha.

To the Summit of Sacrificial Love

In Abraham the Father bares His heart to us. God withholds nothing, and in giving us His only Son, He gives us everything. "Since God did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over for us all, how will He not give us everything else along with Him?" (Rom 8:31). The grace of conversion is given us, as it was given Abraham, in view of an ascension to the very summit of sacrificial love, and to a joy that no one will take from us.

Follow Me

We find the same movement in the Gospel. In the verses immediately preceding today's passage, Jesus called His disciples to conversion: "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Mk 8:34): conversion. "And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves" (Mk 9:2): ascension.

Ascension into Joy

The gaze of Peter, James and John is riveted on the Face of the praying Jesus shining like the sun (Mt 17:2). Contemplating the Face of Jesus transfigured, the apostles are drawn upward after Him toward the Father. Seeing Jesus pray, Peter, James and John enter into that prayer. The bright cloud envelops them too. The summit of all prayer is to be lost in the prayer of Christ to the Father, to be overshadowed by the cloud of the Spirit. Every little step of conversion we make -- not only in prayer, but also in every action of sacrificial love (fasting, almsgiving, patience, pardon) -- is the beginning of an ascension into joy.

To the Altar

The very pattern of the Mass is one of conversion and ascension. In the first part of the Mass we listen to the voice of Christ and gaze upon His Face shining in the Scriptures. The purpose of the homily is to make us ready to ascend to the altar. There, in the second part of the Mass, at the altar, we will look upon Our Lord's Eucharistic Face.

There is a reason why our Catholic altars are traditionally elevated by several steps. This is not an architectural convention; it is a theological statement. Every sacred mountain in history points to the altar where Our Lord's sacrifice is made present. In every Mass the altar is Abraham's Mount Moriah; the altar is Moses' Mount Sinai; the altar is Elijah's Mount Carmel. The altar is Mount Thabor; the altar is Golgotha; and the altar is the mountain of Jesus' Ascension.

The Joy for Which Love Created You

The altar is all of this because it is the place where for us, here and now, the Father, and the Son, and the Fire, and the Wood of the Cross will be made present. Turn toward God and be converted; ascend toward God, and ascending, taste the joy for which Love created you.

Feast of the Via Crucis

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In the traditional Franciscan calendar, the First Friday of March is kept as the feast of the Via Crucis, the Way of the Cross. The texts of the Proper Office for the feast are magnificent; most of them are taken from Isaiah 52:13 --53:12. I was especially pleased to note that in the Franciscan Breviary's Third Lesson at Matins of the feast, the sons of Saint Francis recognize the role played by Saint Bernard, the Abbot of Clairvaux, in the development of devotion to the Passion.

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Saint Bernard, the "most contagious" abbot of the 12th century, had inflamed the hearts of his monks with love for the Suffering Christ. By means of his widely circulated sermons and other writings, Cistercian devotion to the Passion ran across Europe like a fire in stubble.

"My beloved is to me a little bundle of myrrh." From the early days of my conversion, conscious of my grave lack of merits, I made sure to gather for myself this little bundle of myrrh. It was culled from all the anxious hours and bitter experiences of my Lord. . . . there were the insults, the spitting, the blows, the mockery, the scorn, the nails, and similar torments, and all for the salvation of our race. Among the little branches of this perfumed myrrh I feel we must not forget the myrrh which He drank upon the cross and was used for His anointing at burial. In the first of these he took upon Himself the bitterness of my sins, in the second He affirmed the future incorruption of my body. As long as I live I shall proclaim the abounding goodness in these events; for all eternity I shall not forget these mercies, for in them I have found life. (Saint Bernard, On the Song of Songs, 43).

