Lent & Holy Week: February 2009 Archives

The Lent Lily

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'Tis spring; come out to ramble

The hilly brakes around,

For under thorn and bramble

About the hollow ground

The primroses are found.


And there's the windflower chilly

Lent lily.jpgWith all the winds at play,

And there's the Lenten lily

That has not long to stay

And dies on Easter day.


And since till girls go maying

You find the primrose still,

And find the windflower playing

With every wind at will,

But not the daffodil,


Bring baskets now, and sally

Upon the spring's array,

And bear from hill and valley

The daffodil away

That dies on Easter day.


A.E. Housman (1859-1936)


In the Saint Francis garden particularly, but around Belmont Abbey College campus generally, the daffodil, which blooms in Lent, is decorating the landscape. Signs of spring are here which makes one leap for joy. The Housman poem gives voice to the unfolding beauty at this time of year (at least in the south).

The season of Lent is: "to offer in the joy of the Holy Spirit, of our own accord a measure of service...Less food, drink, sleep, speech, merriment, and with the joy of spiritual desire await holy Easter." (Rule of St Benedict, 49)

Stations of the Cross

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The Stations of the Cross, also called the Way of the Cross or the Via Dolorosa (Latin for "Way of Sorrow"), are the prevailing popular devotion during Lent but many Catholics made the Stations of the Cross on Fridays throughout the year and some even daily. (Pope John Paul II had the pious practice of making the Stations of the Cross daily and installed a set of stations in the apostolic apartments.) In using the word "stations" we understanding it to come from the Latin "station," meaning "standing still." The Stations are designed to have 14 stops (and some more recent publications include a 15th station) that portray events of the Passion and death of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They begin with Jesus' condemnation to death, and concluding with His being laid in the tomb.


luca di tomme crucifixion.jpg

The Stations of the Cross are rooted in the ancient tradition of the Church. Saint Jerome, in the fifth century, speaks in his writings about pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to follow the Way of the Cross. In the Middle Ages, knights of the Crusades walked path Jesus took in meditation to Calvary. Famously Saint Francis of Assisi traveled to the Holy Land to convert the infidels and identify with Christ crucified.


In 1342 the Franciscans became custodians of many of the sacred places in the Holy Land. In 1686, Pope Innocent XI granted the same indulgences that pilgrims to the Holy Land obtained to all who make the Stations of the Cross. Thus, making the Stations substituted for physically making a pilgrimage to place where the Lord made his way.


Stations are found in every church, reflecting Christ's words: "If any one wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me" (Luke 9:23).


So what's the Church's teaching on the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross)?


Of all the pious exercises connected with the veneration of the Cross, none is more popular among the faithful than the Via Crucis. Through this pious exercise, the faithful movingly follow the final earthly journey of Christ: from the Mount of Olives, where the Lord, "in a small estate called Gethsemane" (Mk 14, 32), was taken by anguish (cf. Lk 22, 44), to Calvary where he was crucified between two thieves (cf. Lk 23, 33), to the garden where he was placed in freshly hewn tomb (Jn 19, 40-42).


The love of the Christian faithful for this devotion is amply attested by the numerous Via Crucis erected in so many churches, shrines, cloisters, in the countryside, and on mountain pathways where the various stations are very evocative.


The Via Crucis is a synthesis of various devotions that have arisen since the high middle ages: the pilgrimage to the Holy Land during which the faithful devoutly visit the places associated with the Lord's Passion; devotion to the three falls of Christ under the weight of the Cross; devotion to "the dolorous journey of Christ" which consisted in processing from one church to another in memory of Christ's Passion; devotion to the stations of Christ, those places where Christ stopped on his journey to Calvary because obliged to do so by his executioners or exhausted by fatigue, or because moved by compassion to dialogue with those who were present at his Passion.


In its present form, the Via Crucis, widely promoted by St. Leonardo da Porto Maurizio (+1751), was approved by the Apostolic See and indulgenced, consists of fourteen stations since the middle of seventeenth century.


The Via Crucis is a journey made in the Holy Spirit, that divine fire which burned in the heart of Jesus (cf. Lk 12, 49-50) and brought him to Calvary. This is a journey well esteemed by the Church since it has retained a living memory of the words and gestures of the final earthly days of her Spouse and Lord.


