Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thoughts in the Desert

We are in the midst once more of the penitential season of Lent.  Having just celebrated the 3rd Sunday, we look forward to Laetare Sunday this coming weekend, laetare being of course the Latin for, "O be glad!" or "Rejoice!"

However, that is not really the focus of my thoughts this day.  That being said, there is much value in reflecting on the fact that the Church is telling us to rejoice in our time of penance, to anoint our head with oil rather than look gloomy as the hypocrites do when we fast. 

When I was originally preparing to give this reflection several years ago, I really wanted to know what Lent is, aside from the fasting and the penance and the purple.  While I didn't have words for it then, what I knew I could see was the Way of Behaving, but I wanted to know what was the Way of Life which was the real point.

The first thing I looked to was the origin of the word "Lent."  That's pretty easy, it's from a word meaning "Spring," simply naming the season in which the Season falls.  Not sure where to turn next, I looked at the characteristics of Lent, namely the fact that it is 40 days long.

Now, many of you will note than if you tally the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, the total is greater than 40.  Sundays are feast days, and are Sundays in Lent, not of it.

Okay, so what's so important about 40?  

If you know anything about the significant numbers in the bible, you have likely heard that 40 is a number denoting a penance.  40 days and 40 nights of rain.  40 years in the desert.  It's almost like the base unit of measurement when Israel gets put in timeout...

All joking aside, let us look to some examples of these 40 days of penance in the scripture.  They are numerous, so let's look at just a few.

The first one lands us with Moses.  He has gone up the mountain and received the tablets of the law, only to return and find that his own brother Aaron has made for the people a golden calf, to which he is leading the people in worship!  

Having broken the original tablets and destroyed the calf, he has pleaded to God and is now again upon the mountain, receiving the tablets once more.  It is here that something truly remarkable happens, as recounted by Exodus 34:28-29.

The next encounter I found was with the prophet Elijah.  You can read the background here.  At the end of chapter 18 of the first book of Kings, we find the great story of Elijah slaughtering the prophets of Baal.  You know, the one where he taunts them, saying, "Call louder, perhaps your God is taking a nap?"  I love that story...

In fear of his life, Elijah runs into the desert, seeking death (1 Kings 19:3&4).  It is there that an angel appears, twice waking him to give him a jug of water and hearth cake, tell him both times, "Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!"

Strengthened by this food, he then walks for 40 days and 40 nights to the mountain of God - Horeb, the same mountain upon which Moses received the Law (Sinai and Horeb are the same).  It is upon this mountain that Elijah experiences something like what Moses did - a manifestation of God.  (1 Kings 19:11-13a).

Again, the desert, the mountain, the fast, and the encounter with God.

The last fast of 40 days that I wish to look at is that of our Lord Himself, when he is tempted by Satan in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11).  Not only does Christ face the tempter himself and best him, he gives us an example of how our fasting strengthens us for spiritual combat, as man does not live by bread alone, but upon every word that comes from the mouth of God.

It is interesting to note here that God has only ever spoken one Word, the second person, the only-begotten Son.  One does not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God, the second person, in whom we live, move and have our being.

So the question now, is, what has all this been leading to?


The common theme among these stories of 40 day penances seem to always include the sinfulness of Man, a fast, a desert, a mountain, and an encounter with God.  For Noah, it was Ararat.  For Moses and the people of Israel, and for Elijah, it was Sinai (Horeb).  For us, it is the cross.

As the Brothers of St. John teach, the cross is the summit of revelation.  While His life of ministry teach us, there was no moment of more profound truth and beauty than the death of Our Lord.

Some would say that His teaching is the most important, but his teaching points to and is only meaningful through the crucifixion.  Some look to the resurrection, but that is only the inevitable once Christ gave up His life.  It's like pushing a ball filled with air below the surface of the water.  Its very nature is to rise, and so it is that LIFE cannot die.

At the cross, Christ gives Himself to us in the most profound way imaginable.  Our guilt as a race was so great that nothing we could possibly do would ever bridge the gap, so to save us, He came to be one of us, the Eternal Word made Flesh, who bore our sins in His Sacred Humanity, so that a gift only God could make could be given on behalf of humanity.  

This is the meaning of Lent, then.  It is the journey to the cross, the hill of Calvary, the summit of revelation.  It is the time when we purify ourselves in the desert of privation, through fasting, almsgiving and acts of penance.  We mortify ourselves that we might have the strength to enter into spiritual combat. 

Above all, we seek to ascend the mountain and truly encounter our God, to the point where we are truly transformed, our faces "radiant as the sun."  Lent is a time of mourning, for it is now that we are separated from our Bridegroom.  It is the time where we rend our hearts for the sins which we commit, the acts of selfishness in which we reject the most perfect gift to ever be given.  

We seek to come to the cross, to gaze upon Our Lord, and to truly be able to lift a pure heart in praise and thanksgiving to the One True Living God.


Give us the desire to seek for you.
Give us a thirst for the living waters.
May our Lenten disciplines be
Inflamed with your divine charity.

We beg of you.

Be with us in the desert,
Strengthen us in temptation,
Guide us to the Cross,
That we might come to know You,
The One True God.

All these things we ask of you, Father,
in the name of your only-begotten Son,
the eternal Word who was made flesh,
and whose sacrifice we ask to share in this Lent,
by the power of the Holy Spirit, 
You Who reign as One God,
Forever and Ever.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Joy of Life

In the left corner "Walk for Choice".

