Archive for the ‘Lent’ Category

3rd Sunday of Lent 2012

March 13, 2012

Last week we began to reflect upon the Gospel passage that Fr. John asked us to focus on for Lent this year.  In this passage Our Lord says: “If anyone would come after Me, let Him take up his cross and follow me.”  This reminds us that discipleship is intentional: it involves our free will—we must make a choice to follow Jesus Christ.  If you would follow the Lord: this implies that you can choose to follow or not follow Him.  I mentioned last week that we became Christians at our Baptism: through our Baptism into the death and Resurrection of Christ you and I began to share in His divine life, we became members of His mystical body, we became co-heirs with Christ to the Kingdom of Heaven.  That being said, being a disciple requires our choice to faithfully follow Christ.  Each moment of every day we are free to choose or reject God.

Discipleship, in this sense, is much like marriage.  On the day that two people come to Church and receive the Sacrament of Marriage, they begin to be married; yet being married is ongoing and it involves choices and effort.  Both husband and wife must make an effort for a marriage to be successful.  On the day that a couple is married, they made certain promises to one another.  They promise to love one another, they promise to honor one another, they each promise to put the other ahead of themselves, and they promise to be faithful to one another for the rest of their lives despite whatever difficulties might arise.  Keeping these promises from day to day is a choice.  The couple can either grow in their love and deepen their relationship or they can drift apart.  The love that the couple promises to each other is a choice, it is a commitment; it is not a feeling.  That kind of love has to do with what is done, not what is felt.  On the day that the couple promises to love one another for the rest of their lives, they are filled with excitement and joy.  It is easy for them to make those promises to one another.  It is important to note that by promising to love one another for the rest of their lives the couple is not promising to feel the same emotions that they feel on the wedding day for the rest of their lives.  We cannot control our emotions; we cannot promise to always feel a certain way: we might as well promise to never have a headache again for the rest of our lives—it is a promise that we cannot keep.  When the couple promises to love one another, they promise to put the other ahead of themselves: to truly wish the good for the other and do what they can to bring that good about.

All of these things that I have been saying about marriage is true of our Christian discipleship.  On the day that we were baptized, we began to be Christians, but like the wedding day, that is only the beginning of the rest of our lives.  Like the couple on the wedding day, when we were baptized promises were made: we promised to faithfully follow the Lord.  Our Baptismal promises, like wedding vows, must be lived throughout our lives.  We have to choose to love God: and that love is a choice, not a feeling.  When Our Lord calls us to follow Him He asks us to take up our cross and follow Him.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not always easy.  We have a fallen human nature which is inclined towards sin.  Our fallen human nature is inclined towards selfishness, pride, laziness and the other deadly sins.  Faithfully following Our Lord means that we have to take up our cross: it means that we have to put our selfishness to death and choose to follow the Lord.  Following Christ requires that we choose to root sin out of our hearts so that we can do what we know is right despite how we may feel.

In our spiritual journey, we either deepen our relationship with God or we drift away from Him.  God is always there for us: we have to allow Him to act in our hearts and in our lives.  We have to do what we can to grow in our love for Him.  We grow in love by learning about our Faith and by putting it into practice.  Through Jesus Christ God has revealed how we are to live.  He calls us to live a life of love: He calls us to love Him above everything and He calls us to love others.  We are called to put God first in our lives: to put His will ahead of our own, and that is not always easy.  Loving our neighbor is not always easy.  That is why we talk about denying ourselves or putting self to death.  When we talk about it in the abstract, it can sound very daunting.  Yet this is how we were created.

We were made in the image of God and God IS love.  Christ shows us what true love looks like by His death on the Cross.  Love pours itself out for the beloved.  Love gives everything that it has to the beloved; Christ gave all that He had for love of us and He calls us to respond to His love in the same way: He asks us to make a total gift of ourselves—He asks us to imitate Him and to pour ourselves out for love of Him and for love of others.

