Monthly Archives: February 2020

Ash Wednesday People

Call of Matthew, Tissot

Our church was overflowing with people on Ash Wednesday; they came all day for ashes. The Ash Wednesday People.

Is Matthew, the tax collector, whose call is remembered so beautifully in today’s Lenten gospel, one of them? “I came to call sinners,” Jesus says, the people on the edges, the outsiders, the ones you don’t see much in church.

Does Mathew, the tax collector, whom Jesus called, represent them all? During Lent Jesus calls unlikely people besides the “just” to follow him. 

Great graces are given in Lent.

Besides individuals whole societies are called to be restored, our first reading today from Isaiah say that::


“Thus says the LORD:

If you remove from your midst oppression,

false accusation and malicious speech;

If you bestow your bread on the hungry

and satisfy the afflicted;

Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,

and the gloom shall become for you like midday;

Then the LORD will guide you always

and give you plenty even on the parched land.

He will renew your strength,

and you shall be like a watered garden,

like a spring whose water never fails.

The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,

and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;

“Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you,

“Restorer of ruined homesteads.” (Isaiah 58.9-14)

Friday after Ash Wednesday

 The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,and then they will fast.”  (Matthew 9,14-15)

Can we forget the gift we have in Jesus Christ, who came “in the fullness of time” and changed the way we look at life and time itself? We celebrate his life and presence in this holy season.

These days we look to him in faith and in the signs he gives us. The scriptures and the sacraments bring him to us. In Lent we celebrate the presence among us of Jesus Christ, truly human, truly divine.

Open our eyes, O God, to the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ,

The Word who made the universe,

The Savior sent to redeem us.

Give us the grace to rejoice in his presence these days of Lent

He came among us that we might listen to him, learn from him, be with him..

He graces us these days, these holy days of lent, and calls us friends.

Readings for Friday

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Lent 1


Today’s readings

Then Jesus said to all,
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

Jesus offers a blunt challenge in this reading from Luke’s gospel;  a challenge to us now as well to his disciples then. He speaks to  all. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

No one escapes each day’s cross.  It may not look  like the stark cross Jesus receives from the hands of the chief priests, the elders and the scribes in Jerusalem, but it’s there all the same.We may not see it as a cross because it’s so much a part of  life, but if we look closely our cross is there.

A traditional Christian practice is to make the Sign of the Cross over ourselves as we begin the day. We do it to remind ourselves of the daily cross we bear and remember that God helps us bear whatever life brings that day. Let’s start lent by consciously taking up this basic Christian practice.

St. Paul of the Cross wrote a letter to Teresa, a woman overwhelmed by life.  What shall I do? she said. Paul urges her to let God’s Will decide for her what to do. He wanted people to find their cross and embrace it:

“Teresa, listen to me and do what I’m telling you to do in the Name of the Lord. Do all you can to be resigned to the Will of God in all the sufferings that God permits, in your tiredness and in all the work you have to do. Keep your heart at peace and be recollected; don’t get upset by things. If you can go to church, go; if you can’t, stay quietly at home; just do the Will of God in the work you have at hand.” (Letter 1135)

Bless me, Lord,
and help me take up the cross
that’s mine today,
though it may not seem like a cross at all.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

St. Gabriel Possenti, CP

gabriel

St. Gabriel Possenti, whose feastday is today, was born on March 1, 1838, the 11th child of Agnes and Sante Possenti, governor of Assisi, Italy. Gabriel was baptized Francis after that city’s famous patron. He had everything a privileged child could hope for.

In 1841, the Possentis moved to Spoleto and Gabriel fell under the spell of that city’s bright social world. Spoleto was influenced by the Enlightenment, a movement that preferred what’s new to what’s old.

Lively, headstrong, intelligent, he was educated by the Christian Brothers and the Jesuits. Popular, usually head of his class, he embraced the city’s latest fashions, plays, dances and sporting events. Gabriel was charmed by it all.

Yet, something else kept calling him. A year after moving to Spoleto his mother Agnes died. Her death and the death of two brothers and three sisters made him think seriously about life. A couple of times he almost died himself. He heard Jesus calling him to give up everything and follow him, but then the call seemed to fade away.

In the spring of 1856, a fierce cholera epidemic struck Spoleto and Gabriel’s favorite sister died in the plague. Overwhelmed by the tragedy, the people of the city processed through the streets with an ancient image of Mary, praying that she intercede to stop the plague and help them bear their heavy cross.