Following Saint Bernard and the other 12th century Cistercian authors, Saint Francis and his followers immersed themselves in the mystery of the Passion. Devotion to the suffering Christ is characteristic of the Franciscan spirit. Saint Bonaventure intensified this heritage and fostered its development by the Seraphic Order's best preachers. Meditation on the Lord's Passion found an effective and fruitful expression in the Way of the Cross, an exercise that allowed the faithful to follow in spirit the sorrowful way taken by Our Lord in Jerusalem. Saint Leonard of Port Maurice promoted the Way of the Cross. Stations of the Cross became a characteristic feature of the Catholic Churches. Through the ages the Popes have enriched the Way of the Cross with precious indulgences.

The antiphons at Vespers are full of compunction:

1. Christ suffered for our sakes, and left us his own example; we were to follow in his footsteps.

2. He did no wrong, no treachery was found on his lips.

3. He was ill spoken of, and spoke no evil in return, suffered, and did not threaten vengeance, gave himself up into the hands of injustice.

4. So, on the cross, his own body took the weight of our sins; we were to become dead to our sins, and live for holiness; it was his wounds that healed us.

5. Till then, we have been like sheep going astray; now, we have been brought back to him, our shepherd, who keeps watch over our souls.

Praying for Conversion

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Monday of the First Week of Lent

Convert us, O God our salvation,
and, so that we may profit by this work of forty days,
form our minds by Thy heavenly instruction.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.

Convert Us, O God

Today's Collect is unusual in that it begins directly with a verse from Psalm 84: "Convert us, O God our salvation" (Ps 84:5). A dangerous request. One has to be bold and not a little foolish to make such a prayer, or distracted, or inattentive to what one is saying, or lulled by pious routine into thinking that words are just words and that the things we say to God are, in the final analysis, without any real effect on our lives. "Convert us, O God our salvation" (Ps 84:5). What if God were to take us seriously and do it?

Note that we do not say, "Help us to convert ourselves"; that would be a safe little prayer. It would leave us free to turn to God and away from sin at our own pace, in our own way. It would leave us a margin of comfort and a way out of what Saint Benedict calls "the things that are hard and repugnant to nature in the way to God" (RB 53:8). But that is not what the psalm says nor is it what the Church makes us pray today. Instead, if we are obedient to the "givenness" of the liturgy, we are obliged willy-nilly to take a deep breath and say what, left to ourselves, we would not have the courage to say: "Convert us, O God our saviour" (Ps 84:5).

Do Thou In Us Things We Dare Not Do

This prayer makes the old self in us tremble with fear. The old self senses that, by uttering such a prayer, its days are numbered and its very existence threatened. We are asking God to do in us the hard things that we dare not do. We are asking God to take away from us the very things from which we cannot bear to part. We are asking God to intervene, to step in, turn us around, and change us. There is nothing reassuring, nothing cozy, nothing safe about such a prayer. It makes us vulnerable. Who is to say what God will do once we have given Him permission to convert us?

Deus, Salutaris Noster

But there is something else in that one line. We pray, "Convert us, O God our salvation" -- Converte nos, Deus salutaris noster. The God we ask to convert us is our healing, our wholeness, our restoration to well-being. We approach him then as one sick approaches a physician, saying, "Do whatever is necessary to make me well." The remedy may be painful. It may involve a long therapy or a regime of medication with unpleasant side effects. It may require incision, surgical removal of the affected parts or even amputation. In giving God permission to treat us, to convert us, we focus not on the treatment but on its end result: health, wholeness, peace of mind and heart, holiness.

My translation of a Lenten Office hymn puts it this way:

The hidden wound whence flow our sins,
Wash clean by bathing in the tide;
Remove the things that, of ourselves,
We cannot reach, or put aside.

Little Vengeances

Should God answer our prayer what sort of things might we expect? Hearts purged of the thorns of hatred and of the need to plot revenge. Revenge? Not in a monastery, you say! Alas, even in a monastery, one can find the sickening sweetness of revenge irresistible.

I speak not of enormous, violent acts, but of the little act of vengeance, the barely perceptible act of revenge. "Aha! He got what was coming to him!" In monasteries nowadays we rarely seek revenge overtly. Monks no longer brandish the sword or conceal the dagger. Abbots are no longer ambushed on the dormitory staircase; prioresses no longer poisoned at their own table. We are content with the nasty little pinch, the discreet pinprick, the razor-like word, the withering glance. Ask God to convert you, and all of that will have to go.