Pouring ourselves out is the only way that we can be truly fulfilled.  That is the paradox of the Christian life.  A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that in reality expresses truth.  It seems contradictory to say that the more we pour ourselves out the more we will be filled: but that is the truth.  We were made for love: we were made to pour ourselves out for others; if we do not love, we remain unfulfilled.  The more selfish we are, the more unhappy we will be.  The more we deny ourselves and put God and others ahead of ourselves, the more joy we will have.  We have probably all had some experience of this at some time or another.  Have you ever helped someone else and then felt happy because of it?   We were made to love and we experience joy when we show love.  May we use this time of Lent to put our selfishness to death so that we can live as true disciples and more faithfully love God and others.

2nd Sunday of Lent 2012

March 13, 2012

Keeping with the theme of the parish mission, Fr. John has asked Fr. Stanley and me to preach on discipleship during Lent.  (If you weren’t able to attend the parish mission, the talks are available on the parish website.)  The Gospel passage that Fr. John has asked us to specifically preach on immediately precedes today’s Gospel reading in the Gospel of Saint Mark.  If anyone would be His disciple, Our Lord says, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him.  Our Lord says this to a multitude of people and to His disciples.

Picture the scene: there is a crowd around Our Lord.  Some people are there because they have heard that Our Lord performed miracles, some are there because they or someone they love is in need of healing, some are there because they are looking for the Messiah who will bring freedom to Israel and establish an earthly kingdom.  Some of the people in the crowd were His disciples, they already believed in Him; undoubtedly there were some in the crowd who were there merely because they were curious about Him; there were probably even people there who did not believe in Him—perhaps some of the Pharisees or scribes.

To all of those people Our Lord said: “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  In other words, to be a true disciple, one has to do more than simply be in the crowd around Jesus.  To be an authentic disciple we have to do more than merely listen to the words of Our Lord.  Being a disciple means making a choice to follow Jesus Christ even when following Him is not easy.

Being a Christian is rooted in our Baptism.  Baptism unites us to the Body of Christ.  On the day that we were baptized we became members of the Body of Christ, the Church, and the Holy Spirit filled our souls for the first time.  Through Baptism all of the baptized began to live a new life in Christ—but that was only the beginning of that new life.  Living a Christian life from day to day is a choice that has to be made: I have to choose to follow Jesus Christ each day and at every moment.  At Baptism you and I received a share in God’s own divine, supernatural life; yet we continue to have free will and we can either grow closer to God and increase in that divine life, or we can turn away from God and reject that life.

Our spiritual life is a journey that began on the day of our Baptism, but that journey is a life-long journey.  As long as we are alive we must choose to follow Christ.  Discipleship requires our commitment to following Christ.  On the day that we were baptized there were certain promises made: if you were baptized as an infant, those promises were made on your behalf; if you were baptized as an adult, you made those promises yourself.  Either way, those promises are renewed explicitly each year at Easter.  Each year when we renew our baptismal promises we reject sin and recommit ourselves to God.  In fact, every Sunday we renew the second half of our baptismal promises when we affirm our beliefs in the Creed.

When we say that we renounce sin, when we say that we believe in God these are more than mere words.  It is easy to get through the Creed on Sunday without actually thinking about any of the words that we have just rattle off, but the Creed is supposed to be a prayer by which we acknowledge what we believe and commit ourselves to it.  What we believe ought to influence the way that we live our lives and the way that we think, act and speak.

If we really believe that God is our Almighty Father, that He created everything and that everything that we are and everything that we have is a gift from Him, it should influence us: we should be filled with great gratitude to Him.  If we really believe that the Eternal Son of God set aside the glory that He had from all eternity and was born of the Virgin Mary so that He could take the punishment that you and I deserved upon Himself—if we believe that He suffered and died in order to save you and me from sin and death that should have an impact on how we live.  How should faith impact my life?  If I realize that Jesus Christ hung on the Cross for me, because I needed to be saved from my sins the Crucifix takes on a whole new significance for me.  You and I are completely incapable of saving ourselves.  The Cross is what Jesus endured for you and for me.  When you look at a Crucifix remind yourself that He did that for you.  Jesus Christ gave everything He had to give for you.  He gave His very life.  You and I were bought with a price: Jesus Christ paid for us with His Precious Blood; and He asks something of us in return: He asks for our all.  God has given everything to us as a free gift; and we are called to offer it back to Him.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means following Him wholeheartedly.  He doesn’t want part of your heart, or part of my heart; He wants all of it.  The greatest commandment is to love God above all things: with all of our mind, with all of our heart, with all of our strength.