It was a transforming experience for Gabriel, who was drawn into the presence of Mary, the Sorrowful Mother. Passing the familiar mansions where he partied many nights, the theater and opera that entertained him so often, he realized what little wisdom they offered now. He took his place at Mary’s side and at her urging joined the Passionist Congregation.

In a letter home, Gabriel described his new life as a Passionist to his father: “ I would not trade even fifteen minutes here for a year or any amount of time filled with shows and other pastimes of Spoleto. Indeed my life is filled with happiness.”

Gabriel died on February 27, 1862 and was canonized in 1920. He’s a saint for young people looking for the pearl of great price, but sometimes in the wrong place. May St. Gabriel help them find it in the right place. Interested in becoming a Passionist?

Lord God,

you hide your gifts “ from the learned and clever,

but reveal them to the merest children.”

Show your love to the young of today,

and call them to follow you.

Give them the grace you gave St.Gabriel,

grace to know you as good.

grace to judge life wisely,

grace to be joyful of heart.

Amen

Remember you are Dust

On Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, ashes are bestowed in the form of a cross.  “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” A rite inspired by the Book of Genesis.

In the first creation account, Genesis I, God creates the world in 6 days. On the 6th day he  creates human beings in his image and likeness, giving them dominion over the earth and its creatures. On the 7th day God rests, finding everything very good. 

The second creation account, Genesis 2, offers another version of the creation story. Instead of  watery chaos, God creates from a dusty earth, enlivened by a stream of water. “Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom he had formed. “ (Genesis 2, 7-8)

God, like a farmer, creates a world that’s a garden, with trees “delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Adam and Eve take fruit from that forbidden tree and begin to feel the consequences immediately.

Where are you?” God asks Adam, hiding naked in the garden. The question is asked, not in judgment or in anger, but from love and concern. “Where are you?” a merciful God asks..

 “Where are you?” The sentence for disobedience is already being  carried out. The two do not die physically immediately, they live on for hundreds of years, scripture says.  But forms of death and a new uneasiness disturb their relationship with each other, with the animal world, and with the earth itself. 

They blame each other. “The woman made me do it.” Their relationship with each other has changed. Their relationship with the animal world is broken; they’re betrayed by the wisest of animals, the snake. The earth that gave them abundant food and drink and a delightful beauty becomes hard and unyielding. The first physical death recorded in Genesis is the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. Violence enters the world.

When God asks “Where are you?” death has already come. God is not leveling a sentence. God comes in loving kindness to the creature made in his image. A God of mercy comes.

God fashions garments of skin for Adam and Eve as they’re driven from the garden. God promises a woman, a new Eve, will be mother of all the living. 

The Jewish scribes who fashioned the ancient creation stories into the Book of Genesis end it with God’s call and promise to Abraham. A merciful God does not abandon the world he made . A new people will bring life to the world.

We symbolize the Genesis story in the ashes, placed on us in the form of a Cross. Jesus Christ comes to enliven all creation. God so loves the world he made. 

Ash Wednesday

cross copy

On Ash Wednesday ashes are placed on our foreheads in the form of a cross as simple words are said: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

A reminder we will die. Our physical life will end, the ashes say; the day and hour unknown.

But there’s more. The ashes are in the form of the cross, which means Jesus Christ changes death. “Dying, you destroyed our death. Rising, you restored our life.” Jesus Christ has made his risen life ours. He promises we will enter into his glory, though his promise is hidden now. We believe it is so..

ashes

St. Paul of the Cross once wrote in a letter about mystical death, something to think about today,.

“Life means dying every day as servants and friends of God. ‘We die daily; for you are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God.’ We undergo a mystical death.

“I’m confident you’ll be reborn to new life in the sacred mysteries of Jesus Christ, as you die mystically in Christ more and more each day, in the depths of the Divinity. Let your life be hidden with Christ in God…

“What’s mystical death? It means concentrating on divine life, desiring God, accepting all God sends without worry. It means letting God work in your soul, in the sanctuary of your soul, where no creature, angelic or human, can go. Know that God is working there and being born in you as you mystically die.

“But I’m in a hurry, and this note is getting too mystical, so take it with a grain of salt. It’s hard to understand. “    (Letter, Dec 28, 1758)

Yes, God’s work is hard to understand. God works in unknown ways, hidden yet sure. We accept it, desire it, try to be attentive to it, but still we can only glimpse what God does in his mercy and love.

