Thursday, February 22, 2018

February 22 2018 - Chair of Peter - Unity and Peace and Enkindling the Fire of Charity

Just over a week into the Lenten of season, white vestments are donned, the Gloria is sung, as we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of Peter. Since its earliest days, the Roman Church has especially commemorated the authority of the Petrine office—that the successor of St. Peter continues a ministry of the utmost importance to the Church of Christ.

The Opening Prayer spoke of how God protects us from the tempests, the storms of the world, by founding the Church on the rock of Peter’s confession of faith. The successors of Peter, the Popes, throughout the century have helped the Church maintain faithfulness to the authentic Gospel, through heresies, schisms, the rise of false religions, atheistic ideologies. The faithfulness of the Pope to the Word of God will enable the Church to outlast every earthly enemy—individual, nation, or rival religion. In fact, he leads to the Church in driving back the darkness, driving back the errors, beating back and knocking down the gates and ramparts of hell.

This feast falling during the season of Lent is significant. Much of our attention throughout Lent is interior: am I fasting enough, am I praying enough, am I giving enough. Yet a universal feast, such as this, causes us to look for help outside ourselves. We have had some of the holiest Popes in Church history just this last century.

We do well to reflect on the words and example of St. Pius X, Venerable Pius XII, St. John XXIII, Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II. Personally, this Lent I am reading through a series of meditation from the writings of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who always offers such a clear and penetrating insight for me.

The current Holy Father, Pope Francis, offered a beautiful reflection for the beginning of Lent. He reflected upon the great Poet Dante’s depiction of the lowest ring of hell, with Satan and Judas Iscariot encased in the coldest ice, in frozen and loveless isolation. Pope Francis invites the Church to consider how, this Lent, we might rekindle the fire of charity that has perhaps grown cold in us, how we may become more aware of the signs that love for God, love for the Church, love for the poor, love for family, has perhaps begun to cool.

The teaching of Peter, the structure and doctrine of the Church, the sacraments, exist that we may know unity and peace with God and with one another.

May our Lenten observances and our celebration of this great feast help us to experience the unity and peace, the freedom from sin, the fire of charity that our good and gracious God desires for each one of us, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

- - - - - - - -

For the Successor of St. Peter, our Holy Father, that he be strong in his mission and strengthen the whole Church in faith.

For all bishops, that they grow in union with Peter, share the zeal of Paul, and lead us by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

For those preparing for baptism and the Easter sacraments, that they may continue to conform themselves to Christ through Faith taught by St. Peter and his successors.

For the conversion of all people to Christ, for those who reject the Faith, for those who have fallen away from the Church, for those who mock and persecute Christians, for hardened and unrepentant sinners, we pray to the Lord.

For the sick and the dying, the poor and the oppressed, and all victims of war, violence, and the selfishness of their fellow man, that they may experience the peace and presence of Christ, we pray to the Lord.

For all who have died, and for all the poor souls in purgatory, and for X. for whom this Mass is offered.

Father, We rejoice in the call to belong to the Church, to believe in the Gospel, and to be united with the successors of your Apostles. Answer our prayers and increase our fidelity to the Gospel. Through Christ our Lord.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

1st Week of Lent 2018 - Tuesday - Interiorizing the Word

When tempted by the devil to forego his desert fasting, Our Lord responded, “It is written, 'man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God'".
And really, the temptation wasn’t simply to break his fast. The devil was tempting Jesus to turn away from the difficult road that the Father willed for His Son.

Here Jesus reminds us of one of the Christian life’s most important lessons: that God’s priorities are more important than our own, that our physical needs are not our greatest needs. The Word of God is more essential than bread.

Our Lenten fasting, fasting from chocolate, or video games, or social media, or snacking certainly helps us to build up self-discipline towards these earthly pleasures. Yet, more essential our fasting reminds us that we don’t need these things to survive, and we certainly don’t need them to thrive spiritually.

Jesus responded to the devil’s temptation by quoting a passage from Deuteronomy. Throughout the Gospels Jesus quotes directly from the Old Testament about 80 times, and the logic of the former scriptures permeates his teachings. Jesus overcame temptation by drawing upon the truth, the words of the Scriptures.

And as we prayed on the first Sunday of Lent, his “forty long days” in the desert set “the pattern of our own Lenten observance.” The word of God is meant to permeate our Lent, and our life. Pope Benedict wrote, “In the trials of life and in every temptation, the secret of victory lies in listening to the word of truth and rejecting with determination falsehood and evil.”