The temptation can be to think that if we turn our lives completely over to God that we will have nothing left for ourselves.  Sometimes the Christian life is seen as less.  The opposite, of course, is true: Our Lord tells us that He has come to give us abundant life.  When we turn our focus onto the things of this world, we might be entertained or distracted for a time, but the things of this world can never satisfy us.  We were made for God, and until we give our lives to Him, until He is at the center of our hearts, our hearts will always be restless.  God and God alone can give us the abundant life that we all seek.

May God give us the grace and strength we need to be ever more faithful to our baptismal promises.  Let us strive, this Lenten season, to allow God to reign more fully in our hearts and in our lives so that we can experience the abundant life that Our Lord promised to those who faithfully follow Him.

5th Sunday of Lent

April 12, 2011

In today’s Gospel, we hear the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  In Saint John’s Gospel, this is the last of the public signs that Jesus performed before He triumphantly enters Jerusalem and then underwent His Passion.

The raising of Lazarus shows Our Lord’s authority over life and death.  Jesus demonstrated that He had power over life and death right before He laid down His own life and then took it up again.  The raising of Lazarus from the dead was a powerful sign of Our Lord’s divinity; because of this miracle, many Jews came to believe in Him.

At the same time, others who also witnessed the miracle sought to put Jesus to death.  Our Gospel reading today stopped at verse 45; the next few lines in Saint John’s Gospel go on to tell us that the Pharisees “from that day on” planned to kill Jesus.  How is it that this miracle produced opposite effects in different people?  How is it that the raising of a dead man to life could draw some people to belief and yet at the same time drive others to plot murder?  The answer lies in the fact that we all have free will and God will not take our free will away from us.  The crowd that followed Jesus had minds and hearts that were open.  They saw His miracles and came to believe because of them.  The Pharisees, on the other hand, had already made a decision about Jesus: they had already rejected Him and therefore there wasn’t any sign or miracle that He could perform that could change their minds.  They did not see because they did not want to see.

Faith works the same way today.  In order to believe in the Gospel and in the Teachings of the Church we have to approach with minds and hearts that are open.  If we start with a skeptical mind and a heart that refuses to believe, the Gospel will have no effect on us.  Someone who stubbornly refuses to open his or her eyes will never see the light.  In order to be able to perceive the light, one has to be willing to open one’s eyes.  This is not to say that we cannot use our reason.  God gave us an intellect; faith and reason are meant to work together.  We can ask questions about our faith; we can study the Scriptures in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of them.  Yet if we do not approach Scripture and Tradition with a basic openness to faith they will not lead us closer to God, which is their purpose.  Faith and reason are closely related: our faith opens us to understanding; the more we understand what we believe, the easier it becomes to believe and then to put that belief into practice.  Faith without reason leads to superstition or fundamentalism: reason without faith leads to relativism, materialism and selfishness.  Faith and reason need one another, because God created us with both a mind and a soul.  Our faith calls us both to believe and to use our minds.

God reveals enough to us for us to be able to believe, yet He does not reveal Himself in such a way that we are forced to believe.  There are arguments for why belief is reasonable, but arguments alone are not enough to convert people to Christianity.  That being said, we should always be ready and willing to offer reasons for why we are Christian, but helping someone become a Christian is not a matter of winning an intellectual argument: it is a matter of bringing someone to know Christ.  People don’t become Christian on account of reason alone.  Arguments can help lead a person to faith, but at some point each person has to make an act of faith for themselves.

Living a Christian life is about being in a relationship with Jesus Christ.  As we live out our Christian faith we are help others encounter Christ for themselves.  Our words and our actions can either help or hinder others from coming to know Christ.  Understanding our Faith helps us to live it; it can also help us talk to others about it.  Most of you know that I am a convert to the Catholic Faith: the reason that I even considered coming into the Church was because I encountered a Catholic who knew their faith and they were willing to share it with me.  They didn’t have all the answers, but they were able to give me reasons to look at coming into the Church.