In the Via Crucis, various strands of Christian piety coalesce: the idea of life being a journey or pilgrimage; as a passage from earthly exile to our true home in Heaven; the deep desire to be conformed to the Passion of Christ; the demands of following Christ, which imply that his disciples must follow behind the Master, daily carrying their own crosses (cf Lk 9, 23).


The following may prove useful suggestions for a fruitful celebration of the Via Crucis:


via-crucis1991.jpg-the traditional form of the Via Crucis, with its fourteen stations, is to be retained as the typical form of this pious exercise; from time to time, however, as the occasion warrants, one or other of the traditional stations might possibly be substituted with a reflection on some other aspects of the Gospel account of the journey to Calvary which are traditionally included in the Stations of the Cross;


-alternative forms of the Via Crucis have been approved by Apostolic See  or publicly used by the Roman Pontiff: these can be regarded as genuine forms of the devotion and may be used as occasion might warrant;


-the Via Crucis is a pious devotion connected with the Passion of Christ; it should conclude, however, in such fashion as to leave the faithful with a sense of expectation of the resurrection in faith and hope; following the example of the Via Crucis in Jerusalem which ends with a station at the Anastasis, the celebration could end with a commemoration of the Lord's resurrection (131-134).


(Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, 2001)

Exposed to subtle sins today

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"...I observe that a civilized age is more exposed to subtle sins than a rude age. Why? For this simple reason, because it is more fertile in excuses and evasions. It can defend error, and hence can blind the eyes of those who have not very careful consciences. It can make error plausible, it can make vice look like virtue. It dignifies sin by fine names; it calls avarice proper care of one's family, or industry, it calls pride independence, it calls ambition greatness of mind; resentment it calls proper spirit and sense of honour, and so on." (John Henry Newman, Sermon 5, Faith and Prejudice, NewYork: Sheed & Ward, 1956)

Lent is a most propitious time for more intense prayer, of penance and of greater attention to the needs of brothers and sisters. Before we start running off to do more, think first about the quality of time spent doing "Lenten activities."

Between Carnival and Lent.JPGThe Liturgies in the Lenten season are an invitation to live more intensely the desire for conversion with the words of the apostle Paul in front of us: "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20).

The imposition of ashes at yesterday's sacred Liturgy helped us to acknowledge ourselves sinners, invoke the forgiveness of God while manifesting a sincere desire for conversion. The journey we find ourselves making is an ascetic journey leading directly to Easter Triduum, and the 8th day: the heart of the liturgical year.

The tradition of the Church obliges you and me to abstain from meats and to fast, with the sole exception of those who are impeded for reasons of health or age, 2 days per year (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday). There is good reason to extend this practice to each Wednesday and Friday of the year save for the Easter season,but that is a topic for another blog entry!


Fasting's great value in the Christian life is experienced as a need of the spirit to relate better to God. Fasting from food on the superficial level as important as it is, is meaningless if it doesn't lead to a deeper reality, fasting from sin. For fasting to make an impression on us needs to be connected with a sincere desire for interior purification, willingness to obey the divine will and a thoughtful solidarity toward brothers and sisters.

What is the link between fasting and prayer? Part one to pray means to communicate with God and part two it is to listen to God through the work of lectio divina (think of what October's Synod of Bishops on the Word of God said about lectio divina) which forms an opened heart.

Of the many venerable things we can do during Lent the most important aspects of Lent Mother Church proposes to us is an urgent invitation to a deeper conversion, penance and solidarity. The logic here is the awareness of what needs converting in ourselves first before we go and reconstruct the world. It is easier to think that Jesus came to save all humanity from sin and death (He did) and it is often difficult to deeply know that Christ saved me.  The common good can only be reconciled to God's designs when we first have the affection for ourselves that God has for us. It's less about what the Lord did for everybody else, than it is to know in the depths our being that God wants me to be with in Him. Here is the need to be aware of the fact of the Incarnation of the Word for my personal encounter with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Hence, the evening news will tell you just where peacemaking needs to be: in our own hearts and then in the hearts of so many in the world around us. Many of the problems we face are the result of our own divided heart and lack of peace. Hopefully our Lenten observance will pave the way to a true conversion of heart assisted by penance and solidarity contributing to the work of true peacemaking in the context in which we find ourselves. As John Paul II often reminded us, we are co-responsible for the construction of peace and conversion is the first step in that regard.