Our reading from Isaiah, speaks of how God’s word is meant to permeate us like the rain permeates the soil and makes the soil fertile.

So, if we are to be able to draw on the word of God in times of temptation, if the word of God is meant to fertilize our souls to bear new life, we must expose ourselves to it, we must meditate on it, we must take it into our hearts and let it live there. Many people can quote baseball statistics, movie lines, or a catchy new song, but barely a line from scripture.

Daily throughout Lent, we do well to sit down with the scriptures open upon our laps, to speak the words allowed, to allow them to echo in our minds and hearts.

Again to quote Pope Benedict, “It is therefore urgently necessary in these forty days to listen anew to the gospel, the word of the Lord, the word of truth, so that in every Christian, in every one of us, the understanding of the truth given to him…may be strengthened, so that we may live it and witness to it. Lent encourages us to let the word of God penetrate our life and thus to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must go, which road to take in life.”

May our Lenten fasting clear out and make room for the prayerful encounter and interiorization of the word of God in us, that we might live it out in lives of Christian purity and charity, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

- - - - - - -

That the season of Lent may bring the most hardened hearts to repentance and bring purification from sin and selfishness to all people.

For those preparing for baptism and the Easter sacraments, that they may continue to conform themselves to Christ through fervent prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

That we may generously respond to all those in need: the sick, the suffering, the homeless, the imprisoned, and victims of violence.

For all who have died, and for all the poor souls in purgatory, and for X. for whom this Mass is offered.

Grant, we pray, O Lord, that your people may turn to you with all their heart, so that whatever they dare to ask in fitting prayer they may receive by your mercy.

Monday, February 19, 2018

1st Week of Lent 2018 - Monday - Compunction and Conversion

After receiving our Ashes on Ash Wednesday, and after receiving Holy Communion, the priest extended his hands over the congregation and prayed, “Pour out a spirit of compunction, O God, on those who bow before your majesty…” The readings and prayers of the first half of Lent are aimed at arousing in us the spirit--the disposition of compunction. What is compunction?

Compunction is a knowledge of our sinfulness, sorrow for our sins, repentance, the desire for God’s mercy, the desire for deeper conversion.

Compunction comes from the latin “compungere”, to severely prick, as with a needle or a thorn. So the readings, the prayers, the time spent in prayerful reflection, during Lent “severely prick” our consciences, to lead us to repentance and amendment of our lives.

The Old Testament reading today was from the book of Leviticus. From the base of Mt. Sinai, Moses expands upon the 10 commandments with hundreds of laws that were to help Israel to become the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy nation set apart, who would live righteously, charitably, and in right worship.

The Levitical law spells out how Israel was to relate to God and how the people of God should relate to one another. Reading through these laws should bring us to compunction: “Have I stolen, have I defrauded another, have I acted dishonestly in rendering judgment.”  If, I have, it is a good thing to be brought to sorrow for failing to be as holy as God calls us to be.

Likewise, the reading from Matthew’s Gospel should help us examine our conscience.  In the parable of the Great Judgment, the Lord teaches that what we fail to do for the least of his people, the poorest, the most downtrodden, we fail to do for him. And there are eternal consequences for our failure to be charitable and merciful.

So we take very seriously this call to examine our lives—have I cared for those in need—the hungry, the naked, those in prison, the stranger, as I should?

If we are honest, the answer is probably no.  Many of us have never visited a prisoner or given more than a token offering to the starving. Even the sick we've visited have been relatives and friends and not the least of the brethren. And that should prick our consciences a bit, a lead us to consider ways the Lord is calling us to grow in charity

Compunction leads to conversion. And conversion, as Pope Benedict wrote, “opens the heart to God’s infinite goodness.”

May our Lenten journey continue to bring us purification from our sins, enlightenment in the ways of goodness, and conformity to the self-sacrifice of Christ for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

- - - - - - -

That the season of Lent may bring the most hardened hearts to repentance and bring purification from sin and selfishness to all people.
For those preparing for baptism and the Easter sacraments, that they may continue to conform themselves to Christ through fervent prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
That we may generously respond to all those in need: the sick, the suffering, the homeless, the imprisoned, and victims of violence.
For all who have died, and for all the poor souls in purgatory, and for X. for whom this Mass is offered.
Grant, we pray, O Lord, that your people may turn to you with all their heart, so that whatever they dare to ask in fitting prayer they may receive by your mercy.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

1st Sunday of Lent 2018 - Noah's Ark and the Lenten Desert


Since the times of the Early Church Fathers, Noah’s ark has been seen as a prefigurement, a foreshadowing, of the Church. Just as the ark was the means by which Noah and his family were spared destruction, so also the Church is the instrument by which Christians are saved from eternal damnation.