The First Sunday of Lent

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Cathedral of the Holy Family
Tulsa, Oklahoma
March 1, 2009

Draw Me After Thee

The First Sunday of Lent sets before us the mystery of Our Lord's forty-day fast in the wilderness. But we are not here as spectators. We haven't come to church to gaze on the temptations of Christ from a safe distance. We have been baptized into Christ, and so the mysteries of Christ are our mysteries. All that has happened to the Head must be embodied -- played out -- in us, His members. The Church borrows the words of the bride in the Song of Songs and addresses them to Christ. "Draw me after Thee," she says, "let us make haste." (Ct 1:4).

Christ in the Wilderness

This is exactly what is happening in today's Mass. Jesus is drawing us after Himself into the desert of His temptations, His hunger, and His thirst. The fasting of Jesus is ours. The prayer of Jesus is ours. The temptations of Jesus are ours. The Church, during the forty days of Lent, is Christ in the wilderness.

The Voice of the Father

Saint Mark's account of Our Lord's temptation in the wilderness is short -- only two verses -- but it is packed with meaning. It follows his account of Jesus' baptism: His going down into the Jordan and His coming up from the water; the heavens opening over His head and the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove; the voice of the Father saying: "Thou art my beloved Son; with Thee I am well pleased." (Mk 1:11).

The voice of the Father at Jesus' baptism recalls the voice of the God speaking to Noah and his sons in the First Reading and, beyond that, it recalls the voice heard in the garden of paradise on the sixth day of creation: the voice of the Father after He had created man in his image and likeness. "And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen 1:31).

In Paradise

In the beginning, Adam was the Father's beloved son, the delight of His eyes, and Eve was full of grace, lovely in the eyes her Creator. In both of them the Father beheld, as in a mirror, the image of his Eternal Word, His only-begotten Son. And the Father was well pleased.

Original Sin

And then tragedy struck. Sin. Adam and Eve turned their backs on the One Who gave them life. They wanted to be "free" -- the old lie -- of the embrace of Love itself. Instead of raising their hands to the Giver of every good gift, they began to tighten their fists around the things that caught their eye or excited their pleasure.

God created our first parents with their eyes on Him but, tempted and deceived by Satan, they chose to look away from the Face of God and to narrow their field of vision to themselves and to the things they wanted or thought they needed. And so, all of creation fell out of balance into chaos, out of harmony into strife, out of communion into division. And this was the great primeval tragedy: the original sin.

Into the Wastelands of Sin

How could Love remain silent when confronted with the wreckage of His creation? With the voice of one wounded by an unspeakable sorrow, trembling with the grief of a Creator spurned by his creatures, God said, "Adam, where are you?" (Gn 3:9) Then, Adam and Eve were driven out of Paradise into the wastelands of their sin, into a desert wilderness.

The New Adam

This is where today's Gospel comes in. Saint Mark wants us to see Jesus as the New Adam. He makes a point of saying: "He was in the wilderness . . . and he was with the wild beasts." (Mk 1:13).

See the new Adam, driven into the desert wilderness in search of the old. Jesus goes alone into the desert of all our refusals of the Father's Will to reclaim it by his obedience. He goes into the desert to make it flower again by His unconditional "Yes," to purify it by His fasting, to irrigate it by His prayer, to render it fertile by His temptation, to vanquish it by His weakness, to make it a place of communion by His solitude, and a place of dialogue by His silence. Because Jesus is there, the barren wastes of the desert become the garden of the Father's delight.

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The Holy Father's Lenten Message was released in time for Septuagesima Sunday. This gives us three weeks to hear it, ponder it, and decide how we are going to put it into practice.

Will the Holy Father's Message reach the faithful? What measures might be taken to assure that Catholics the world over actually hear what the Holy Father is saying in this Lenten Message? Dare I make some suggestions?

