LENTWe are now in the liturgical season of Lent. Lent is our participation in the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ as a preparation for his resurrection at Easter. Through the twofold theme of baptism and repentance, the season of Lent disposes both Catechumens and the Faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery: Jesus’ passing over (transitus) from life on earth through his crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension to his renewed glorified life with the Father in heaven.
Catechumens (those in the process of entering the Church) are led to the sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation (Chrismation) and Holy Communion (Eucharist) – by means of the rite of election, the scrutinies and catechesis. The Faithful (those who are already members of Christ’s Mystical Body), through prayer, fasting and works of mercy, are prepared to renew their baptismal promises: to renounce Satan, the world and the flesh, to work out their salvation not only with fear and trembling (Cf. Phil. 2:12), but in faith (Cf. Heb. 11:1, 6; Eph. 2:8; Rom. 1:17), hope (Cf. Rom. 5:1-5; 8:24-25; Col. 1:5) and love (Cf. 1 Thes. 5:8; 1 Cor. 13:13), and to be perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect (Cf. Mt. 5:48).
On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent (in the West), ashes are distributed to believers as an outward sign of the acknowledgment of their guilt before God and their desire for interior conversion, prompting them in hope to seek the Lord who is kind and compassionate, patient and abounding in mercy. “Yet even now,” says the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord, your God.” (Joel 2:12-13)
There are six Sundays in Lent. The Sixth Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week, is called Palm Sunday (in Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite) or Passion Sunday (in the Ordinary Form). On this day the Church enters into the mystery of the crucified, buried and risen Lord, who by his entrance into Jerusalem gave a glimpse of his divinity and majesty. Christians carry branches (palms) as a sign of the royal triumph that Christ won by his acceptance of the Cross, and their commitment to pick up their own cross and follow him (Cf. General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar and Ceremonial of Bishops). “For we share in Christ’s sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory; thus we consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:17-18)
LENT AND THE
What the Christian should be doing at all times throughout the Liturgical Year is done with greater care and devotion during Lent, and in a certain sense, Lent is a microcosm of the monastic life. Lent is characterized by an austere and penitential style of life rooted in prayer and sacrifice (Cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Ash Wednesday 2009), not simply by abstinence from certain foods and activities, but by a thorough examination of conscience, renunciation of sin and a renewed commitment to ongoing conversion. (Cf. St. Leo the Great, Liturgy of the Hours, II, p. 60-61)
When we pray, we are to go into our room and shut the door, and to pray to our Father who is in secret (Cf. Mt. 6:6), not simply in physical solitude or a retreat to a monastery, but a total death of self-will and complete self-disclosure before God within the very depths of our soul. “For without a ‘dying,’ without the demise of what is simply our own, there is no communion with God and no redemption.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, V.1, p. 68) “Vanity and pride make even the most austere penitential practices useless and even sinful. They destroy their substance and value, and reduce them to mere externals, empty of all content. Hence when we mortify our body, we must take care to mortify our self-love still more.” (Divine Intimacy, 94)
During Lent, we enter into spiritual battle to oppose the evil present in the world, in each one of us, and around us. “It means looking evil in the face and being ready to fight its effects and especially its causes, even its primary cause which is Satan. It means not off-loading the problem of evil on to others, on to society, or on to God but rather recognizing one’s own responsibility and assuming it with awareness.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Magnificat, Feb. 2009) This is why we are called into the spiritual desert (or wilderness): to acknowledge that it is not the world or Satan who is our greatest enemy, but it is we ourselves: our passions, our inability to resist temptation, our inclination to outshine and overshadow others, and simply our lack of cooperation with grace.
During Lent, “Christian people are invited to pray so that each one may undertake a ‘journey of true conversion,’” (Pope Benedict XVI, Ash Wednesday 2009) which must manifest itself in a sincere and true love for others, especially sinners, one’s enemies, and those who are most in need. Lent teaches us that even our pursuit for spiritual perfection can become a selfish endeavor, and that we cannot truly seek God while ignoring the “Christ” in our homes, our parish and diocese, our workplace, our neighborhood, the global village, or even the little “Christ” in the womb of a mother.
