Saturday, 9 March 2019

Justice (Sat after Ash Wed)


Saturday after Ash Wednesday


Let us pray

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, 
who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging out wretchedness,
may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen
Isaiah 58:9-14 ; Psalm 86 ; Luke 5:27-32
Call of St Matthew (Levi) by Caravaggio


Jesus’ call of Levi scandalised the Pharisees. He was considered a great sinner because he was a tax collector. Jesus said that the Pharisees here were those who trusted in themselves and despised others. By trusting in themselves they had become blind to their own sin and therefore of their need for salvation.

We too can pass over our sin. If we do not regularly examine ourselves then there is a danger we can become blind like the Pharisees and end up trusting not in God but ourselves.

Christ came not to call those who trust in themselves (‘the righteous’) but those who know their need for forgiveness (‘sinners’).

Regular examination of our conscience keeps us in touch with our need for God’s mercy and our need for Christ’s salvation.

 
Isaiah by Balestra (the cherub carries a burning coal to touch Isaiah's lips)

Isaiah, along with many prophets of the Old Testament, spoke against and condemned injustice, fraud, and exploitation. This was particularly when the victims of injustice were the poor and vulnerable. In our reading from Isaiah today, the prophet calls his hearers to pour themselves out for the hungry and to help the afflicted.

Pertinent to Lent are the verses that precede today’s reading. “Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” The practice of Almsgiving in Lent is about developing the virtue of justice in our lives (see below). For there can be no charity without the foundation of justice. The parable of the Last Judgement reminds us that what we do for the least of Christ’s brethren we do for Him. He identifies Himself with the poor and downtrodden.

Traditionally the Church has identified seven Corporal works of Mercy and seven Spiritual works of Mercy:

Corporal works of mercy:

1.       Feeding the hungry;

2.       Giving drink to the thirsty;

3.       Sheltering the homeless;

4.       Clothing the naked;

5.       Visiting the sick;

6.       Visiting the imprisoned;

7.       Burying the dead.

Spiritual works of mercy:

1.       Admonishing the sinner;

2.       Instructing the ignorant;

3.       Bearing wrongs patiently;

4.       Counselling the doubtful;

5.       Forgiving injuries;

6.       Comforting the sorrowful;

7.       Praying for the living and the dead.

Whenever we wonder what we need to be doing for the Lord, we can do far worse than choose one of these works of mercy to perform.

Fr Ian



 The Cardinal Virtue of Justice



This is the virtue by which we regulate our relations with God and others. It is about avoiding two opposites the one being selfishness, when we give ourselves too much regard to the detriment of others, and the other being a wrong sort of selflessness which is a loss of identity and integrity (not regarding oneself as having any value). The virtue of justice is the will to give God and our neighbour what is their due. This virtue when applied to God is known as the virtue of religion.


See also:
CCC 1807

Fr Ian is a catholic priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in England. He is by papal dispensation married. He lives in a former convent with his wife and children in Devon, near the sea.



Friday, 8 March 2019

Why should we fast? (Fri after Ash Wed)

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Let us pray

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, 
who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging out wretchedness,
may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen


READINGS:  Isaiah 58:1-9 ; Psalm 51 ; Matthew 9:14-15


“Why should we fast if you never see it, why do penance if you never notice?” (Is 58v3)


The people of Judah fasted so that God would hear their public petitions – possibly so that there might be rain for their crops. They are concerned by the perceived silence of God. Had they committed some sin without knowing it? Or did God like to humiliate people who asked for favours? And so the people lie in sackcloth and ashes. But God pointed out through His prophet, that there was an inconsistency – why should He answer their prayers when at the same time their business practices were unjust?
This situation of the people of Judah is a warning for us too. It is the condition when we are content with a certain level of religious observance. We can think that by a certain level of observance we can expect certain favours from God: for things to go our way, and for some sufferings to be avoided. We say to ourselves, “I have observed what is required of me, I deserve a reward.” But God may well be silent, and suffering and adversity may visit us.
The Lord is clear that He is concerned not just with those who observe the precepts of religion; He is concerned with all people. There is a profound inconsistency in practicing religious precepts and also practicing unjust labour laws, of oppressing our employees or perpetuating any injustice we have some control over.