Lent is not everyone's cup of tea. I find myself at odds with the discipline of this holy season in part because I am not always up to the call of conversion. AND yet, what is Christian life but a constant change of heart, moving from sin to grace, from spiritual antipathy to greater freedom in Christ, from being a yahoo to being the person God the Father wants me to be. Several things come to mind at the beginning of Lent: has the Paschal Mystery (the Lord's life, death, resurrection & ascension) made a lasting impression on me? Does the Lord's self-giving open or close the doors of my heart?


In some way there is an impression made on us by the Lord's Paschal Mystery otherwise we wouldn't begin the season of Lent with prayer, fasting and almsgiving symbolized by the mark of ash. But a possible danger is allowing the spiritual life to be mired in mere routines and moralisms which kill off a relationship with the Blessed Trinity and with our neighbor. Human nature, however, is a funny thing sometimes. We often think that everyone else is expected to change except for me. While it is the acceptable time to change heart and mind, as the Apostle says, often the practice of change is left to the other person in the pew or the one sharing the bathroom. Therefore there is a disconnect with reality here because of a lack of awareness of hod God is inviting us to new life.


It is our Christian belief, that is, the reality of being a true disciple of the Lord Jesus, that God loved us so much so as to suffer death and to rise three days later for me. The question becomes: does Christ's death/resurrection make a real difference in my life? How do my attitudes toward an ego-centric sister or a crazy aunt change as a result of this awareness? Do we have a hope based on faith that can show the world there is real, substantial hope in an era where there's so little trust, love and belief in the hundred-fold promised by the Lord?


God is patient with us via truce he offered and which is spoken of by Saint Benedict. Abbot Placid reminded us at last evening's Mass, God has provided us


...a truce granted us for this very reason, that we may amend our evil ways. As the Apostle says, "Do you not know that God's patience is inviting you to repent" (Rom. 2:4)? For the merciful Lord tells us, "I desire not the death of the sinner, but that the sinner should be converted and live" (RB, Prol.).


The hallmarks of Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I would contend that every day of our Christian life is marked this way with prayer, sacrifice and charity. So this time of the year is characterized by a more intense living of our commitment to Christ by encountering him in old and perhaps new ways. If we don't pray at the side of the cross can we really call ourselves Christian? Is there a real obedience (following and listening) to the example Christ gave us? Can we receive give to others the alms of patience, forgiveness and love? Do we have affection for ourselves as a condition for loving others? And can we be intentional in not being controlled by sin and sinful tendencies? Can we remove ourselves from those things that denigrate our dignity as a son and daughter of God, or are we going to exist in a cycle of destructive attitudes and actions? Now is the acceptable time, now is the time to act.

Ash Wednesday

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When you fast, be not as hypocrites, of a sad countenance. (Benedictus antiphon)


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



Ash Wednesday.JPGWhat do you think would count as evidence of our Christian faith? What surely mark us believers in God who loves and sustains us? Can you identify the point of a relationship with the Incarnate God?

"The person believes in and is devoted to the person of Jesus Christ
and accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior.
An understanding that some suffering is a part of life
and that crosses have to be carried under difficult circumstances.
A conviction that our life here is only a small part of our life,
that this is not as good as it gets --there is a resurrection for each one of us.
A commitment to be a person of forgiveness --
A commitment to non-violence and justice for others
A fundamental respect and love for people and for all of creation.
A lively sense of the presence of Christ in our world,
in the poor, in the sick, in the weak, in the prisoner,
in those who are hungry and thirsty, in the stranger,
in short, that Christ is present in those whom our world disregards, and would just like to get rid of.


Ash Wednesday Australia.jpgDoes this sound radical? Difficult? Off the edge?
It is, all of the above.
Fortunately, Christians are not born, they are made.
They are made by the work of the Holy Spirit.
From ashes to fire --from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost --the whole Church,
not just me as an individual in my own little box,
the whole Church prays and works with those
who are preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil.