Lent also reminds us that our sins will not be forgiven by God if we refuse to forgive those who have sinned against us. (Cf. Mt. 6:14-15) For “the perfection of brotherly love is found in the love of one’s enemies,” (St. Aelred, Mirror of Love) praying for those who persecute us (Cf. Mt. 5:44; Rom. 12:14), and seeking peace with all men (Cf. Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14). In doing so, we prove ourselves to be legitimate children of our heavenly Father, who by grace redeemed those who were by nature “children of wrath.” (Eph. 2:3)
There is no more profitable practice as a companion to holy and spiritual fasting than that of almsgiving, and sometimes the greatest gift we can give another is relieving them of the debt of punishment for their transgression committed against us. (Cf. Rom. 12:16-21; Heb. 10:30) “For those who are unequal in their capacity to give materially can be equal in the love within their hearts” (St. Leo the Great, Liturgy of the Hours, II, p. 60-61) and the grace they extend to others. “Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, I give thee.” (Acts 3:6)
DO YOU CALL THIS A FAST, A DAY ACCEPTABLE TO THE LORD?There are countless truths and lessons to expound upon and learn from the liturgical season of Lent. There is one in particular that has stood out to me this year (2009). God spoke through the prophet Isaiah (58:1-12) to the People of God saying, “Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” (Is. 58:5) Was God criticizing their manner of fasting and penance? No. God rebukes them for their hypocrisy and vain religiosity, namely because “your fast ends in quarreling and fighting.” (Is. 58:4)
In the Old Testament, the Law instructs, “You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin. You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove him, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:16-18)
In the New Testament, St. Peter teaches, “He that would love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile.” (1 Pt. 3:10) St. James instructs, “Let every man be swift to hear, but slow to speak, and slow to anger. For the anger of man works not the justice of God.” (Jas. 1:19-20) St. Paul exhorts the Ephesians, “Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth; but that which is good, to the edification of faith, that it may administer grace to the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God: whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and anger, and indignation, and clamor, and blasphemy, be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another; merciful, forgiving one another, even as God hath forgiven you in Christ.” (Eph. 4:29-32) He instructs the Colossians, “But now put you also all away: anger, indignation, malice, blasphemy, filthy speech out of your mouth. Lie not one to another: stripping yourselves of the old man with his deeds, And putting on the new, him who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of him that created him. (Col. 3:8-15)
To St. Timothy, St. Paul instructs the young bishop, “Remind them of this, and charge them before the Lord to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.” (2 Tim. 2:14) To the Thessalonians, St. Paul admonishes, “Encourage one another and build one another up. Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. Admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.” (1 Thes. 5:11-15) To the Galatians he warns, “If you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” (Gal. 5:15)
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus summarizes this lesson, “I tell you, on the Day of Judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mt. 12:34-35)
During Lent, what good does it do for us to give up candy and beer, Celebrity Apprentice and Facebook, to increase our daily Mass attendance and personal devotions, or even to drop a little extra money in the offering basket or a bag of unwanted clothes at the Salvation Army, if we continue to crucify Jesus with our malicious and divisive words, thoughts and desires toward our neighbor, especially those who are fellow-members of Christ’s Mystical Body? For in doing so, we not only wound the Body of Christ and undermine the Church’s mission, but we also sabotage our own efforts in the spiritual life, impede the workings of the Holy Spirit, lose grace from our souls, and corrupt ourselves (and others) in the process.