In the right corner, "Pro Life Flash Mob"

I'm not saying that every pro-lifer is an angel, or that every pro-choicer is a devil.  That said, there's a lot of bitterness and anger that comes about from this "healthy and safe" "medical" procedure.

John 15:11
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.
1 Corinthians 13:13
So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Where is the joy, the faith, the hope and the love (charity, caritas, αγαπε)?

It is not with those who seek to end innocent life, no matter how blinded they are to the evil they do.  It is not with those whose ends are selfish, or full of anger.

So next time you are blasted for holding the totally incomprehensible belief that life is worth living, worth saving, worth loving, hold fast to the knowledge that, "Whatsoever you did to the least of these, you have done unto me," "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied," "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

But a warning, much like in the readings from Friday, where the one who was righteous committed evil acts and, "None of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered, because he has broken faith..." (Ezekiel 18:24b).  If we, who are walking in the truth act with anger, bitterness and hatred, we do more harm than good, because not only do we feed the anger of our mistaken brothers and sisters, but we also drive away those who are on the fence, or who only lean towards pro-life. 

Those who support abortion will be held to account, but how much more will we when we drive people to support abortion because we fail to be a joyful, faithful, hopeful and charitable people? 

The only way to defeat lies is with the truth in charity.  The only way to defeat anger and bitterness is through humility, charity, by having faith, and by living that faith (that is, to hope).

The only way to be authentically pro-life is to do as Christ says:
Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:16)
A sidenote before I leave you with a prayer, Erin and I are discerning what our sacrifices will be Until Abortion Ends.  Will you join us?

O Mary, Mother of the Life Within,
all life we entrust to you;
The life of every expectant mother
and the child within her womb:
The life of every human body,
the life of every human soul;
The life of every newborn child
and the life of all grown old.
You held the Lord to your own heart
and drew Him so close in.
So draw us now in all our needs,
O Mother of the Life Within.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent and Ash Wednesday

Morning everyone, welcome to the season of Lent.  While it is not in fact a Holy Day of Obligation, I suspect that most of my Catholic readers will in fact take the amazing opportunity to begin this season with the Eucharist.  I was struck by the first reading for today, and I thought I would share it and a brief reflection. 

Joel 2:12-18.
Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting,
and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For
gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting
in punishment.
Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing, Offerings and
libations for the LORD, your God.
Blow the trumpet in Zion! proclaim a fast, call an assembly;
Gather the people, notify the congregation; Assemble the elders, gather the
children and the infants at the breast; Let the bridegroom quit his room,
and the bride her chamber.
Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD,
weep, And say, "Spare, O LORD, your people, and make not your heritage a
reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say among the
peoples, 'Where is their God?'"
Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his
It seems, (and mind you, this perception is magnified by my temperament), that there is a movement out there to make Lent "happy."  I have heard exhortations that, "It's not just about giving things up, you could take something good up, too." While this is true, the implication sometimes seems to be that as opposed to a personal Lenten fast, one should have a personal Lenten good work.

There is nothing wrong with good works, good works are exemplary.  However, the readings don't say, "pick up litter on the ground when you see it."  They say, "Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning."

We would be wrong to neglect our sacrifices for the season of Lent.  Now is the time Christ spoke of in the Gospels when he said, "Soon enough their bridegroom be taken away from them, and then they shall fast."  

Now, that aside, there is a tremendous need to also do good works, they just must not replace our sacrifices.  Take this exhortation from Saint Peter Chrysologus:

Saint Peter Chrysologus (c.406-450), Bishop of Ravenna, Doctor of the Church
Sermon 8 ; CCL 24, 59 ; PL 52, 208 
Exercises for Lent: almsgiving, prayer, fasting
My dear brethren, today we set out on the great Lenten journey. So let us
take our food and drink along in our boat, putting onto the chest the
abundant mercy we shall need. For our fasting is a hungry one, our fasting
is a thirsty one if it isn't sustained by goodness and refreshed by mercy.
Our fasting will be cold, our fasting will flag if the fleece of almsgiving
doesn't clothe it, if the garment of compassion does not wrap it around.Brethren, what spring is for the land, mercy is for fasting: the
soft, spring winds cause all the buds on the plains to flower; the mercy of
our fast causes all our seeds to grow until they blossom and bear fruit for
the heavenly harvest. What oil is to the lamp, goodness is to our fast. As
the oily fat sets the lamp alight and, in spite of so little to feed it,
keeps it burning to our comfort all night long, so goodness makes our
fasting shine: it casts its beams until it reaches the full brightness of
self-restraint. What the sun is to the day, almsgiving is to our fast: the
sun's splendor increases the light of day, breaking through the dullness of
the clouds; almsgiving together with fasting sanctifies its holiness and,
thanks to the light of goodness, dispels from our desires anything that
could petrify. In short, what the body is for the soul, generosity acts
similarly for the fast: when the soul leaves the body it brings about
death; if generosity abandons the fast, it is its death. 
So do good, be generous, be merciful, and this will inflame your fasting, that our Heavenly Father may be pleased by the offering of a contrite heart, and give back to us the joy of his salvation.

I leave you with the words of today's Psalm:

Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot 
out my offense. 
Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me. 
For I know my offense; my sin is always before me. 
Against you alone have I sinned; I have done such evil in your sight That 
you are just in your sentence, blameless when you condemn. 
A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit. 
Do not drive me from your presence, nor take from me your holy spirit. 
Restore my joy in your salvation; sustain in me a willing spirit. 
Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your praise.