And the fifty days of Easter are a time when
Christians savor the readings about the early Christian churches
and the blessings of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This whole span of days from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost
is a special time of formation for Christians?

Easter and Pentecost are about our death and resurrection in Christ,
our Passover from death to life in his Passover,
through water and the Holy Spirit in baptism.

Lent is our annual retreat,
our annual re-entry into the catechumenate,
in order to reflect on, affirm, remember,
and re-claim that baptism.
For baptism is the sacramental center out of which we live.
It is the watery Spirit-filled womb and tomb
to which we are called to return time and time again.
Becoming a Christian means stability in Christ our Rock,
but always being on the move;
sure of our identity in Christ,
but still always seemingly wet from the waters of baptism.


Sometimes when we think of Lent we think of penance.
And penance, to our modem sensibility, has a negative, pinched quality about it.
However, penance comes from the Latin

paenitentia that comes from the Greek metanoia.
And metanoia means to change one's heart, one's mind.
It means to be converted.
It means claiming the full meaning of being baptized into Christ;
claiming that new birth, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

If there ever was a person who made baptism the very center of his life,
it was Martin Luther.
When he was plagued by doubt, or tempted to despair,
he would trace the sign of the cross on his forehead and say, "I have been baptized."
No matter what happened, through Christ God had claimed him.
As you sign the forehead of the person next to you with ashes,
you are reminding the person
that no matter what happens,
he or she has been claimed by God through baptism.


Each one of us wants to live the Gospel in such as a way
that it is crystal clear that Christ is the center of our existence.

Abbot John Klassen, OSB

The Abbey of Saint John
February 13, 2002

adapted by this blogger

As you heard in the Epiphany Proclamation Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on February 25th. The Holy Father, with the following letter, is giving us a plan on how to fruitfully observe Lent.


Battle of carnival & lent Brueghel.jpgAt the beginning of Lent, which constitutes an itinerary of more intense spiritual training, the Liturgy sets before us again three penitential practices that are very dear to the biblical and Christian tradition - prayer, almsgiving, fasting - to prepare us to better celebrate Easter and thus experience God's power that, as we shall hear in the Paschal Vigil, "dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy, casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride" (Paschal Præconium). For this year's Lenten Message, I wish to focus my reflections especially on the value and meaning of fasting. Indeed, Lent recalls the forty days of our Lord's fasting in the desert, which He undertook before entering into His public ministry. We read in the Gospel: "Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry" (Mt 4,1-2). Like Moses, who fasted before receiving the tablets of the Law (cf. Ex 34,28) and Elijah's fast before meeting the Lord on Mount Horeb (cf. 1 Kings 19,8), Jesus, too, through prayer and fasting, prepared Himself for the mission that lay before Him, marked at the start by a serious battle with the tempter.

We might wonder what value and meaning there is for us Christians in depriving ourselves of something that in itself is good and useful for our bodily sustenance. The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with occasions that invite fasting. In the very first pages of Sacred Scripture, the Lord commands man to abstain from partaking of the prohibited fruit: "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die" (Gn 2, 16-17). Commenting on the divine injunction, Saint Basil observes that "fasting was ordained in Paradise," and "the first commandment in this sense was delivered to Adam." He thus concludes: " 'You shall not eat' is a law of fasting and abstinence" (cf. Sermo de jejunio: PG 31, 163, 98). Since all of us are weighed down by sin and its consequences, fasting is proposed to us as an instrument to restore friendship with God. Such was the case with Ezra, who, in preparation for the journey from exile back to the Promised Land, calls upon the assembled people to fast so that "we might humble ourselves before our God" (8,21). The Almighty heard their prayer and assured them of His favor and protection. In the same way, the people of Nineveh, responding to Jonah's call to repentance, proclaimed a fast, as a sign of their sincerity, saying: "Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?" (3,9). In this instance, too, God saw their works and spared them.