In a materialistic world, it is easy for even Christians to think more of the body than of the soul, even when trying to be more “spiritual.” Whether in pleasing the body or depriving it, we are guilty of confusing the proper harmony and distinction between the material and the spiritual worlds, and ignoring the greater significance of our eternal souls over our mortal bodies. Did not Jesus say, “Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man. Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man.” (Mt. 15:10-11, 17-20)
Not only are our sinful motives and words (first) an offense committed against God, a source of defilement to ourselves, hurtful to those we curse and provoke, and a scandal to those whom we speak in such a manner about others, but they are a reflection of the true state of our souls, the quality of our Christian life, and the measure of our spiritual progress. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” (Mt. 12:36-37) For we who seek to live the life of monks, the Sacred Scriptures are explicitly clear, “If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain.” (Jas. 1:26; 3:2) “With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.” (Jas. 3:9-10)
In cursing and condemning others (or even complaining about them) and stirring up controversies and dissensions, we prove ourselves to be “children of the devil” (Jn. 8:33; cf. 1 Jn. 3:10) who, like Satan (and the Pharisees), are the accusers of our brethren, accusing them before God day and night. (Rev. 12:10) “If you have bitter zeal, and there be contentions in your hearts; glory not, and be not liars against the truth. For this is not wisdom, descending from above: but earthly, sensual, and devilish. For where envying and contention is, there is inconstancy, and every evil work.” (Jas. 3:14-16) “Now the works of the flesh are plain: …enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy…and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19-21)
THIS, RATHER, IS THE FASTING THAT I WISH“This, rather,” the Lord says, “is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke…removing from your midst oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech…bestowing your bread upon the hungry and to satisfy the afflicted.” (Is. 58:6-7)
It is not always within our power to defend those unjustly prosecuted, free those unjustly persecuted, or overturn unjust laws. It is not always within our power to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless. Yet it is always within our power to free souls from our condemnation of them, our inordinate criticism of them, our obsession with conspiracies and controversies, or our general lack of concern (i.e., sloth, apathy).
It is always within our power – and even an obligation warranted by our vocation as Christians – to love others (to truly love them), to take into consideration their circumstance, to seek common ground and solidarity with them, and to pray to the Father to forgive them of their sins, for they know not what they do. (Lk. 23:34; cf. Acts 7:59) This is the yoke we can untie and break, the bread we can bestow and the oppression we can remove from their midst.
And with this command and its conditions comes a promise: “O Lord, who shall sojourn in Thy tent? Who shall dwell on Thy holy hill? He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right, and speaks truth from his heart; who does not slander with his tongue, and does no evil to his friend, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor.” (Ps. 15 :1-3)
Through purifying our hearts and taming our tongue, we can gain peace, friendship and divine intimacy with God, reconciling ourselves to Christ and his Church in communion with the Body of Christ (the Eucharist and our fellow Christians).
Even more, we can, like our patron St. Francis of Assisi, “rebuild the Church” with the “living stones” (1 Pt. 2:5) of God’s People through mending broken relationships, broken hearts and broken lives, “with all humility and mildness, with patience, supporting one another in charity, careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace – one body and one Spirit; as you are called in one hope of your calling – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.” (Eph. 4:2-6)
Therefore, dear fellow Oblates and brothers and sisters in Christ, in the Year of St. Paul (2009), “I beseech you, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you; but that you be perfect in the same mind, and in the same judgment.” (1 Cor. 1:10)
Be not deceived! We cannot fulfill our mission to rebuild the Church and to restore all things in Christ if we, through the sinful words we use and the underlying uncharitable spirit in which we act, continually uproot and tear down the very things we build and plant by our prayers, meditations and apostolic endeavors.
