“Pass through the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and mark [a tau] on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the abominations practiced within it.” - Ezekiel 9:4
“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” - Responsory Psalm
Happy Ash Wednesday! With this day we officially open up this season of Lent—a time of renewal in our love of God, a time of penance, prayer, and almsgiving. In a word, it is a springtime for the soul—a time of rejuvenation; a time to start afresh. I think this Lent in particular will be a very important one. There’s so much evil in the world, and the darkness only seems to be growing thicker and darker. It is no longer simply looming on the horizon, now it is converging and blackening the whole sky. I’ve got the feeling (and I’m sure others feel it) that something big is about to happen. For all I know, this might be the last “normal” Lent. Who knows what’s on the horizon? Wars, economic collapse, perhaps something far worse than ever the Great Depression and World Wars were. Only God knows. However, for me, this thought that something big is “about to go down” more energizes me than depresses me. A huge spiritual battle is taking place in the hearts of everyone alive, and upon the whole world stage. The lines are being drawn up, and it’s up to us to choose our side. I think the recent terrorist attacks and all of the other evils going on in the world have only been tremors of a larger earthquake. “For we fight not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the ruler of the world of darkness, against the spirits of evil in high places…” (Eph. 6:12). In any case, whatever happens in the world, we ought always to be prepared for death, which is on the horizon of every soul. How do we prepare for death? By living WELL. By doing God’s will. This is what Lent has always been about: re-orienting ourselves to God, repenting when we fall, and never lagging in trust in God’s great mercy and love for us. We get more wearied asking God for forgiveness than God will ever tire of giving it.
All the evil and darkness in the world ought to spur us on to greater efforts in returning to the Lord and fighting this spiritual battle with the weapons of light. We can be the army that God uses to save the world, but we have to be loyal soldiers of the Cross, and to do that, we have to carry our own cross after our Captain and our King. In G.K. Chesterton’s great epic poem The Ballad of the White Horse, he has Our Lady saying this to King Alfred:
"The men of the East may spell the stars,
And times and triumphs mark,
But the men signed of the cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark.
"The men of the East may search the scrolls
For sure fates and fame,
But the men that drink the blood of God
Go singing to their shame.
"The wise men know what wicked things
Are written on the sky,
They trim sad lamps, they touch sad strings,
Hearing the heavy purple wings,
Where the forgotten seraph kings
Still plot how God shall die.
"The wise men know all evil things
Under the twisted trees,
Where the perverse in pleasure pine
And men are weary of green wine
And sick of crimson seas.
"But you and all the kind of Christ
Are ignorant and brave,
And you have wars you hardly win
And souls you hardly save.
"I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
"Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?"
Indeed, the battle between Heaven and Hell takes place in each individual soul. We must examine our consciences. We must ask ourselves: how have I failed the world? How have I failed my brothers and sisters? How have I failed the Lord? We must not say: “This is what is wrong with the world.” No. We must say: “I am what’s wrong with the world.” If I was a saint, if I was what God meant for me to be, I would set the world on fire (in the words of St. Catherine of Siena). I would do such incalculable good for the whole world at large if I were only a saint. But I am not, and because I am not, I have wounded the world, all of my brothers and sisters, and everyone around me (for no man is an island), and most of all, myself. So, the question we must ask ourselves this Lent is: “What is it that keeps me from being a saint?”
But that is not where we should end. It is one thing to recognize that one has done great evil, it is another to be contrite and repentant. The first, without recourse to God’s mercy, turns only into despair. We must first realize our guilt, and second, we must then abandon ourselves completely to the great mercy of God, which never fails. We must kill our pride and realize that we are not as good as think we are, or as good as we ought to be. Then we must kill pride again when it tries to turn us to despair, and instead we must have absolute confidence in the love of God. There is no sin that God cannot forgive, except for the sin that refuses to be forgiven. If pride again tries to discourage us and drag us down, let us again have recourse to God, and ask Him fro His help. Grace is the very life of God. Only God can supply us with His very own Life (Grace) to be like Him. If we lack in Faith, let us go to God to seek it. If we lack in Hope, or Love, let us again go to Him to seek it. If we lack any virtue, or struggle with any vice—there is the Lord Himself at hand to help us when we ask. The Mother of God, the entire heavenly court of angels and the Triumphant Saints in Heaven and our own Guardian Angels are here to help us in the battle. Christ Himself struggled against the temptations of the devil in the desert. He warred against the Flesh, the World, and the Devil. And He won. And then He won most completely when He trampled on Death by Death through His Resurrection. The Lord Jesus wants us to share in His victory with Him. Let us fight to the death for Truth, and the Lord God will do battle for us.