The ark housed a male and female of every kind of animal, and the Church houses men and women from every nation, language, and background. God saved Noah and his family, not by a fleet of ships, but by one ark. Similarly, Christ founded not many Churches, but one Church. The ark of Noah sheltered his family from the storm, and it is in the Church that we take refuge from the storms and floods of life.

But it gets even more interesting. St. Paul calls the Church, the Body of Christ. And St. Augustine noted how even the very ratio of the dimensions of the ark to each other suggest a human body, the Body of Christ. The dimensions of the ark were 300 by 50 by 30 cubits. St. Augustine writes, “For even its very dimensions, in length, breadth, and height, represent the human body in which the Lord came… For the length of the human body, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, is six times its breadth from side to side, and ten times its depth or thickness, measuring from back to front.” So the ark is a vessel with the dimensions of the human body which saved a family from destruction, and the Church, the Body of Christ, which saves us from eternal destruction.

The wood of the ark foreshadows the wood of the cross, and the waters of the flood foreshadow the waters of baptism.

Here at St. Clare, our baptismal font is three-sided, to represent the three divine persons of the Holy Trinity. From the early Church to this day, it was also common to construct baptismal fonts with eight sides, to symbolize the eight people on the ark: Noah and his wife, and his sons, Ham, Shem, and Japeth, and their wives.  We even heard in our second reading how Scripture itself sees the eight persons of Noah’s family being saved through the waters of the flood as a prefigurement of baptism.
So why do we begin the season of Lent with these scriptures talking about baptism? Again, from the early Church, Lent was a time of preparation for those preparing for baptism. The prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of Lent, are important spiritual practices especially for those preparing for baptism, to help them conform themselves to Christ, who fasted, and prayed, and gave his life for our salvation.

Those already baptized pray, fast, and give to the poor, as a way of supporting and offering good example for those to be baptized, as well as a way of spiritual preparation to renew our own baptismal promises at Easter

Here at St. Clare, we have three candidates who will be received into full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. Following the homily, there will be a short ritual called the rite of sending, in which we will pray for these candidates, who will be sent this evening to the Cathedral, to gather with Bishop Perez and all the other catechumens and candidates from throughout the diocese.
Though the candidates we send to the bishop are already baptized, we are certainly conscious of the need to pray for and set good example for them, and to pray and sacrifice for the thousands of people who will be baptized and will receive Confirmation and First Eucharist at Easter.

And so, on this first Sunday of the season of Lent, we get a glimpse at our destination: the saving waters of baptism through which we die to sin and rise to new life in Christ. We pray, fast, and give alms to help us get back to the basics of baptism: prayer, to remind us of the spiritual intimacy we have with God, fasting to remind us of the self-sacrifice of Christ which is to be the model of our own self-discipline and self-sacrifice, and almsgiving, to remind us of the charity which should mark every day of our life as Christians.

With our destination in mind, our Gospel reading reminds us that as Christ went into the desert and was tempted by Satan, so too we are in a constant spiritual battle. The powers of Satan are at work against us, to separate us from God through sin, to seduce us into ways of worldliness.
Before we can reach the springs of new life, often we must travel through the desert. And in the desert we face challenge and temptation, but also purification, enlightenment, and deep communion with God.

How will we emerge victorious from the desert? By uniting ourselves to Christ, the faithful Son of the Father, and allowing Him to live in us.

After being delivered through the waters of the flood, we read today how God placed a bow in the sky as a covenantal sign, of his divine protection. So too, Christ spoke of his body and blood, as a covenantal sign, the sign of the new and everlasting covenant. The Eucharist, which is lifted up for us to see at every Mass is the sign that God is with us, in all of our hardships, in all of the dry-desert moments of life; in the Eucharist God strengthens us and nourishes us throughout our desert journey.

If at all possible, please try to attend daily mass throughout the week as much as possible throughout Lent. As we engage in the spiritual practices and penances of Lent, the enemy rolls up his sleeves as well. If he can tempt Jesus in the desert, he can tempt us as well. So please avail yourselves of the Eucharist as often as possible, that you may not fall under temptation, and that you might make use of all of the grace God has in store for you, for the purification and transformation of your minds and souls.