As the Rule of St. Francis states, “Let all my brothers be counseled, admonished, and exhorted in the Lord Jesus Christ, that when they go about in the world, they do not quarrel or fight with words (cf. 2 Tim. 2:14; cf. 1 Pt. 2:21-23; 3:10) or judge others; rather let them be meek, peaceful, unassuming, gentle and humble, speaking courteously to everyone without partiality (cf. Jas. 2:1-9), as a servant to their master.” (St. Francis of Assisi, Later Rule, Ch. III, 10-11)
For without the restoration of unity and peace within the Mystical Body of Christ – even among our fellow parishioners, family members, friends and neighbors – our proclamation of Faith, our worship, our fasting and penance is limited in its efficacy and glory unto God; especially if we are (even unconsciously) professing and worshiping “for debates and strife”: a corrupted religiosity rooted in pride and jealousy, which fosters endless “quarreling and fighting,” (Cf. Is. 58:1-12) and even worse – schism.1 “For if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor the Church of God. Now this I ordain: not praising you that you come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all I hear that when you come together in the church, there are schisms among you; and in part I believe it.” (1 Cor. 11:16-18)
What is interesting here is what St. Paul says next, “For there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” (1 Cor. 11:19) Another translation says “heresies” instead of “factions.” Thus it seems that, according to the mystery of Divine Providence, God permits and even utilizes these sins against faith (heresy) and charity (schism),2 which wound and divide the Mystical Body of Christ, as an opportunity for true Christians to be formed, tested and proven as they walk the steep way of the cross and narrow path of salvation toward their eternal beatitude.
On the one side: heresies (sins against faith), and on the other side: schisms (sins against charity); both ever-present in a fallen world consumed with despair and presumption (sins against hope).3 In one direction, there is the straight and certain path of unity and orthodoxy that leads souls to heaven; and in other direction, there is the impetus and convergence of heresy and schism that lead souls to hell. And whether one’s heresy or schism is formal or material (in attitude or spirit), one thing is for sure, it is the Devil at work due to human sin (namely envy and pride), it is Christ who (in his Mystical Body) is betrayed, scorned, scourged and crucified all over again, (Acts 9:4-5; 22:7-8; 26:14-15) and it is the souls of these certain men who are in grave danger of a self-fulfilling condemnation.
“Heresy and schism are distinguished in respect of those things to which each is opposed essentially and directly. For heresy is essentially opposed to faith, while schism is essentially opposed to the unity of ecclesiastical charity. Wherefore just as faith and charity are different virtues, although whoever lacks faith lacks charity, so too schism and heresy are different vices, although whoever is a heretic is also a schismatic, but not conversely. This is what Jerome says in his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians [In Ep. ad Tit. iii, 10]: ‘I consider the difference between schism and heresy to be that heresy holds false doctrine while schism severs a man from the Church.’ Nevertheless, just as the loss of charity is the road to the loss of faith, according to 1 Timothy 1:6: ‘From which things,’ i.e. charity and the like, ‘some going astray, are turned aside into vain babbling,’ so too, schism is the road to heresy. Wherefore Jerome adds (In Ep. ad Tit. iii, 10) that ‘at the outset it is possible, in a certain respect, to find a difference between schism and heresy: yet there is no schism that does not devise some heresy for itself, that it may appear to have had a reason for separating from the Church.’” (Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Schism (Secunda Secundae Partis, Q.39)
Righteousness is fidelity to the Word of God; and it is faith that unites us to the righteousness of Christ himself, and through charity to one another under his headship. Jesus demands of us “righteousness surpassing that of the Pharisees,” (Mt. 5:20) and his presence makes it possible for us. Yet too often our fidelity is to our anger, our resentments, and our gripes; and they become idols for us. (Cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Magnificat, Feb. 2009) We covet the (apparent or actual) blessing of God upon others, and resent our own trials and shortcomings. We justify our sinful attitude and actions, and thus test the mercy of God and provoke his justice. We devour ourselves through our cursing of others and complaining against God; and then we wonder why we are so ineffective in saving souls, and why we are so often and so easily overcome by our enemies, and overthrown in the desert. (Cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-12)
If we, the faithful “remnant” of God’s “chosen ones”, want to restore the proper transmission of the Church’s true Faith in fidelity to Tradition, and reform the proper offering of true worship to God in the Liturgy, we must first restore and reform our hearts, our manner of dialogue, and simply but truly be converted. Without the purification of our hearts, our profession of faith, our good moral life, our solemn worship, and everything else regarding our religious life is vain, ineffective to save our souls, a scandal to others, and even displeasing to God.
