Tag Archives: lent

Ash Wednesday 2010: Conversion goes against the current of mediocre morality


Ash Wed.jpgThe last sentence of Pope Benedict’s Wednesday audience today gives us a clue as to the reason why we begin a religious season of conversion, a yearly season of purification, he says: “40 days of intense prayer and sincere penance, to be able to celebrate, purified and completely renewed in mind and spirit, the great mystery of her Son’s Easter.” This is the point of ashes, penance, prayer, fasting, alms-giving–Easter!

NYC churches, as one example of a large urban center, seemingly have millions of people filtering through the churches on Ash Wednesday. Certainly, the Cathedral of Saint Patrick saw 40-50 thousand people today and Saint Agnes Church saw about 7 thousand people come for ashes. It’s tiresome to stand all day imposing ashes on gizilions of people repeating person-after-person the formula, “Remember that you are dust and dust you shall return.” BUT it was good work for the Lord and for our sisters and brothers. On a personal note, I prayed my rosary and made my morning offering today for all the people upon whom I placed some ash as a token of the journey of conversion they’ve begun today by moving to the Last Supper, calvary and then unto empty tomb unto their salvation.

The Pope’s homily today is another wonderful piece of practical theology moving us to the center of faith in Jesus Christ.

Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the Lenten journey: a journey that extends over 40 days and that leads us to the joy of the Lord’s Easter. We are not alone in this spiritual itinerary, because the Church accompanies and sustains us from the start with the Word of God, which encloses a program of spiritual life and penitential commitment, and with the grace of the sacraments.

The words of the Apostle Paul offer us a precise instruction: “Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: ‘In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2). In fact, in the Christian vision of life every moment must be called favorable and every day must be called the day of salvation. But the liturgy of the Church refers these words in a very particular way to the time of Lent. And that the 40 days of preparation for Easter be a favorable time and grace we can understand precisely in the call that the austere rite of the imposition of ashes addresses to us and which is expressed, in the liturgy, with two formulae: “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” and “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”

The first call is to conversion, a word that must be taken in its extraordinary seriousness, discovering the amazing novelty it contains. The call to conversion, in fact, uncovers and denounces the easy superficiality that very often characterizes our way of living. To be converted means to change direction along the way of life — not for a slight adjustment, but a true and total change of direction. Conversion is to go against the current, where the “current” is a superficial lifestyle, inconsistent and illusory, which often draws us, controls us and makes us slaves of evil, or in any case prisoners of moral mediocrity. With conversion, instead, one aims to the lofty measure of Christian life; we are entrusted to the living and personal Gospel, which is Christ Jesus. His person is the final goal and the profound meaning of conversion; he is the way which we are called to follow in life, allowing ourselves to be illumined by his light and sustained by his strength that moves our steps. In this way conversion manifests its most splendid and fascinating face: It is not a simple moral decision to rectify our conduct of life, but it is a decision of faith, which involves us wholly in profound communion with the living and concrete person of Jesus.

Peter Preaching LVeneziano.jpg

To be converted and to believe in the Gospel are not two different things or in some way closely related, but rather, they express the same reality. Conversion is the total “yes” of the one who gives his own existence to the Gospel, responding freely to Christ, who first offered himself to man as Way, Truth and Life, as the one who frees and saves him. This is precisely the meaning of the first words with which, according to the Evangelist Mark, Jesus began the preaching of the “Gospel of God.” “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

“Repent and believe in the Gospel” is not only at the beginning of the Christian life, but accompanies all its steps, [this call] remains, renewing itself, and spreads, branching out in all its expressions. Every day is a favorable moment of grace, because each day invites us to give ourselves to Jesus, to have confidence in him, to remain in him, to share his style of life, to learn from him true love, to follow him in daily fulfilling of the will of the Father, the only great law of life — every day, even when difficulties and toil, exhaustion and falls are not lacking, even when we are tempted to abandon the following of Christ and to shut ourselves in ourselves, in our egoism, without realizing the need we have to open to the love of God in Christ, to live the same logic of justice and love.

B16 at Mass.jpg

In the recent Message for Lent, I wished to remind that “humility is required to accept that I need Another to free me from ‘what is mine,’ to give me gratuitously ‘what is his.’ This happens especially in the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist. Thanks to Christ’s action, we may enter into the ‘greatest’ justice, which is that of love (cf. Rm 13, 8-10), the justice that recognizes itself in every case more a debtor than a creditor, because it has received more than could ever have been expected” (L’Osservatore Romano, Feb. 5, 2010, p. 8).

The favorable moment and grace of Lent shows us the very spiritual meaning also through the old formula: “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return,” which the priest pronounces when he places ashes on our head. We are thus remitted to the beginning of human history, when the Lord said to Adam after the original fault: “By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

Here, the Word of God reminds us of our frailty, including our death, which is the extreme expression of our frailty. In face of the innate fear of the end, and even more so in the context of a culture that in so many ways tends to censure the reality and the human experience of dying, the Lenten liturgy on one hand reminds us of death, inviting us to realism and to wisdom but, on the other hand, it drives us above all to accept and live the unexpected novelty that the Christian faith liberates us from the reality of death itself.