Each and every one of you is called to be light in the world.  Faith is a gift that has been given to us and it is a gift that is meant to be shared.  You and I are called to bear witness to Christ.  I challenge each person here to look for an opportunity to share your faith with someone this week.  There are always opportunities if we are willing to look for them.

Lord Jesus Christ, help us to bear witness to You in our daily lives by our actions and by our words.  Give those who do not know you hearts and minds that are open to coming to know You.  May we never shrink back from bearing witness to You, Lord.  Help us to truly live our faith and do all that we do for Your greater glory and honor.  Amen.

 

Laetare Sunday

April 12, 2011

This Sunday is traditionally known as Laetare Sunday; Laetare is a Latin word that means “rejoice” and on this Sunday is a day in which the Church tells us to rejoice.  This is reflected in the prayers which remind us that Easter is swiftly drawing near: this Sunday is the point at which we are halfway through Lent.  Easter approaches and Our Holy Mother, the Church, gives us a little breathing space in our Lenten discipline and calls us to rejoice as Easter swiftly approaches.  It may seem strange to have a day of rejoicing in the midst of a penitential season, a season in which we are called to deny ourselves and turn away from sin in order that we may follow the Gospel more faithfully.

This combination of joy in the midst of sorrow is not unnatural; if we stop and reflect for a moment, we will realize that joy and sorrow are often closely associated.  How frequently joy is born of suffering, how frequently bitter grief crushes out joy.  This connection between joy and sorrow is appropriately symbolized by the rose color of the vestments for today’s Mass.  Roses represent joy and yet they always come with thorns.  Isn’t it strange that nature adds thorns to the most beautiful of all flowers?

The rosebush can give us a lesson in the spiritual life: it represents for us the combination of sorrow and joy that we all experience in our spiritual journey.  We are to have sorrow for our sins, and yet we are also called to have joyous hope in the victory that Christ has won for us.  The sacrifices of Lent and joy of the Easter Season make up two extremes, but we are called to enter into both: at times we are called to fast and at times we are called to feast.

This combination of joy and sorrow was modeled for us in Our Lord’s own life.  The Eternal Son of God became a man, like us in all things except sin, in order to suffer and die for us.  Our Lord underwent His bitter Passion before He gloriously rose triumphant.  The suffering that Our Lord endured was the means of our Redemption.  Without the Sorrow of Good Friday there would be no Victory of Easter Sunday.  Just as it went for Christ our Head . . . so too it goes for us: His mystical body.  Christ leads and we are to follow.  Christ said that if we would follow Him we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.  And it is only in dying to ourselves that we experience the abundant life that Our Lord offers to us.

In today’s Gospel, Our Lord tells us that He came into the world to be Light for the world.  Jesus came to show us the way to the Father.  Jesus Christ reveals God’s love to us and He reveals the love that we are called to have for God and for others.  On the Cross, Jesus showed us what it means to love with all of our heart and all of our minds and all of our strength.  True love make a complete gift of self to the beloved: and we are called to love God above all things.

The thing that stands in the way of us giving ourselves wholly to God is sin.  We sin whenever we put other things or other people ahead of God.  We sin when we fail to love others as ourselves.  Let us make use of the time that is left in this holy season of Lent to root sin out of our hearts, so that we can truly allow Christ to reign in our hearts and in our lives.  Let us empty ourselves of all that is not pleasing to Our Lord, by means of our Lenten prayer, self-denial, and almsgiving, that we may celebrate Easter with hearts renewed and full of the true peace and joy that comes from knowing and loving God with all of our mind, with all of our soul, with all of our strength.  Lord Jesus, help us to overcome sin that we may experience the abundant life and joy that only You can give; help us to love as You call us to love.  Amen.

 

3rd Sunday of Lent

March 30, 2011

In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus say to the Samaritan woman: “Give me a drink.”  The thirst of Jesus reminds us of two realities about Our Lord: first, that the Eternal Son of God really did become a human being: He became a man, like us in all things except for sin, and therefore He was able to become physically thirsty.  Second, and more importantly, this passage reminds us that Our Lord thirsts for us.