“For the wisdom, that is from above, first indeed is chaste, then peaceable, modest, easy to be persuaded, consenting to the good, full of mercy and good fruits, without judging, without dissimulation. And the fruit of justice is sown in peace, to them that make peace. Who is a wise man, and endued with knowledge among you? Let him show, by a good conversation, his work in the meekness of wisdom.” (Jas. 3:17-18, 13)
Therefore, let this be our rule for Lent (and for all times), “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt. 5:23-24) “For then (and only then) will our light shall break forth like the dawn, then our wounds will quickly be healed…then the ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for our sake, and then the foundation from ages past will be raised up; ‘Repairer of the breach,’ they shall call us, ‘restorer of ruined homesteads.’” (Is. 58:10-12) Likewise, then we will effectively infuse the spirit of our Lord and Savior Jesus (our sovereign High Priest, King, and Prince of Peace) in society for a better world – restoring all things in Christ. (Cf. Eph. 1:10; St. Pius X, E Supremi)
May our observance of Lent help to renew us and prepare us to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. And may the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
24 February 2013 (Second Sunday of the Great Fast) *
Kevin Francis Bernadette Clay,
MONKROCK Founder and fellow Oblate of the Last Martyrdom
T* Originally released 12 March 2009 (Lent)
1 I answer that, As Isidore says (Etym. viii, 3), schism takes its name "from being a scission of minds," and scission is opposed to unity. Wherefore the sin of schism is one that is directly and essentially opposed to unity. For in the moral, as in the physical order, the species is not constituted by that which is accidental. Now, in the moral order, the essential is that which is intended, and that which results beside the intention, is, as it were, accidental. Hence the sin of schism is, properly speaking, a special sin, for the reason that the schismatic intends to sever himself from that unity which is the effect of charity: because charity unites not only one person to another with the bond of spiritual love, but also the whole Church in unity of spirit.
Accordingly schismatics properly so called are those who, willfully and intentionally separate themselves from the unity of the Church; for this is the chief unity, and the particular unity of several individuals among themselves is subordinate to the unity of the Church, even as the mutual adaptation of each member of a natural body is subordinate to the unity of the whole body. Now the unity of the Church consists in two things; namely, in the mutual connection or communion of the members of the Church, and again in the subordination of all the members of the Church to the one head, according to Colossians 2:18-19: "Puffed up by the sense of his flesh, and not holding the Head, from which the whole body, by joints and bands, being supplied with nourishment and compacted, groweth unto the increase of God." Now this Head is Christ Himself, Whose viceregent in the Church is the Sovereign Pontiff. Wherefore schismatics are those who refuse to submit to the Sovereign Pontiff, and to hold communion with those members of the Church who acknowledge his supremacy. […] The essence of schism consists in rebelliously disobeying the commandments: and I say "rebelliously," since a schismatic both obstinately scorns the commandments of the Church, and refuses to submit to her judgment. – Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas: Schism (Secunda Secundae Partis, Q.39) http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3039.htm
2 Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him. (CIC, can. 751) – Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2089
In fact, "in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable…The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ's Body - here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism (CIC, can. 751) - do not occur without human sin: Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers. (Origen, Hom. in Ezech. 9,1:PG 13,732) – Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 817
3 Because man cannot fully respond to God's love, he must hope that God will give him the capacity to live according to the commandments. Hope is the confident expectation of God's blessings of this life and of eternal life. Therefore, hope fears to offend God and incur punishment. – Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2090
Two sins against hope are: 1. Despair - The person loses all hope of God's forgiveness or his help in getting to heaven. This is against God's goodness, justice, and mercy. 2. Presumption is committed by someone who trusts in his own power to save himself; or who presumes on God's forgiveness without any need for repentance and good works. – Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2091-2092