“Ash Wednesday – – First Day of Lent”
- Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
- Today in Catholic History
- Quote or Joke of the Day
- Today’s Gospel Reading
- Reflection on Today’s Gospel
- New Translation of the Mass
- A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day
- Franciscan Formation Reflection
- Reflection on part of the SFO Rule
Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:
Today is the start of the Lenten Season. Most followers of Western Christianity observe Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding on Holy Saturday (April 23, 2011). The six Sundays in this period are not counted because each one represents a “mini-Easter,” a celebration of Jesus’ victory over sin and death.
The number forty has many Old Testament Biblical references:
- the forty days and nights God sent rain in the great flood of Noah (Genesis 7:4);
- the forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai with God (Exodus 24:18);
- the forty years the Hebrew people wandered in the desert while traveling to the Promised Land (Numbers 14:33);
- the forty days Jonah in his prophecy of judgment gave the city of Nineveh in which to repent (Jonah 3:4).
- the forty days and nights Elijah spent walking to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8);
AND, Jesus retreated into the wilderness, where he fasted for forty days, and was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-2, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-2). Jesus said that his disciples should fast “when the bridegroom shall be taken from them” (Matthew 9:15), a reference to his Passion. Since the Apostles fasted as they mourned the death of Jesus, Christians have traditionally fasted during the annual commemoration of his burial.
The Etymology of the word is interesting for me. In Latin, the term “quadragesima” (a translation of the original Greek meaning the “fortieth” day before Easter) is used instead. In the late Middle Ages, as sermons began to be given in the common vernacular instead of the traditional Latin, the English word “lent” was adopted. This word (lent) initially meant, simply, “spring” (as in German language “Lenz” and Dutch “lente”) and derives from the Germanic root for “long” because, in the spring, the days visibly lengthen.
The Prayer of St. Gertrude, below (after my reflection on the Gospel), is one of the most famous of the prayers for souls in purgatory. St. Gertrude the Great was a Benedictine nun and mystic who lived in the 13th century. According to tradition, our Lord promised her that 1000 souls would be released from purgatory each time it is said devoutly. Please say this prayer each day, during Lent.
Today in Catholic History:
† 1422 – Death of Jan Zelivsky, Hussite priest (b. 1380)
† 1440 – Death of St. Frances of Rome, Italian nun (b. 1384)
† 1452 – Pope Nicolaas I crowns Frederik III RC-German emperor
† 1568 – Birth of Aloysius “Luigi” van Gonzaga, Italian prince/Jesuit/saint
† 1824 – Death of Jacobus J Cramer, priest of Holland/Zealand/Friesland, dies at 79
† Memorials/Feasts: Saint Gregory of Nyssa; Saint Frances of Rome; Forty Martyrs of Sebaste
(From the “On This Day” Blog Site
“Today in Catholic History”
Quote or Joke of the Day:
In today’s reflection, Jesus teaches that almsgiving, prayer, and fasting should be done in secret.
1 “[Jesus said to His disciples] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. 2 When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, 4 so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. 5 “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. 16 “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you. (NAB Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
Today, we celebrate “Ash Wednesday”, the first day of the liturgical season known as “Lent” (explained in detail at the beginning of this blog, above). We should be preparing ourselves to celebrate the Catholic “summit” of our Spiritual and Liturgical year: Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead on that early Sunday morning we now call “Easter”.
Each year, the readings for Ash Wednesday are the same. They instruct us to develop and mature a true and loving change of heart. This season is a time to build-up our practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; disciplines that are meant to be part of our individual and communal Catholic ways of life during every season – – every day – – of the year. However, during the Lenten season, we are given an opportunity as a Catholic Family (the Church militant) to renew and refresh our commitment to theses regular “yearly” practices.
The Jewish people considered prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as the fundamental works of religious life. These three practices were the essential and primary practices of a pious person; the three great pillars on which the good life was based (a Trinitarian statement).
Jesus is warning against doing good so others can see you. He then gives three examples in today’s reading: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. In each example, the conduct of the “hypocrites” is compared with what is actually demanded of His followers. Jesus is instructing His followers with the aim of praying, fasting, and giving alms, to not draw attention so that others may notice and think highly of them? He is instead instructing His followers to give glory to God, and not allow glory to self.
Self-seeking glory is in opposition to “piety”. True piety is far more than just feeling good or looking holy to others. True piety is a virtue of loving devotion and surrender to God in all aspects of life. Piety is an individual and person attitude of awe, reverence, worship, and obedience to our almighty God. True piety is a grace and action of the Holy Spirit working in, with, and through us, – – individually, – – enabling us to devote our entire lives to God with a righteous longing to please Him in all things, thoughts, and actions.
Jesus warns his followers against acting for the sake of appearance. When His disciples give alms, pray, and fast, they are to do so in such a way that only God, who sees their heart and soul – – and knows what is hidden, – – will know. Although our Gospel reading today omits the Lord’s Prayer (cf., Matthew 6:9-15), we can bear in mind that Matthew presents the Lord’s model of prayer for His disciples’.