Throughout Lent, together we make this journey of faith, that we may prepare ourselves well to experience, after the mystery of the cross, the joy of Easter, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday after Ash Wednesday 2018 - Fasting is pleasing to God

“The days are coming when my disciples will fast”, well, here they are. Before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the entire season of Lent was a time of rigorous fasting for all adult Catholics: no eating between meals, and two smaller meals not adding up to the main meal of the day.   And throughout the whole year, Catholics were to abstain from eating meat on Fridays.

After Vatican II, these disciplines changed.  The abstaining from meat on Fridays throughout the year may now be substituted with some other penitential practice, though Fridays during Lent are still days of abstinence from meat.  And we have only two mandated fast days to observe: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

The practice of fasting goes far back into our biblical roots.  The Old Testament shows people fasting as a sign of repentance and desire for conversion. .  The New Testament also recommends the practice.  Jesus says, “when you fast” not “IF you fast”.  And the long history of the Catholic Church has preserved fasting as a practice important for our spiritual lives.

The saints speak of fasting, along with prayer and charitable giving, of course, as a means to grow in Christian perfection. St. John Climacus, was a sort of "Master Faster", and he wrote, “fasting ends lust, roots out bad thoughts, frees one from evil dreams. Fasting makes for purity of prayer, an enlightened soul, a watchful mind, a deliverance from spiritual blindness. Fasting is the door of compunction, humble sighing, joyful contrition, and end to chatter, an occasion for silence, a custodian of obedience, a lightening of sleep, health of the body, an agent of dispassion, a remission of sins, the gate, indeed, the delight of paradise.”  So, you could say, he encouraged people to fast.

Josemaria Escriva said simply, “A strict fast is a penance most pleasing to God.”

Fasting for Christians isn’t just a sort of religious weight loss program.  We don’t fast simply for the purpose of reducing our waist size, though that is always a pleasant result of this spiritual practice.

Fasting is a spiritual self-discipline that makes us conscious of our dependence on God.  We voluntarily experience physical hunger in order to become aware of our true spiritual hunger.  That the deepest hunger of the human soul comes for the peace and joy and life that can only be satisfied by communion with God.

Another reason we fast is to subdue our passions and self-will.  If we cannot control our stomach, how can we control our urges for pleasure, money, and power?  Conscious of the many evils of our culture, we remember that Jesus taught us that some demons can only be cast out by prayer and FASTING.

Fasting opens our heart to charity.  Listen again to the Prophet Isaiah this morning: “This, rather, is the fasting, that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the throngs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

May we take seriously the call to fasting this Lent, that our minds and hearts may be conformed ever more deeply to Christ, and be made ready for the feast of Eternal Easter, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

- - - - -

For the whole Christian people, that in this sacred Lenten season, they may be more abundantly nourished by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

For the whole world, that in lasting tranquility and peace our days may truly become the acceptable time of grace and salvation.

For sinners and those who neglect right religion, that in this time of reconciliation they may return wholeheartedly to Christ.

For ourselves, that God may at last stir up in our hearts aversion for our sins and conviction for the Gospel.

For all who have died, and for all the poor souls in purgatory, and for X. for whom this Mass is offered.

Grant, we pray, O Lord, that your people may turn to you with all their heart, so that whatever they dare to ask in fitting prayer they may receive by your mercy.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thursday after Ash Wednesday 2018 - Threshold Moments

I don’t know if it’s still common today, but it used to be a tradition for a groom to carry his bride over the threshold of the honeymoon suite or their new home. Crossing the threshold marked a transition from one way of life to another.

Some of my favorite scenes in stories and movies are when the protagonist stands at a threshold with an important choice to make: Neo, from “The Matrix” choosing the red pill or the blue pill; Bilbo the Hobbit, literally standing at the threshold of his safe, comfortable home, choosing whether or not he will go on the adventure of a lifetime.

Certainly, a threshold moment in my life, was the day, as a young college student, I chose to visit the seminary for the first time.

We all have threshold moments –times when we are invited to move from one way of living to another. These moments are challenging; change and venturing into the unknown are never easy. So we often pause on the threshold itself, to reflect on what we want out of life, on who we are, one where we want to go, on the principles we must follow if we want to truly live.