B16 receives ashes 2010.jpg

Man is dust and to dust he shall return, but he is precious dust in God’s eyes, because God created man for immortality. Thus the liturgical formula “Remember man that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return” finds the fullness of its meaning in reference to the new Adam, Christ. The Lord Jesus also wished to freely share with every man the lot of frailty, in particular through his death on the cross; but precisely this death, full of his love for the Father and for humanity, has been the way for the glorious resurrection, through which Christ has become the source of a grace given to those who believe in him and are made participants of divine life itself. This life which will have no end is already present in the earthly phase of our existence, but will be led to fulfillment after the “resurrection of the flesh.” The little gesture of the imposition of ashes reveals to us the singular richness of its meaning: It is an invitation to live the time of Lent as a more conscious and more intense immersion in the Paschal Mystery of Christ, in his death and resurrection, through participation in the Eucharist and in the life of charity, which stems from the Eucharist and in which it finds its fulfillment. With the imposition of ashes we renew our commitment to follow Jesus, to allow ourselves to be transformed by his Paschal Mystery, to overcome evil and do good, to have the “old man” in us die, the one linked to sin, and to have the “new man” be born, transformed by the grace of God.

Dear friends! While we hasten to undertake the austere Lenten journey, we want to invoke with particular confidence the protection and help of the Virgin Mary. May she, the first believer in Christ, be the one who accompanies us in these 40 days of intense prayer and sincere penance, to be able to celebrate, purified and completely renewed in mind and spirit, the great mystery of her Son’s Easter.

Good Lent to all!

What does conversion to Christ mean?

Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel,
ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to
discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God, the need of
His forgiveness and His friendship. So we understand how faith is altogether
different from a natural, good-feeling, obvious fact: humility is required to
accept that I need Another to free me from “what is mine,” to give me
gratuitously “what is His.” This happens especially in the sacraments of
Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Thanks to Christ’s action, we may enter into
the “greatest” justice, which is that of love (cf. Rm 13, 8-10), the justice
that recognises itself in every case more a debtor than a creditor, because it
has received more than could ever have been expected. Strengthened by this very
experience, the Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies,
where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to
the human person and where justice is enlivened by love.


Pope Benedict XVI
Lenten Message 2010

How are you approaching Lent this year?

Grant, O Lord, that Thy faithful may begin the solemn days of Lent with fitting piety and may persevere therein with steadfast devotion.


It is time to “begin the time of fasting with joy, submitting ourselves to spiritual struggle” in preparing to live fully the Paschal Mystery of the Lord (His saving life, death, resurrection and Ascension). “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 540).

St Gregory delivers soul of monk GBCrespi.jpgWhat is asked of those who make the claim to follow Christ? It seems to me that the path to understanding and living these 40 days of Lent in order to live the rest of the year as a true, honest, loving Christian. Lent, oddly enough, is a joyful time when we have a focused embrace of the spiritual struggle played out in acts of contrition, purification and prayerfulness. Often we hear Lent reduced to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. True enough, those are the hallmarks of Lent. But to broaden our sense of Lent let’s think that there is time for fasting, abstinence from certain foods, ways of thinking, acting, speaking, simple living (frugality), restriction of personal desires, intense prayer, confession of sins, and similar ascetic elements are essential to the period of Lent. Lent is a time for good work on the soul and the heart (and the body if need be). No doubt if we take Lent seriously and actually do some these spiritual works, they may be burdensome obligations or unbearable duties. We may even feel a bit despondent or dejected. The spiritual fathers and mothers all tell us that to truly follow Christ with any degree of honesty we have to work on changing our lives by conforming the self to Christ, even if it hurts. How do know how conform the self to Christ? Do lectio divina (see entry 1 and entry 2), pray the rosary, go to confession, do charitable work, spend time in silence alone in personal prayer, adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and go to Mass. And read a good book on the Catholic faith.

 

The liturgical season of Lent is 40 days -not a long period of spiritual training–and it ought to be regarded as an invaluable and divine gift from a God who loves us and wants us to be in relationship with Him. It is a sacred time of divine grace, which seeks to detach us from things material, lowly and corrupt in order to attract us toward things superior, wholesome and spiritual (see Catechism 1434-9). As one Christian leader said, “Lent is a unique opportunity to remove from the soul every passion, to rid the body of everything superfluous, harmful and mortal. Accordingly, then, it is a time of immense rejoicing and gladness. Lent is a genuine feast and time for exhilaration!”

Fasting expected of us by the Church, as well as the abstinence, frugality, restriction of personal desires and unnecessary pleasures or expenses, literally constitute a prescription for salvation. This is especially true this year, when our world has experienced a global economic crisis, filled with imminent danger of bankruptcy not only for individuals and companies, skyrocketing unemployment, the creation of entire hosts of people plagued by poverty, nihilism, depression, crime, and other societal ills. Lent is an education that labors to instruct us in a particular daily journey with not a great sense of “success,” without the arrogance and entitlement of extravagance, waste and bravado. It encourages us to surrender all forms of greed and ignore the challenges of commercial advertising, which constantly promotes new and false necessities (see Catechism 1430-3).