At the Diocesan Level:

1) Publish the Message on the diocesan website and in the diocesan newspaper.
2) My Lords, order that the Message be read and commented from the pulpit in all the parish churches of your dioceses, on one Sunday, or spread over three Sundays (Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima). I say, "order," my Lords; don't suggest. Suggestions go nowhere.

At the Parish Level:

1) Follow through on No. 2 above.
2) Print the text in a three part series in the parish bulletin over three Sundays (Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima).
3) Address the importance of fasting in the confessional and from the pulpit.
4) Present Lenten fasting at every level of the parish religious education program.

In Religious and Monastic Communities:

1) Read the text publicly in chapter, at a community meeting, or in the refectory.
2) Make a copy of the text available to every member of the community.
3) After prayer and listening to all from the eldest to the youngest, let the superior prudently decide on the most suitable way to implement the Message in the community's life this Lent.

In Families:

Work out an adaptation of the above (for religious and monastic communities) adapted to the age span and capacities of each family.

The subtitles in boldface are my own.

MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
FOR LENT 2009


Means to the Restoration of a Lost Innocence

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

At the beginning of Lent, which constitutes an itinerary of more intense spiritual training, the Liturgy sets before us again three penitential practices that are very dear to the biblical and Christian tradition - prayer, almsgiving, fasting - to prepare us to better celebrate Easter and thus experience God's power that, as we shall hear in the Paschal Vigil, "dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy, casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride" (Paschal Præconium).

Fasting

For this year's Lenten Message, I wish to focus my reflections especially on the value and meaning of fasting. Indeed, Lent recalls the forty days of our Lord's fasting in the desert, which He undertook before entering into His public ministry. We read in the Gospel: "Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry" (Mt 4,1-2). Like Moses, who fasted before receiving the tablets of the Law (cf. Ex 34,28) and Elijah's fast before meeting the Lord on Mount Horeb (cf. 1 Kings 19,8), Jesus, too, through prayer and fasting, prepared Himself for the mission that lay before Him, marked at the start by a serious battle with the tempter.

Fasting in the Old Testament

We might wonder what value and meaning there is for us Christians in depriving ourselves of something that in itself is good and useful for our bodily sustenance. The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with occasions that invite fasting. In the very first pages of Sacred Scripture, the Lord commands man to abstain from partaking of the prohibited fruit: "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die" (Gn 2, 16-17). Commenting on the divine injunction, Saint Basil observes that "fasting was ordained in Paradise," and "the first commandment in this sense was delivered to Adam." He thus concludes: " 'You shall not eat' is a law of fasting and abstinence" (cf. Sermo de jejunio: PG 31, 163, 98). Since all of us are weighed down by sin and its consequences, fasting is proposed to us as an instrument to restore friendship with God. Such was the case with Ezra, who, in preparation for the journey from exile back to the Promised Land, calls upon the assembled people to fast so that "we might humble ourselves before our God" (8,21). The Almighty heard their prayer and assured them of His favor and protection. In the same way, the people of Nineveh, responding to Jonah's call to repentance, proclaimed a fast, as a sign of their sincerity, saying: "Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?" (3,9). In this instance, too, God saw their works and spared them.

Fasting in the New Testament

In the New Testament, Jesus brings to light the profound motive for fasting, condemning the attitude of the Pharisees, who scrupulously observed the prescriptions of the law, but whose hearts were far from God. True fasting, as the divine Master repeats elsewhere, is rather to do the will of the Heavenly Father, who "sees in secret, and will reward you" (Mt 6,18). He Himself sets the example, answering Satan, at the end of the forty days spent in the desert that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Mt 4,4). The true fast is thus directed to eating the "true food," which is to do the Father's will (cf. Jn 4,34). If, therefore, Adam disobeyed the Lord's command "of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat," the believer, through fasting, intends to submit himself humbly to God, trusting in His goodness and mercy.