Moses, in the first reading, has led the Israelites to the threshold of the promised land. And they have a choice to make, as they enter this new land, will they return to the comfortable life of sin, or will they embark on the new way of fidelity. Fidelity will be difficult. They will have to resist being led estray by the attractive paganism of the land’s current inhabitants. They will have to resist their strange gods, their voluptuous women. They will have to struggle to keep the commandments, statues, and decrees of God.

One way leads to life and prosperity, one to death and doom: “choose life”, Moses says, “heeding the voice of the Lord.”

On this threshold of Lent, we are given a choice, as well. Will we return to the comfortable, or will we embark on a journey which will change us, and convert us.

The Lord invites us to follow him into the desert, to fast and to pray with him, to learn how to surrender ourselves to God like Him, he invites us to deny ourselves and follow Him.

It is a great paradox, but true nonetheless, that the way of the cross is the way that leads to life.
Freely and wholeheartedly, may we embrace our Lenten observances of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, that the life of Christ may well up, spring up in us, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

- - - - - - - -

For the whole Christian people, that in this sacred Lenten season, they may be more abundantly nourished by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

For the whole world, that in lasting tranquility and peace our days may truly become the acceptable time of grace and salvation.

For sinners and those who neglect right religion, that in this time of reconciliation they may return wholeheartedly to Christ.

For ourselves, that God may at last stir up in our hearts aversion for our sins and conviction for the Gospel.

For all who have died, and for all the poor souls in purgatory, and for X. for whom this Mass is offered.

Grant, we pray, O Lord, that your people may turn to you with all their heart, so that whatever they dare to ask in fitting prayer they may receive by your mercy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday 2018 - The loss of the sense of sin

What is the greatest sin? Murder? Adultery? Sacrilege? Genocide? Back in 1946, speaking to a group of Catholic teachers, the Pope at the time, Pope Pius XII, said, “Perhaps the greatest sin in the world today is that men have begun to lose the sense of sin.”

“To lose the sense of sin.” What did the Pope mean by that?

The sense of sin is the awareness of the difference between right and wrong, it’s the consciousness that it’s wrong to violate God’s commandments, it certainly involves a consciousness that God has given us commandments in the first place.

Consider Adam and Eve in the garden. They knew that God had commanded them to not eat the forbidden fruit. But the more the dialogued with the serpent, the less they considered the wrongness of the act and the consequences of their sin.

Similarly, the loss of the sense of sin in our own life is the result of a continual and repeated lie one makes to oneself. When one tells oneself that “sin isn’t that bad.”

We lie to ourselves and we begin to believe the lie. “It doesn’t matter if I skip mass”, “it doesn’t matter if I cheat off my classmate or steal from my employer”, “it doesn’t matter If I visit the perverted internet website”, “it doesn’t matter if I gossip about my neighbor, or I’ll just make an exception this time”.

As we lose the sense of sin, sin takes root in our life. Soon, we don’t think twice about skipping mass, gossiping, contracepting, striking a sibling or a spouse. And when will the cycle end?

Today, Ash Wednesday, is such an important day because today is a day that we acknowledge that sin is real, that sin has a real effect in our life, that our sins keep us from being the people God made us to be, they keep us from living in harmony with our neighbor, and the joy of the Gospel.

Today we are marked with ashes, ashes which symbolize the spiritual death which occurs when we disobey God’s commandments. To be marked with ashes is to mark oneself as a sinner, but a sinner with hope. We are marked as sinners who desire God to intervene in our life to save us from our sins. As Pope St. John Paul taught, “Sin is an integral part of the truth about the human person. To recognize oneself as a sinner is the first and essential step in returning to the healing love of God,”

The Gospel warns us of marking our faces simply to appear to be fasting. Receiving ashes can be done vainly, wanting people to notice you simply for having gone to Church. We receive ashes rightly when we do so humbly, desiring with our whole hearts that with God’s help we will put an end to sin in our life.

The 40 days of Lent remind us that Jesus goes out into the desert for 40 days. He fasts and prays and does spiritual battle with the devil. We mark ourselves with ashes today, that we may be united with Jesus, in our fasting, in our prayer, in our own spiritual battle to remove sin and selfishness from our life.

May this great devotion which marks the beginning of Lent, also mark the end of the reign of sin in us, that we may know the life, the peace, the healing, and the joy that comes from faithfulness to God for the glory of God and salvation of souls.