The Lenten season provokes us to limit ourselves to what is absolutely essential and necessary in an attitude of dignified, deliberate simplicity. Christian leaders advise us not to be a consuming or compulsive herd of thoughtless and heartless individuals, but a culture of sensitive and caring persons, sharing with and supporting our “neighbor” that is in poverty or recession. Finally, Lent informs us about patience and tolerance in moments of smaller or larger deprivation, while simultaneously emphasizing the need to seek God’s assistance and mercy, placing our complete trust in His affectionate providence.


That is how Christ envisions Lent. That is how the saints lived Lent. This is how the Church Fathers undertakes the struggle of Lent. This is how our faith has traditionally understood Great Lent. This is how the Church in Rome observes Lent. What about you?

Clean Monday…getting into Great Lent


Thumbnail image for St Andrew of Crete.jpg

For Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christians, today is “Clean Monday,”
the first day of the Great Fast. In many of these churches, the faithful will
gather tonight for the service of Compline with the singing of a portion of the
“Penitential Canon,” also known as the “Great Canon of St.
Andrew of Crete.” The
First Ode of the Great Canon uses as a springboard
the text of the Canticle of Moses contained in Exodus 15: 1-19. The
singing of the Great Canon in the First Week of the Great Fast, is intended to
invoke compunction in the penitent heart.

(Irmos) A Helper
and Protector has become salvation to me.

This is my God; I
will glorify Him.

God of my fathers,
I will exalt Him;

for in glory has He
been glorified!

Refrain

Glory to You, our
God, glory to You!
(or the refrain changes to “Have mercy on me, O God,
have mercy on me!” when sung at Compline in the first of the Fast)

Where shall I begin
to lament the deeds of my wretched life?

What first-fruits
shall I offer, O Christ, for my present lamentation?

But in your
compassion, grant me release from my sins.

Glory to You…

Come, wretched
soul,

with your flesh
confess to the Creator of All.

In future, refrain
from your former brutishness

and offer to God
tears in repentance.

Glory to You…

Having rivaled the
first-made Adam in my transgressions,

I realize that I am
stripped naked of God

and of the
everlasting kingdom of bliss through my sins.

Glory to You…

Alas, wretched
soul!

Why are you like
the first Eve?

For you have
wickedly looked and been bitterly wounded,

and you have
touched the tree

and rashly tasted
the forbidden fruit.  (cf Gen. 3:6)

Glory to You…

The place of bodily
Eve has been taken

by the Eve of my
mind,

in the shape of a
passionate thought in the flesh,

showing me sweet
things

yet ever making me
taste bitter things.

Glory to You…

Adam was rightly
exiled from Eden

for not keeping
Your one commandment.

O Savior, what
shall I suffer,

who am always rejecting
Your living words? (cf. Gen. 3:26/Acts 7:38)

 

Glory to the Father
and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit!

Trinity adored in
Unity,

take from me the
heavy yoke of sin,

and in Your
compassion,

grant me tears of
compunction.

Now and ever and
forever. Amen.

O Theotokos,

hope and
intercessor of those who sing to you,

take from me the
heavy yoke of sin,

and as you are our
pure Lady,

accept me that
repents.

 

(KATAVASIA)  A
Helper and a Protector is He unto salvation.

He is my God, and I
glorify Him;

God of my fathers,
and I magnify Him,

for He is greatly
glorified.

…one must not sleep during this time…the sacred Triduum is upon us

Crucifixion Giotto.jpgHow marvelous, and at the same time amazing, is this mystery! We can never meditate this reality sufficiently. Jesus, though being God, did not want to make of his divine prerogatives an exclusive possession; he did not want to use his being God, his glorious dignity and power, as an instrument of triumph and sign of distance from us. On the contrary, “he emptied himself” assuming our miserable and weak human condition –in this regard, Paul uses a quite meaningful Greek verb to indicate the kenosis, this descent of Jesus. The divine form (morphe) is hidden in Christ under the human form, namely, under our reality marked by suffering, poverty, human limitations and death. The radical and true sharing of our nature, a sharing in everything except sin, leads him to that frontier that is the sign of our finiteness  –death. But all this was not the fruit of a dark mechanism or a blind fatality: It was instead his free choice, by his generous adherence to the salvific plan of the Father. And the death which he went out to meet –adds Paul– was that of the cross, the most humiliating and degrading that one can imagine. The Lord of the universe did all this out of love for us: out of love he willed to “empty himself” and make himself our brother; out of love he shared our condition, that of every man and every woman. In this connection, Theodoret of Cyrus, a great witness of the Eastern tradition, writes: “Being God and God by nature and having equality with God, he did not retain this as something great, as do those who have received some honor beyond their merits, but concealing his merits, he chose the most profound humility and took the form of a human being” (Commentary on the Letter to the Philippians, 2:6-7).

Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday General Audience, 8 April 2009, excerpt

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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