God does not want disciples who merely observe certain religious precepts and the rest of their lives be inconsistent with their profession of faith. When the disciples of John complained that Jesus’ disciples were not fasting (Mt 9:14-15), Jesus challenged them to re-think why they were fasting.
To be grumpy and complaining about our fasting is to misunderstand its purpose. Fasting is an expression of inner conversion. We are bringing our bodily appetites into good order and under our control so that we can turn to Christ our Saviour, the Bridegroom, more completely.
The season of Lent, the season of penitence, the season of inner conversion, is not therefore a gloomy season of the Church’s year. Yes it is a season of restraint and sobriety, but in order that we can focus more deeply on the things that truly matter : our relationship with Jesus Christ who by His grace in the Church draws us into the divine life of perfect love. And if our relationship with Christ is on the right footing, so will our relationships be with our neighbour.
Surely that is something to be joyful about and not grumpy?
Fr Ian

Fr Ian is a catholic priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in England. He is by papal dispensation married. He lives in a former convent with his wife and children in Devon, near the sea.




Thursday, 7 March 2019

Two Ways (Thurs after Ash Wed)

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Let us pray

O LORD who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights:
give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdues to the Spirit;
we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness,
to thy honour and glory;
who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
ever one God, world without end. Amen.



Two Ways

I love the bluntness of the reading today from Deuteronomy (30:15-20):
“See today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster.”
When put like that of course there is no choice! Who would choose death and disaster? But actually that is what we do choose when we do not follow God’s way. When we go our own way we are in truth opting for the way of death and disaster. When we go the way Christ has led then we are opting for life and prosperity. The bluntness of Deuteronomy helps to remind us of this basic Christian truth.
This same point is reinforced in the psalm at mass today (Ps 1). The man who places his trust in the Lord is like a tree planted beside flowing waters that yields its fruit in due season. Following the divine path results in the bearing of fruit – again it is a life-giving path to follow. The result of making our decisions according to God’s ways, is life – true life – life really worth living.
In the gospel today our Lord reveals the secret of bearing fruit. It is paradoxical. The more we cling on and grasp onto life, the more we lose it. When we are anxious and afraid we tend to try to grasp and to cling in desperation. But clinging on desperately and grasping in fear do not lead to a solution to our problems. Rather it is trusting in the Lord that will lead us to the greatest of fruit-bearing trees: His fruit-bearing and salvific cross.
This is the path we are to follow in our keeping of Lent: in self-denial, in prayer and in almsgiving.
Fr Ian


Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Ash Wednesday - Lord, create and make in us contrite hearts!


Let us pray

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, 
who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging out wretchedness,
may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.




On Ash Wednesday ashes are “imposed” in a solemn ritual at masses across the world. The ceremony is unlike any liturgical action performed throughout the rest of the Church’s year.
The ashes are made from the palm crosses that were blessed and handed out the previous Palm Sunday. They are collected and burned and the remains are ground up into powder. I make my own each year.
During the Mass the ashes are blessed by the priest before they are “imposed”. In a procession people step forward and the priest puts the ashes on the forehead in the shape of a cross, saying, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is taken from Genesis 3 v 19.
What does the ash symbolise?
1. Death:  We are reminded of our mortality, for when we die our bodies decompose, or “they return to dust”. So we hear Abraham say to God “I am but dust and ashes” in Genesis 18:27. Whether death is just around the corner or many years hence, one thing is certain, we are going to die! So on Ash Wednesday we are asked to face our mortality, but not in a morbid and hopeless way, but in the faith of Christ crucified – which is why the ashes are imposed with a cross. Christ has died and redeemed us so that we have real hope. Yes we will die, but by the grace of Christ we can live beyond this death.
Indeed death is coming and we need to be prepared for it. Let death not catch any of us unprepared! Let us be prepared by living God’s ways.
2. Repentance: When the prophet Jonah warned the Ninevites that God was going to visit judgement upon them for their wickedness (their depravity and corruption) the people of Ninevah covered themselves with sackcloth and ashes as a sign of their repentance – they showed visibly that they were turning away from their evil ways.
So ashes are a plea to God for mercy, pardon and forgiveness. And they are also a public confession of our sin. Other people can see that we admit our sinfulness publicly, but also crucially that we bring them to the cross of Christ. We are sorry for our sins but we know they can only be forgiven through the cross of Christ, the grace He won for us, once for all.
(Suggestion: If someone comments on your ashes, use the opportunity to explain to them something of your faith and why you do it.)
So we begin Lent by publicly saying sorry for our sins, and that we want to use Lent to correct our faults, purify our hearts and control our desires – and thus to grow in holiness, and be better prepared to celebrate Easter with joy filling our hearts.
Lord, we beseech thee, make in us new and contrite hearts!