We have a God Who loves us so much that His desire for our faith and for our love can be described as thirst.  God freely created us out of love and He created us for Himself.  He desires our greatest good and He, Himself, IS our greatest good.  We were made for God: we were made to be completely united with God forever.  God desires us to love Him above all things: Our Lord gave us the command to love God above everything else.  Jesus did not give us this command because God needs our love; we are commanded to love God because that is what we were created to do and if we do not love God first, everything else in our life becomes disordered.

Everything in the world cannot satisfy our hearts if God is not in the center.  Temptation promises happiness, but sin leaves us empty and miserable.  God desires to be first in our hearts because He knows that putting Him first is the only way that we will be truly happy and He created us to know Him, to love Him and to be happy with Him forever.

So much does Our Lord desire us to be with Him forever in Heaven, He came down from Heaven and died on the Cross and gives Himself to us as Food in the Eucharist to strengthen us on our journey towards our heavenly homeland.  Mother Theresa of Calcutta once explained why we should give ourselves to God.  She said: “Why should we give ourselves completely to God?  Because God has given Himself to us.  If God, Who owes us nothing, is ready to give us nothing less than Himself, can we respond with only a small part of ourselves?”  God did not have to create us: He freely created us out of love.  Once human beings sinned and turned their backs on their Creator, God did not have to redeem us.  Out of love for us God sent His Son to die in order to save us.  Out of love for us Jesus Christ shed His blood and laid down His life on the Cross.  Out of love for you and for me He gives Himself—all that He is and all that He has—he gives Himself completely to us as Food in the Eucharist, because He loves us and wants us to love Him in return.  God is love: He loves us with all of His being.  Jesus Christ poured Himself out for us and He asks us to pour ourselves out for love of Him.  He wants your whole heart, not just part of it.  Even if we give ourselves totally to God and put Him first in our hearts and give Him everything we are not left poor.  God is never outdone in generosity.  The more we give ourselves to God the more He gives Himself to us.  We were made to be united with God, but the only way that we can be united to Him is by giving our hearts completely to Him.  The more we give our hearts to Him the more He fills them up with Himself.  Giving ourselves totally to God is the only way of receiving God: God desires that our hearts belong to Him but He will not take them by force.  We have to give our hearts to Him; we have to allow God to reign in our hearts and in our lives.

The more our hearts belong to God the happier we become, because our hearts were made for God and they will not find fulfillment until they rest in God: God is the only thing that can fulfill all our hearts longings.  In order to truly give our hearts to God we have to root sin out of them and surrender our hearts to Him.  Let us open our hearts to all that God wants to do in them today; let us ask Him to give us the grace to surrender our hearts ever more completely to Him.

Lord Jesus Christ, help us to recognize that our hearts deepest desire is You.  Give us the grace to thirst for You, just as You thirst for us.  Help us, Lord, to pour ourselves out for love of You that we may come to possess You ever more fully; may we love You above all things.  Amen.

 

2nd Sunday of Lent

March 21, 2011

Every year on the second Sunday of Lent we hear the account of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.  Immediately preceding the passage that we heard today, Saint Matthew’s Gospel has Our Lord beginning to predict His Passion and death.  Our Lord reveals to His Apostles that He is to be put to death; then He is transfigured before some of them in order to strengthen their faith.

The Transfiguration is a foreshadowing of the Lord’s glorious Resurrection.  The account of the Transfiguration is given to us on the Second Sunday of Lent in order to encourage us to persevere in this season of self-denial that we celebrate with all the more joy the Easter season.

The Transfiguration is an event that has much significance, significance that might not be appreciated if one was not familiar with the Old Testament.  Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus: Moses is the one through whom God communicated the Old Law; Elijah represented the Old Testament Prophets.  Jesus is the fulfillment of everything foretold in the Law and the Prophets.  Jesus taught us that the whole purpose of the Old Testament Law and the Prophets could be summed up in two lines: love God above everything and love your neighbor as yourself.