Fasting in the Tradition of the Church

The practice of fasting is very present in the first Christian community (cf. Acts 13,3; 14,22; 27,21; 2 Cor 6,5). The Church Fathers, too, speak of the force of fasting to bridle sin, especially the lusts of the "old Adam," and open in the heart of the believer a path to God. Moreover, fasting is a practice that is encountered frequently and recommended by the saints of every age. Saint Peter Chrysologus writes: "Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God's ear to yourself" (Sermo 43: PL 52, 320. 322).

Fasting Today

In our own day, fasting seems to have lost something of its spiritual meaning, and has taken on, in a culture characterized by the search for material well-being, a therapeutic value for the care of one's body. Fasting certainly bring benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a "therapy" to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God.

Towards the Rediscovery of Fasting

In the Apostolic Constitution Pænitemini of 1966, the Servant of God Paul VI saw the need to present fasting within the call of every Christian to "no longer live for himself, but for Him who loves him and gave himself for him ... he will also have to live for his brethren" (cf. Ch. I). Lent could be a propitious time to present again the norms contained in the Apostolic Constitution, so that the authentic and perennial significance of this long held practice may be rediscovered, and thus assist us to mortify our egoism and open our heart to love of God and neighbor, the first and greatest Commandment of the new Law and compendium of the entire Gospel (cf. Mt 22, 34-40).

Out of One's Twisted and Tangled Knottiness

The faithful practice of fasting contributes, moreover, to conferring unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord. Saint Augustine, who knew all too well his own negative impulses, defining them as "twisted and tangled knottiness" (Confessions, II, 10.18), writes: "I will certainly impose privation, but it is so that he will forgive me, to be pleasing in his eyes, that I may enjoy his delightfulness" (Sermo 400, 3, 3: PL 40, 708). Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.

Compassionate Fasting

At the same time, fasting is an aid to open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live. In his First Letter, Saint John admonishes: "If anyone has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need, yet shuts up his bowels of compassion from him - how does the love of God abide in him?" (3,17). Voluntary fasting enables us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends low and goes to the help of his suffering brother (cf. Encyclical Deus caritas est, 15). By freely embracing an act of self-denial for the sake of another, we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger.

It is precisely to keep alive this welcoming and attentive attitude towards our brothers and sisters that I encourage the parishes and every other community to intensify in Lent the custom of private and communal fasts, joined to the reading of the Word of God, prayer and almsgiving. From the beginning, this has been the hallmark of the Christian community, in which special collections were taken up (cf. 2 Cor 8-9; Rm 15, 25-27), the faithful being invited to give to the poor what had been set aside from their fast (Didascalia Ap., V, 20,18). This practice needs to be rediscovered and encouraged again in our day, especially during the liturgical season of Lent.

An Arm in Spiritual Combat

From what I have said thus far, it seems abundantly clear that fasting represents an important ascetical practice, a spiritual arm to do battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves. Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire human person. Quite opportunely, an ancient hymn of the Lenten liturgy exhorts: "Utamur ergo parcius, / verbis cibis et potibus, / somno, iocis et arctius / perstemus in custodia - Let us use sparingly words, food and drink, sleep and amusements. May we be more alert in the custody of our senses."

With Mary, the Cause of Our Joy

Dear brothers and sisters, it is good to see how the ultimate goal of fasting is to help each one of us, as the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wrote, to make the complete gift of self to God (cf. Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 21). May every family and Christian community use well this time of Lent, therefore, in order to cast aside all that distracts the spirit and grow in whatever nourishes the soul, moving it to love of God and neighbor. I am thinking especially of a greater commitment to prayer, lectio divina, recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and active participation in the Eucharist, especially the Holy Sunday Mass. With this interior disposition, let us enter the penitential spirit of Lent. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Causa nostrae laetitiae, accompany and support us in the effort to free our heart from slavery to sin, making it evermore a "living tabernacle of God." With these wishes, while assuring every believer and ecclesial community of my prayer for a fruitful Lenten journey, I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 11 December 2008.

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

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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