“Do not pray as the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in his Gospel.” (Didache 8:2)
The references to “reward” in today’s reading, is also found in other verses of Matthew’s Gospel:
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:12)
“For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:46)
“Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple–amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:41-42)
It seems that Matthew considered all Christian disciples as “prophets”. A prophet is, by definition, one who speaks in the name of God. In addition, being “righteous” is required for all of Jesus’ disciples. The Prophets, the righteous man, and the “little ones” from Matthew 10:41-42, are used here for different groups within the followers of Jesus Christ – – Christian missionaries of the era – – per se, as compared to His “close group” of Apostles and disciples that stayed near His physical presence.
What is the “reward” that Jesus offers to His disciples – US? Answer: Communion with God our Father. (WOW!!) In God the Father, we find the true and complete fullness of life, happiness, truth, beauty, love, and eternal joy. (What else would anyone want?) Saint Augustine, the great fourth century bishop of Hippo, wrote the following prayer in his Confessions:
“When I am completely united to you, there will be no more sorrows or trials; entirely full of you, my life will be complete. The Lord rewards those who seek him with humble and repentant hearts. He renews us each day and he gives us new hearts of love and compassion that we may serve him and our neighbor with glad and generous hearts.”
This reference to “reward” in today’s reading shows the word itself is an early part of Christian moral buzz-words. In using this particular word (reward), Jesus is possibly attempting to emphasize the distinction between the Christian idea of reward and that of the hypocrites, especially the Scribes and Pharisees. In the original Kenoi (Biblical) Greek, Matthew uses two different Greek verbs to express the reward of the disciples compared to that of the hypocrites. The “reward” word for the hypocrite is the verb “apecho”, a business-related term meaning to give a receipt for what has been paid in full.
The word “hypocrite” occurs 21 times in the New Testament. Mark uses it once. Luke uses it four times. In addition to parallel words and references, Matthew uses it eleven times in passages that are found solely in his Gospel. All of these are Jesus’ statements in which “hypocrite” refers to the most religious Jews of Jesus’ day – – the Scribes and Pharisees. Interestingly for me, the word “hypocrite” is not found in the Book of Acts or any of the other epistles, but only in the Gospels.
When Jesus used the word “hypocrites” in verse 2, was He is, in fact, referencing the Scribes and Pharisees of the Jewish temple:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.” (Matthew 23:13)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes 12 of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. (But) these you should have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.” (Matthew 23:25)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.” (Matthew 23:27)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous.” (Matthew 23:29)
The designation – – “hypocrite” – – reflects an attitude which resulted, not only from the disagreements and controversies at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry in the early first century A.D., but also continued with antagonisms and disagreements between Pharisaic Judaism and Matthew’s congregation in the later part of the first century A.D., and continuing on throughout history. I believe we sadly still experience a large amount of hypocrisy in everyday life, in the Catholic Church itself, and even within my own Secular Franciscan Order. Hypocrisy continues throughout all aspects of earthly existence to one level or another. How sad!
Jesus, in saying “they have received their reward”(verse 2), is telling His followers that these individuals desired “praise” in their actions instead of a relationship with God, and have received exactly what they were looking for, and not God’s grace.
The only “fast” (verse 16) prescribed in the Mosaic Law is on the “Day of Atonement”:
“Since on this day atonement is made for you to make you clean, so that you may be cleansed of all your sins before the LORD, by everlasting ordinance it shall be a most solemn Sabbath for you, on which you must mortify yourselves.” (Leviticus 16:30-31).
However, the practice of regular fasting became a very common practice in later Judaism and Christianity:
“Do not let your fasting be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second day and the fifth day of the week [Monday and Thursday], but you shall fast on the fourth day and the day of preparation [Wednesday and Friday].” (Didache 8:1).
Now, let’s return to the beginning of my reflection. What is our responsibility during the Lenten Season? What does rubbing burnt palm leaves on one’s forehead have to do with praying, fasting, and alms-giving?
The meaning behind tracing a cross on our foreheads with ashes at the beginning of Lent (the outward liturgical sign of our inner belief and faith) is a summary of our Catholic Christian life. The ashes on our foreheads remind us of our origin from God through Adam in that beautiful garden, and of our human death in body. Today, when receiving ashes, listen to the words prayed by the minister when receiving them on your forehead:
There are actually three representations associated with the ashes. Most know about the ashes representing our origins and death, but there is actually an additional representation most probably don’t think of (Isn’t it interesting that even the ashes have a Trinitarian aspect to them!)
The ashes are also the sign of our victory: that victory being – – the cross of Christ. As the minister places the ashes on your forehead, he is making the sign of the cross. (Through sometimes it appear to look like a map of Europe or a Rorschach test.) In Jesus’ death and resurrection, He overcame and conquered death. Our destiny as Catholics is to receive the same “victory” over death that Jesus Christ triumphed over, and won for us. We acknowledge Jesus’ victory over death when we:
“turn away from sin and are faithful to the Gospel.”
(Words from the alternative prayer when receiving the ashes.)
In summary, the season of Lent presents an opportunity to examine our life and to re-commit ourselves to the Catholic practices of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Ash Wednesday is a great time to pray and to plan Lenten practices.