Through Moses, God established a Covenant with His chosen people.  All of the Old Testament Prophets pointed forward to the coming of the Redeemer.  Jesus establishes the new and eternal Covenant in His own blood; He gives the New Law that calls us to a higher standard: the standard of love.  In the Gospels, Jesus often says that Moses said one thing but that He says another.  Moses was the greatest leader in Israel’s history; for Jesus to change the teachings of Moses was for Him to claim to have a greater authority than Moses.  That would have been shocking, indeed, for the Jewish people.  Yet Moses, himself, predicted the coming of Jesus: he predicted the coming of the Messiah and told the people to listen to him.  All those centuries later, Moses appears with the one that he predicted and those same words used are used, but they come from God the Father: “Listen to him.”

The Transfiguration also reminds us of our ultimate destiny.  Saint Paul says that if we share in Christ’s sufferings, we will share in His glory.  We are all destined to be with Christ in glory, as Moses and Elijah appeared with Him in His glory.  Each and every one of us was created to be united with God forever in Heaven.  In order to be united to God, I have to become more and more like Him.  Jesus calls us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.  The Father wants us to surrender our hearts more and more to Him; He wants to transform us and conform us to the image of His Son.  Jesus says that if we would follow after Him, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.  Jesus Christ is our Head; we are His mystical body.  We are to follow Him; we are to imitate Him.  He is the Way to the Father and no one comes to the Father except through Him.

The whole purpose of Lent is to help us to become more like Christ.  Through our self-denial, we strive to let go of our attachments: so that our hearts can belong more completely to God.  Through self-discipline, we gain mastery over our wills: so that we can root sin out of our hearts and grow in virtue.  Making us more Christ-like is the point, not only of Lent, but it also ought to be the point of all that we do.  The goal is to do everything that we do out of love: love for God and love for others.  That should be true in all the areas of our lives, and it should be especially true of what we do here at Mass, as Fr. John talked about in the parish mission this past week.  At the closing Mass of the parish mission, Fr. John reminded us that in the Eucharist, Jesus Christ gives us Himself as Food: He gives Himself to us as Food so that we might be transformed more and more into Him.  The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian life: from the Eucharist, we receive the grace to imitate Christ; and becoming more like Christ is the goal (the summit) of the Christian life.

Let us make the most out of this holy season of Lent; that our hearts might be ever more transformed into the Heart of Christ.  Let us open our hearts to all the graces that God wants to give to us in the Holy Communion that we receive today, at this Mass.  God wants to work in our hearts: He wants to work in your heart and He wants to work in my heart.  Yet, He will not force His way into our hearts: we have to open them to Him.  May we open our hearts to God’s grace and grow more and more each day into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

Heavenly Father, help us to open our hearts to You.  Help us to grow in grace and in love.  May our hearts be ever more fully conformed to the Sacred Heart of Your Son.  Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like Yours.  Amen.

 

March 20th

March 21, 2011

As we continue our journey through the forty days of Lent it is good for us to remind ourselves of why we have giving things up and why we have taken on extra spiritual practices.  The forty days of Lent are a reminder to us of the forty days that Our Lord spent in the desert after His baptism in the Jordan.  These forty days are meant to focus us on mastering our wills and overcoming temptation.

When we give up things that we could ordinarily enjoy, we strengthen our wills so that we might say “no” to temptation when it arises.  Our will is like a muscle: it is strengthened through exercise.  When we give up things, we exercise our free will.  When we give things up for Lent, we ought to give up things that will challenge us: if we give up something that we don’t care much about anyways, we aren’t really exercising our wills.

Offering things up to Our Lord as a spiritual sacrifice helps us to conform ourselves more and more to Him.  Jesus offered Himself up on the Cross for us and He told us that if we want to be His disciples, we must take up our cross and follow Him.  By foregoing things for Lent we, in some small way, unite ourselves to that offering that Jesus made of Himself.

Jesus offered everything that He had to the Father.  We are to imitate Him and offer our whole heart to God.  In order to make of ourselves a pleasing offering to the Father, we have to root sin out of our hearts.  Lent is a time to focus on strengthening our self-will so that we can overcome temptation and grow in virtue.  As we rid our hearts of sin, we make room for God.