If you haven’t done so already, St. Louis de Montfort’s Consecration to Jesus through Mary is a great way to prepare for Lent and Easter. The preparation for Consecration begins this Friday, on February 20th, until the actual consecration date March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation. This site shows how to do that: www.fisheaters.com/totalconsec…
“You are dust, and to the dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). These words were spoken for the first time by God to Adam as a consequence of his sin, and are repeated by the Church to every Christian to remind him of three fundamental truths: his nothingness, his status as sinner, and the reality of death.
Dust, the ashes which the priest puts on our foreheads today, has no substance; the lightest breath will disperse it. It is a good representation of man’s nothingness: “Lord…my lifetime is as nothing in your sight” (Psalm 33:5), exclaims the Psalmist. Our pride needs to be broken before this truth! In ourselves, we are not only nothing, we are also sinners, who make use of the very gifts of God to offend Him. Today, the Church calls upon us, her children, to bow our heads to receive the ashes as a sign of humility, imploring pardon for our sins; at the same time she reminds us that as punishment for our offenses, we must one day return to dust.
Sin and death are the bitter and inseparable fruits of man’s rebellion against God. “God did not make death” (Wisdom 1:13); it came into the world through sin; and the sad “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Created by God for life, joy, and holiness, we bear in ourselves an eternal seed; therefore we cannot but suffer in the face of sin and death which threaten to impede us in the attainment of our goal, and hence, in the full realization of our being. Yet the Church’s invitation to reflect upon these painful truths is not intended to dishearten us by a pessimistic view of life, but rather to open our hearts to repentance and hope. If Adam’s disobedience introduced sin and death into the world, Christ’s obedience brought their remedy. Lent prepares us to celebrate the paschal mystery which is precisely the mystery through which Christ saves us from sin and from eternal death, while it converts physical death into the way to true life, to beatific and never-ending communion with God. Sin and death are conquered by Christ’s death and resurrection: we shall share in his victory in proportion as we share in His death and resurrection.
“Thus 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’”(Joel 2:12-13). The essential element in conversion is really heartfelt contrition: a heart broken and mortified in its repentance for sin. Sincere repentance, in fact, includes the desire to amend one’s life, and leads in practice to such an attainment. No one is exempt from this obligation: all of us, even the most virtuous, always need conversion; this is, we need to turn to God more completely and more fervently, and to overcome the weaknesses and frailties which lessen our total orientation toward Him.
Lent is the traditional time for this spiritual renewal: “Now is the acceptable time...now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2), notes St. Paul; each of us should make it a decisive moment in the history of our own personal salvation. “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God,” he insists, and adds: “we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 5:20; 6:1). It is not only the soul in mortal sin that needs to be reconciled with the Lord; every lack of generosity or of faithfulness to grace hinders intimate friendship with God, chills our relations with Him, and is a rejection of Hid love; all of this requires penance, conversion and reconciliation.
In the Gospel (Matthew 6:1, 6-18), Jesus Himself points out the chief means of sustaining the work of conversion: almsgiving, prayer, fasting; and He insists on the part our interior dispositions play in making these effective: “Almsgiving atones for sins” (Sirach 3:30) but only when done with a sincere desire to please God and to relieve someone in need—not from a desire for praise. Prayer unites man with God and implores His grace when it pours forth from the depths of the heart, but not when reduced to vain ostentation or empty words. Fasting is a sacrifice which pleases God and atones for our faults, provided this mortification of our body is accompanied by the much more important mortification of self-love. Only then, Jesus concludes by saying, “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4, 6:18), that is, He will forgive your sins and grant you ever increasing grace.
- from Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen O.C.D.
“Thus says the Lord God:
Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,
lift up your voice like a trumpet blast;
Tell my people their wickedness,
and the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day,
and desire to know my ways,
Like a nation that has done what is just
and not abandoned the law of their God;
They ask me to declare what is due them,
pleased to gain access to God.
“Why do we fast, and you do not see it?
afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?”
Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.
Would that today you might fast
so as to make your voice heard on high!
Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed,
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
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 58:1-12
Grant, O Lord,
that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
~Omnes ad Iesum per Mariam~
Your Sister in Christ,
* ~ Theophilia ~ *
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