The Prayer of the Great Sinner



The prophet Nathan confronts King David

Psalm 51


Miserere mei, Deus
HAVE mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness : according to the multitude of thy mercies do away mine offences.
2. Wash me throughly from my wickedness : and cleanse me from my sin.
3. For I acknowledge my faults : and my sin is ever before me.
4. Against thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight : that thou mightest be justified in thy saying, and clear when thou art judged.
5. Behold, I was shapen in wickedness : and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
6. But lo, thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
7. Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean : thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8. Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness : that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9. Turn thy face from my sins : and put out all my misdeeds.
10. Make me a clean heart, O God : and renew a right spirit within me.
11. Cast me not away from thy presence : and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
12. O give me the comfort of thy help again : and stablish me with thy free Spirit.
13. Then shall I teach thy ways unto the wicked : and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
14. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou that art the God of my health : and my tongue shall sing of thy righteousness.
15. Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord : and my mouth shall shew thy praise.
16. For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee : but thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
17. The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit : a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise.
18. O be favourable and gracious unto Sion : build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
19. Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations : then shall they offer young bullocks upon thine altar.

Psalm 51 (or psalm 50 in the Greek Bible) is the prayer of a murderer and adulterer. It is the psalm that is known as The miserere, from the Latin (Have mercy). King David, the great sinner, prays for God's mercy and forgiveness. He had committed adultery and then covered it up with murder. How sinful he felt and how much he knew he needed God's mercy!
This is a good psalm to pray as a penance after making our confession. It can be added to whatever the priest asks us to do as penance. After all, the penance given is only the beginning of the penance required of us for our sins. 

We do not know how sinful we are by comparing our conduct with the moral law; we know how sinful we are by drawing close to God who is all-holy. This was the experience of the prophet Isaiah in vision, and also St Peter after the miraculous catch. So also for us. During Lent as we become more attentive to God's word in the Scriptures and in His Saints, as we practice prayer with greater diligence, as we give ourselves in charity to our neighbour and as we make personal and bodily sacrifices for the love of God we draw closer to God and thus also realise the depth of our sin. This psalm is not just for the murderer and adulterer but for us all! And a psalm especially for Lent.

Perhaps you can pray this psalm before or after Mass when we come into the very presence of Christ our God in the Eucharist? And one verse in particular might be worth memorising as a prayer for our keeping of Lent: 

"Make me a clean heart, O God : and renew a right spirit within me."

Fr Ian

TODAY IS A DAY OF FASTING AND ABSTINENCE
The minimum is to eat only 1 normal meal and 2 small collations (less than half the normal meal), and to abstain from all meat. This minimum fast does not restrict the amount of liquids we drink. However we should not drink milk shakes, smoothies, protein drinks in addition to the meals stated above! 
This is the minimum and all the faithful may prudently do more than this, remembering that any pride about a spiritual exercise nullifies the spiritual fruit we may gain from doing it.
Also remember we fast because we love to feast! Food is good and not evil.



Fr Ian is a catholic priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in England. He is by papal dispensation married. He lives in a former convent with his wife and children in Devon, near the sea.



DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)