While we must do all that we can to root sin out of our hearts, we must also remember that we can do nothing without God’s grace.  Let us ask Our Lord for the graces that we need to be ever more faithful to Him.  May we cooperate with His grace and succeed in strengthening our wills during this holy season.

God bless,

Father White

First Sunday of Lent

March 13, 2011

In today’s Gospel, we hear that Our Lord spent forty days in the desert; while there, He fasted and was tempted.  Our Lord’s fast of forty days is where the Church derived the idea of Lent.  In imitation of Our Lord, we too spend forty days denying ourselves.  As Our Lord was tempted while He was in the desert and yet did not sin; our goal in denying ourselves things during these forty days is to help us to overcome temptation.

We do not give things up merely for the sake of giving things up.  We deny ourselves things that we could ordinarily legitimately enjoy in order to imitate Christ and strengthen our wills.  Jesus said that if we want to follow Him we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.  Self-denial helps us put inordinate self-love to death.  In other words, we need to die to ourselves before we can really put God first in our hearts as Jesus commanded us to do.  When we give things up for Lent, our self-denial shows that we love God more than the good things of this world.

Furthermore, fasting and self-denial ought to help us to grow in self-mastery; through denying ourselves, we are enabled to gain more control over our passions and desires.  If we can say “no” to the things that we have given up, we will hopefully be able to say “no” to temptation that much more easily.  Again, the real goal in giving things up for Lent is to help us to resist temptation and rid our hearts of sin, so that our hearts can more completely be filled with love for God and others.

In order to overcome temptation, it is helpful to know how it works.  Traditionally, it has been understood that temptation comes from three sources: the devil, the flesh and the world.  In the Gospel, there are two ways that the world is talked about: one is positive and one is negative.  On the one hand, the Gospel says that God so loved the world that He sent His Son to die in order to save it.  On the other hand, Jesus says that if the world hates you, realize that it first hated Him.  It is in the second sense of this word that the world is a source of temptation.  We live in a society that does not share our Christian values in fact it resents them.  There are many things on the television, on the radio, and on the internet that are offensive to what we believe.  The best way to overcome those types of temptations is simply not to watch the shows, or networks that put those temptations before us.

Dealing with temptations of the flesh can be a little more difficult.  We can block inappropriate material from our televisions and from our computers, but we cannot get away from ourselves.  Temptation tends to start as a thought.  If we catch ourselves thinking about something that we ought not to be thinking about, it is important to reject the thought immediately.  Remember that sin always involves consent of our will.  If we realize that we have an inappropriate thought that we did not want to have, we have not sinned: we are simply being tempted.  If we reject an inappropriate thought as soon as we are aware of it, we have acted virtuously.  Only if we consent to the inappropriate thought do we fall into sin.

The reason that it is so urgent to reject bad thoughts as soon as we are aware of them is because if we allow ourselves to dwell on them, they become harder to get rid of.  Once a thought gains momentum through consent, it becomes hard to stop it from stirring up our emotions.  Once our emotions are engaged, it becomes harder to resist temptation and avoid sin.

Once a sin is committed, it is easier to commit the same sin again.  Any action that we repeat again and again can become a habit.  Sinful habits can be very difficult to break.  Sin enslaves the sinner.  In order to break out of a sinful habit we need God’s grace.  God will give us the grace to break free from sin if we ask for it, but we have to really want it.  If the sinful habit is a long-standing sinful habit, it will require much grace and effort.  Overcoming sinful habits is not easy, but nothing is impossible with God’s grace.  It is possible to overcome any temptation; but we have to be willing to do what it takes to conquer it.

One of the things that can help us prevail over temptation is to call to mind often the fact that temptation is always a lie: the lie is that if we give in to sin, we will be happy.  Sin never makes us happy; sin damages our relationship with God and apart from God we can never be truly happy.  Let us use these forty days of Lent to pray for the grace to overcome temptation and root sin out of our hearts; and let us do all that we can to cooperate with the grace that God offers.  May our observance of this holy season deepen our love for God and help us to conform our hearts, ever more perfectly, to the Heart of Christ.  Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like unto Thine.  Amen.