In the New Testament, Jesus brings to light the profound motive for fasting, condemning the attitude of the Pharisees, who scrupulously observed the prescriptions of the law, but whose hearts were far from God. True fasting, as the divine Master repeats elsewhere, is rather to do the will of the Heavenly Father, who "sees in secret, and will reward you" (Mt 6,18). He Himself sets the example, answering Satan, at the end of the forty days spent in the desert that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Mt 4,4). The true fast is thus directed to eating the "true food," which is to do the Father's will (cf. Jn 4,34). If, therefore, Adam disobeyed the Lord's command "of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat," the believer, through fasting, intends to submit himself humbly to God, trusting in His goodness and mercy.

The practice of fasting is very present in the first Christian community (cf. Acts 13,3; 14,22; 27,21; 2 Cor 6,5). The Church Fathers, too, speak of the force of fasting to bridle sin, especially the lusts of the "old Adam," and open in the heart of the believer a path to God. Moreover, fasting is a practice that is encountered frequently and recommended by the saints of every age. Saint Peter Chrysologus writes: "Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God's ear to yourself" (Sermo 43: PL 52, 320. 322).

In our own day, fasting seems to have lost something of its spiritual meaning, and has taken on, in a culture characterized by the search for material well-being, a therapeutic value for the care of one's body. Fasting certainly bring benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a "therapy" to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God. In the Apostolic Constitution Pænitemini of 1966, the Servant of God Paul VI saw the need to present fasting within the call of every Christian to "no longer live for himself, but for Him who loves him and gave himself for him ... he will also have to live for his brethren" (cf. Ch. I). Lent could be a propitious time to present again the norms contained in the Apostolic Constitution, so that the authentic and perennial significance of this long held practice may be rediscovered, and thus assist us to mortify our egoism and open our heart to love of God and neighbor, the first and greatest Commandment of the new Law and compendium of the entire Gospel (cf. Mt 22, 34-40).

The faithful practice of fasting contributes, moreover, to conferring unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord. Saint Augustine, who knew all too well his own negative impulses, defining them as "twisted and tangled knottiness" (Confessions, II, 10.18), writes: "I will certainly impose privation, but it is so that he will forgive me, to be pleasing in his eyes, that I may enjoy his delightfulness" (Sermo 400, 3, 3: PL 40, 708). Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.

At the same time, fasting is an aid to open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live. In his First Letter, Saint John admonishes: "If anyone has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need, yet shuts up his bowels of compassion from him - how does the love of God abide in him?" (3,17). Voluntary fasting enables us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends low and goes to the help of his suffering brother (cf. Encyclical Deus caritas est, 15). By freely embracing an act of self-denial for the sake of another, we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger. It is precisely to keep alive this welcoming and attentive attitude towards our brothers and sisters that I encourage the parishes and every other community to intensify in Lent the custom of private and communal fasts, joined to the reading of the Word of God, prayer and almsgiving. From the beginning, this has been the hallmark of the Christian community, in which special collections were taken up (cf. 2 Cor 8-9; Rm 15, 25-27), the faithful being invited to give to the poor what had been set aside from their fast (Didascalia Ap., V, 20,18). This practice needs to be rediscovered and encouraged again in our day, especially during the liturgical season of Lent.

From what I have said thus far, it seems abundantly clear that fasting represents an important ascetical practice, a spiritual arm to do battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves. Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire human person. Quite opportunely, an ancient hymn of the Lenten liturgy exhorts: "Utamur ergo parcius, / verbis cibis et potibus, / somno, iocis et arctius / perstemus in custodia - Let us use sparingly words, food and drink, sleep and amusements. May we be more alert in the custody of our senses."

Dear brothers and sisters, it is good to see how the ultimate goal of fasting is to help each one of us, as the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wrote, to make the complete gift of self to God (cf. Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 21). May every family and Christian community use well this time of Lent, therefore, in order to cast aside all that distracts the spirit and grow in whatever nourishes the soul, moving it to love of God and neighbor. I am thinking especially of a greater commitment to prayer, lectio divina, recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and active participation in the Eucharist, especially the Holy Sunday Mass. With this interior disposition, let us enter the penitential spirit of Lent. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Causa nostrae laetitiae, accompany and support us in the effort to free our heart from slavery to sin, making it evermore a "living tabernacle of God."

With these wishes, while assuring every believer and ecclesial community of my prayer for a Pope blesses.jpg fruitful Lenten journey, I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 11 December 2008.


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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