The saint has to hurry off, he says– like the rest of us. He’s going somewhere and has something to do, someone to see. He tells his correspondent we can’t think about deep things too long. No, we can’t.

“O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?….Thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ( 1 Corinthians, 15, 55,57)

“In you, Lord, is our hope. ..We shall dance and rejoice in your mercy.” (Evening Prayer, Office of the Dead)

The Prayer of Jesus in the Garden

Mount Olives 3


Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, the gospels say. Early in Matthew’ gospel Jesus brings his disciples up onto a mountain–a traditional place to draw close to God– and taught them how to pray. High places, mountains are holy places in the Bible. 

Jesus taught the prayer we call the “Our Father” or the “Lord’s Prayer” on a mountain. (Matthew 6, 9-13) The prayer has deep roots in the Jewish prayer tradition. Its concern is that God’s kingdom come.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus teaches prayer to his disciples “in a certain place”, on the plain, in the course of his ministry. (Luke 11, 2-4) They see him praying regularly and ask him to teach them, as John the Baptist taught his disciples.  In answer, he offers a shorter, probably more primitive version of the prayer found in Matthew. Again, its concern is that God’s kingdom come:

“When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” (Luke 11,2-4)

Mark, Matthew, Luke present Jesus praying in the garden before his Passion, but this time the disciples, instead of asking for his instruction, are sleeping. 

They’re sleeping because the flesh is weak, Mark says.

They’re sleeping because they can’t keep their eyes open, Matthew says.

They’re sleeping because of grief, Luke says.

Stay awake and pray, Jesus tells them, because it’s a time of testing.

They face the weakness of the flesh, and Jesus faces it as well. He faces death by crucifixion, a frightening trial, but he doesn’t wave it away in stoic resignation or depend on his own power. “Not my will, but your will be done,” he prays. He accepts the consequences of his mission, the limits of human power, the vulnerability of human nature, the “form of a slave.” He depends on God and the promises his kingdom will come.

From Jesus in the garden we learn how to pray when trials come. He kneels on the ground, Luke says, and humbly looks beyond himself to his Father, “Abba”, who hears him.

He falls to the ground, Mark says, trusting in his Father’s strength and not his own. His prayer is troubled and distressed; for an hour’s time he pleads for help. . 

“He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” Luke says. Then, an angel come to strengthen him as a result of his prayer. The cup of suffering isn’t taken away; he will drink from it, but he will not be destroyed by it. God will raise him up.

We ask him to teach us pray as he did. We ask him to pray with us in our trials. God’s kingdom will come.

Feasts for Tired Believers

Central Italy, 1800s

The Passionists celebrate two feasts immediately before Ash Wednesday. The Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ on the Friday before Ash Wednesday. The Prayer of Jesus in the Garden on Tuesday before that day.

I think both feasts are inspired by our missionary founder, St. Paul of the Cross, (1694-1775) who spent many years announcing the graces of lent in the villages and towns of the Tuscan Maremma in Italy..

It was a challenge. The Tuscan Maremma was then a place where graces seemed gone. An area in Central Italy facing the Mediterranean Sea, almost 2,000 square miles– roughly the size of Long Island and New York City together– it was the poorest, most troubled part of Italy in Paul’s day. Only gradually, towards the end of the 1700s, after his death, did it begin inching towards recovery.

St.PaulCross.017

Now Tuscanny is a popular tourist destination. Then it was an unhealthily mix of hills and swamplands. Malaria was widespread, roads often impassible, dangerous because of bandits. Farmlands were abandoned; beggars everywhere. The people in isolated villages and hill towns suspected outsiders.

Paul and his companions preached there for many years. Every year it was the same; it never seemed to change. You need other eyes and another kind of heart to work in a world like that and not get tired.

And so I think as they packed their bags for their lenten journey into the Tuscan Maremma they had to remind themselves what was there before them: the mystery of the Passion of Christ. They needed to pray so they wouldn’t forget. That’s what Jesus did before the mystery of his Passion.

It’s still so today, isn’t it?,. These two feasts are for tired believers, as well as missionaries, who face the world where things don’t seem to change. We need another way of seeing things and another kind of heart to journey on..

If you want to pray this feast with the Passionists, go here.