 

March 6th

March 6, 2011

Lent begins this coming Wednesday (March 9th).  Hopefully we have all already been thinking about what we are going to do for Lent.  Notice that I did not write “give up” for Lent.  Lent isn’t only about “giving something up,” it is meant to be a time in which we take on extra spiritual practices (which can take the form of abstaining from things, but can also take other forms) in order to help us grow in self control, reject sin and ultimately make our hearts more open to receiving God’s grace that we might be transformed by it.

The idea behind giving things up for Lent is: if we are able to say no to things that we could legitimately enjoy, we strengthen our wills to reject temptation when it comes along.

When we give things up for Lent, we should give up something that will really challenge us.  We should make sure that it is something that we will actually be able to do without for forty days.  Sometimes the temptation can be to take on too much and then we can become discouraged because we cannot bear the burden that we have placed upon ourselves and end up not doing anything.  We need to avoid that extreme, but we also need to avoid being too easy on ourselves.  In order to really exercise my will, I need to give up something that will really be a sacrifice.

As I mentioned before, Lent isn’t only about giving things up, we can also take on extra spiritual practices.  There are many devotions that can help us to meditate upon the Passion of Our Lord.  Stations of the Cross, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary are all beautiful devotions that can help us meditate upon all that Our Lord suffered in order to save us from sin and death.  Again, it is important not to overload ourselves, lest we become discouraged; yet Lent is a time when we make that extra effort to draw closer to Christ.

May this Lent be a time of great grace and spiritual renewal for our entire parish family!

God bless,

Father White

 

March 28th

March 28, 2010

This Sunday is known as Palm Sunday and it marks the beginning of Holy Week.  Palm Sunday commemorates Our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem shortly before His Passion.  On Palm Sunday, we all receive blessed palms, which remind us of the palm branches that the people spread on the road before the Lord as He processed into the city amidst the acclamation of the crowd.  At the Palm Sunday liturgy, there may also be a more solemn entrance procession, which, is yet another external reminder of our Lord’s solemn procession.

The entire purpose of the liturgical year is to help us to walk with our Lord in the various events of His earthly life.  During all of Lent our focus has been directed to the Passion of Our Lord in a general way.  Holy Week focuses us in a particular way on each of the last days of Our Lord’s life before His Passion, death and Resurrection.

Wednesday in Holy Week was traditionally called “Spy Wednesday” because on that day the Gospel reading recounts how Judas began to conspire with the Pharisees to put Jesus to death.

Holy Thursday is a day in which we remember the Lord’s Last Supper as well as the institution of the ordained priesthood.  In the morning there is a Mass at the Cathedral with the Archbishop.  At that Mass priests are invited to renew the promises that they made at their ordination.  It is also at that Mass that the Sacred Chrism will be consecrated.  That Chrism will be used to anoint the hands of the men who will be ordained this coming May.

In the evening of Holy Thursday, we commemorate the fact that Our Lord washed the feet of His Apostles.  At that Mass, the priest liturgically re-enacts that sacred event by washing the feet of twelve men from the parish.

Good Friday is the only day of the entire year when we do not celebrate Mass.  On Good Friday we remember the day Our Lord died for us and was buried.  We have a liturgy in which we are all invited to come forward and venerate the cross.  We also have a Communion service, but Mass is not celebrated on that day as a reminder of that day that Our Savior spent in the tomb.

Easter Vigil (Saturday evening) is one of the most important (and my favorite) liturgical celebrations of the entire year.  It begins with the blessing of the Easter Candle and a candlelight procession.  There are many beautiful prayers and the Gloria is sung while the bells peal and ring out as a sign of our joy.  There are several readings from the Old Testament, which recount Creation and Salvation history.  During the Vigil the candidates who have been in the RCIA will be Baptized, Confirmed and receive first Holy Communion.  It is truly a extraordinary celebration.  If you have never attended an Easter Vigil, I highly recommend you come and experience it for yourself.

God bless,

Father White