In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah recounts the ‘whisperings’ of those who seek to take him down. The whisperers seek to hold him down, to prevail over him. They seek to prevent him from fulfilling his prophetic mission. In these final days of Lent, we too might hear similar ‘whispers’ that seek to knock us off course as we journey toward Holy Week. Perhaps we are hearing the whispers of academic stress or of difficult relationships. Perhaps we hear the whispers of anxiety or busyness. Take these moments to still yourself before Christ and recount the whispers you are hearing. And take Jeremiah’s cue: pray for strength and take a few moments to simply praise Him.
Accordingly, dearly-beloved, being mindful of our weakness, because we easily fall into all kinds of faults, let us by no means neglect this special remedy and most effectual healing of our wounds. Let us remit, that we may have remission: let us grant the pardon which we crave: let us not be eager to be revenged when we pray to be forgiven. Let us not pass over the groans of the poor with deaf ear, but with prompt kindness bestow our mercy on the needy, that we may deserve to find mercy in the judgment. And he that, aided by God’s grace, shall strain every nerve after this perfection, will keep this holy fast faithfully; free from the leaven of the old wickedness, in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, he will reach the blessed Passover, and by newness of life will worthily rejoice in the mystery of man’s reformation through Christ our Lord Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
- St. Leo the Great, Sermon I on Lent
“But with Mary there was perfect freedom. Her Divine Son was not accepted in any unforeseen or unpredictable way. He was willed. There was no element of chance; nothing was impersonal, for He was fully willed in mind and in body. How is this true? He was willed in mind, because, when the angel explained the miracle, Mary said: “Be it done unto me according to thy word.”
Fulton J. Sheen, The World’s First Love Mary, Mother of God, pg. 31
What then do we will in our hearts, the Lord’s great conception of life? A call to adventure, peace and love? Mary provides the secret, the entrance point, the example of a way in through our willed acceptance for the Holy Spirit’s overshadowing and penetration of our hearts ….if only we will it.
Snakes. Indiana Jones hates snakes, so did the Israelites at one point. After they escaped from Egypt and while they were in the desert, they sinned against the Lord. Seraph serpents came and bit them so that many of them died. But unlike Indiana, the Israelites had a change of heart because the Lord instructed Moses to make a statue of a snake so that the Israelites could be healed from it. And they were!
Sin can be healed in the same way. Adam was disobedient and sinned with fruit from a tree. But, Christ was obedient and brought us the fruit of salvation from a tree. God can even untwist the sin in our own lives in a similar way. In what ways have things been twisted in your life, and how might God heal them?
Fact: When I was a little kid I was an absolute bird nerd. At the age of eight I determined my career path to the point where I told my parents I would become an ornithologist and that I would attend college at either Cornell or the University of New Mexico (because those are the only two universities with programs in ornithology, of course). Needless to say, I did not end up following that path. I did, however, continue my interest in birds, and even to this day I’ll find myself pausing to take a better look when I come across one. This is why I was able to recognize on sight a lone black-and-white bird with a bright yellow-orange head: the Blackburnian Warbler. I saw it hopping along the trunk of one of the trees outside of St. Dominic Chapel on an early day in March, blissfully unaware of the strange human literally crouched on the slushy sidewalk trying to get a better look at it. But what is so interesting about this small bird and my sighting of it is that Blackburnian Warblers are Neotropical migrants− they leave the bitterly cold New England area and head south for the winter. These warblers are summer birds, not usually returning to Rhode Island until May. So as all this trivia was filtering through my mind, I stood there in wonder as this little warbler defied all expectations and boldly hopped from branch to frozen branch.
This bold defiance of seasonal constraints is exactly how I see myself striving to live my life before the Lord, especially throughout the season of Lent. It is all too easy to become comfortable in our routines, going through our weekly motions of Mass on Sunday, the same prayer every day, the same sins every time we confess. Don’t misunderstand− establishing habits is a great thing to do when it comes to prayer life. In fact, many of the most engaged Catholics are those who have distinct habits of prayer and worship; they know what works for them, and they stick with it. But while we look to establish our own habits, we must be constantly vigilant lest we allow ourselves to become so comfortable that the greater meaning behind them is lost. Rather than just “going through the motions”, we should continually strive to further push ourselves and grow in our faith. We should keep our eyes on the Heavenly prize at all costs, and never settle for adequacy. We were created to be great, and that is what we are in the eyes of our Creator. We need to live up to our potential− and when our lives fall into patterns which prevent us from doing so, we must look for new patterns. We must go boldly before the Lord! Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” So when our comfortable lives in the warm tropics become too unfulfilling, we fly back north for the winter. Like the tiny little warbler, let us challenge ourselves to strive for this constant renewal of self and faith.
Passiontide. For the next two weeks, the Church travels closer and closer to Calvary with Christ. The Gospel each day leads us on a journey with Jesus where we see the scribes and Pharisees confronting Him again and again. The tensions rise, and it all culminates during the Triduum at the end of Holy Week.
In this time, we are invited on this road with Christ and challenged to approach the cross with Him. Most of His disciples fled on the first Good Friday. Where will we be that? In what ways have our Lenten practices opened our hearts up to receive the graces of the Paschal mystery?
“Create a clean heart in me, O God” (Psalm 51)
My apartment is nestled into a wooded area. During the summer when I look out my window, I have a naïve sense of seclusion, as if I’m up in a tree house away from the world. All I can see is green. As winter came, however, and the trees fell bare, I could suddenly see much further. I saw the many roads and buildings that surrounded the area. Lent allows us this opportunity to see – to look past some of the barriers we’ve been using to seclude ourselves from God, to move beyond the shrubs of doubt and insecurity and ask God to cleanse our hearts and renew us in His love and mercy.
Give earthly bread, and knock at the door of the heavenly bread; the Lord is bread. I, he said, am the bread of life (Jn 6:35). How will he give to you, if you don’t give to the person in need? Someone else needs something urgently from you; you need something urgently from someone else.
So while he is the Lord, and the real Lord, and has no need of our goods, all the same, in order that we might do something for him, he was ready to be hungry in his poor. In a word, therefore, let us all listen, and seriously reflect what great merit there is in having fed Christ when he was hungry, and what sort of a crime it is to have ignored Christ when he was hungry. Repentance for our sins does indeed change us for the better; but not even that will appear to be of much use to us, if it is barren of the works of mercy.
Guest Blogger: Robert Gervasini
Lent is a time to free our souls from detrimental sin so we can do good works just as a farmer removes weeds so her garden can bear sweet fruit. However, while Lent is a time of “rejuvenation and resurrection,” I would like to discuss the suffering which is implicit in the hope of the resurrection.
The self-denial in the Lenten observance is not a burden for us. The season of Lent juxtaposes Christ’s forty days of fasting in the desert as told by Matthew (4:1-11), Mark (1:12-13), and Luke (4:1-13). Note that Jesus does not begin his ministry until he has purified himself in the desert through self-denial and suffering. Let us think of this as the spiritual weight-lifting before the big spiritual race. The lesson here is that we cannot become good Catholics without the proper formation. When we become spiritually strong we can go out and flex our spiritual muscles in the sense that we have the strong fortitude to endure life’s temptations, and have the strength to share the fruits of our self-denial with others.
It is only through the suffering of self-denial that we realize we can do nothing without Him. As part of my own Lenten observance I am reading Searching for and Maintaining Peace. In it Fr. Philippe writes that we must learn to let go in order to receive God. Sounds a lot like the meaning of Lent does it not? We must let go of our sin, let go of our worries, and let go of our wants. By releasing ourselves from our own individual concerns we have the space needed to accept God’s grace. The self-imposed questions are no longer ‘What do I think is true?’ but ‘What is the truth?’ The question is not, ‘What is it that I want out of life?’ but ‘What is God’s vocation for me?’ By letting go of ourselves we latch on to God. But this leap takes great faith, it involves much suffering and a strong will. Christ’s agony in the garden, the ultimate moment of human suffering, only purified his heart all the more so he could freely give himself over to the Father’s will.
Thus, let us allow our Lenten suffering bond to us closer to Him who is our satisfaction and embrace self-denial. Although he was far from being a Catholic, Arthur Schopenhauer writes “suffering [self-denial] is the process of purification by which alone man is in most cases sanctified” (WWR, 635). If we freely deny ourselves temporal concerns, then we are left no choice but to concern ourselves with the Eternal.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.”
The Son of God came to heal us from our brokenness. Because of this, He allowed Himself to be beaten, bruised, and broken. Each drop of blood was like an ounce of love that He wanted to pour forth for us so that through His blood He could wash us free from the brokenness of sin. Each time that He was scorned became a moment by which He can free us from the scorn that we fear we will face if only others knew who we really are. Each step He took on the way to Calvary became a step closer to our redemption so that we might follow in His footsteps and allow the graces of the Cross to wash over us and set us free.