Jesus expected His disciples to give alms, pray, and fast. He gave instructions that when we do those practices, they should not be done solely for public display. Think of one way YOU will give “alms” during Lent; to share what you have with people in need – – in a private way. Think of one way YOU will “pray” – – privately – – during Lent. Choose one thing that YOU will “give up” during Lent as a reminder of your love for God – – without telling others.
Finally, pray that God blesses your Lenten promises by praying today’s psalm from Mass (Psalm 51), the “Our Father”, or the Prayer of St. Gertrude (below).
“The Prayer of St. Gertrude”
“Eternal Father, I offer you the Most Precious Blood of your Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.”
Pax et Bonum
A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day: St. Frances of Rome (1384-1440)
Frances’s life combines aspects of secular and religious life. A devoted and loving wife, she longed for a lifestyle of prayer and service, so she organized a group of women to minister to the needs of Rome’s poor.
Born of wealthy parents, Frances found herself attracted to the religious life during her youth. But her parents objected and a young nobleman was selected to be her husband.
As she became acquainted with her new relatives, Frances soon discovered that the wife of her husband’s brother also wished to live a life of service and prayer. So the two, Frances and Vannozza, set out together—with their husbands’ blessings—to help the poor.
Frances fell ill for a time, but this apparently only deepened her commitment to the suffering people she met. The years passed, and Frances gave birth to two sons and a daughter. With the new responsibilities of family life, the young mother turned her attention more to the needs of her own household. The family flourished under Frances’s care, but within a few years a great plague began to sweep across Italy. It struck Rome with devastating cruelty and left Frances’s second son dead. In an effort to help alleviate some of the suffering, Frances used all her money and sold her possessions to buy whatever the sick might possibly need. When all the resources had been exhausted, Frances and Vannozza went door to door begging. Later, Frances’s daughter died, and the saint opened a section of her house as a hospital.
Frances became more and more convinced that this way of life was so necessary for the world, and it was not long before she requested and was given permission to found a society of women bound by no vows. They simply offered themselves to God and to the service of the poor. Once the society was established, Frances chose not to live at the community residence, but rather at home with her husband. She did this for seven years, until her husband passed away, and then came to live the remainder of her life with the society—serving the poorest of the poor.
Looking at the exemplary life of fidelity to God and devotion to her fellow human beings which Frances of Rome was blessed to lead, one cannot help but be reminded of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (September 5), who loved Jesus Christ in prayer and also in the poor. The life of Frances of Rome calls each of us not only to look deeply for God in prayer, but also to carry our devotion to Jesus living in the suffering of our world. Frances shows us that this life need not be restricted to those bound by vows.
Malcolm Muggeridge’s book Something Beautiful for God contains this quote from Mother Teresa say about each sister in her community: “Let Christ radiate and live his life in her and through her in the slums. Let the poor seeing her be drawn to Christ and invite him to enter their homes and lives.” Says Frances of Rome: “It is most laudable in a married woman to be devout, but she must never forget that she is a housewife. And sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping” (Butler’s Lives of the Saints).
Patron Saint of: Motorists; Widows and Oblates
Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feast
By Leonard Foley, O.F.M.;
revised by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.
(From http://www.americancatholic.org website)
New Translation of the Mass
In November of 2011, with the start of the new Liturgical year and Advent, there will be a few noticeable changes in the Mass. It will still be the same ritual for celebrating the Eucharist. The Mass will still have the same parts, the same patterns, and the same flow as it has had for the past several decades. It is only the translation of the Latin that is changing.
The new translation seeks to correspond much more closely to the exact words and sentence structure of the Latin text. At times, this results in a good and faithful rendering of the original meaning. At other times it produces a rather awkward text in English which is difficult to proclaim and difficult to understand. Most of those problems affect the texts which priests will proclaim rather than the texts that belong to the congregation as a whole. It is to the congregation’s texts that I will address with each blog, in a repetitive basis until the start of Advent.
In the words of Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, #11, the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of Christian life. Anything we can do to understand our liturgy more deeply will draw us closer to God.
The third form of the penitential rite, with the various invocations of Christ (e.g., “You came to call sinners”) will be much the same (not much of a change), though an option is added to conclude each invocation in Greek:
“Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison,”
instead of in English: “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy”, as it is presently. The first two forms (found in the past two previous blogs) may conclude with this threefold litany too, either in English or in Greek.
Material from “Changing How We Pray”, by Rev. Lawrence E. Mick
Franciscan Formation Reflection:
How does the monthly fraternity collection fit into your understanding of poverty and penance? How does shopping at second-hand stores (e.g., garage sales/Good Will/Salvation Army/etc.) for clothing and furniture show concern for the environment and natural resources? What is your attitude toward money and possessions? Are you comfortable curbing your desire to “want more”? Can you think of examples of doing this (curbing your desires)?
Secular Franciscan Order (SFO)
Rule #’s 9 & 10 of 26:
9. The Virgin Mary, humble servant of the Lord, was open to His every word and call. She was embraced by Francis with indescribable love and declared the protectress and advocate of his family. The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for her by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently.
10. United themselves to the redemptive obedience of Jesus, who placed His will into the Father’s hands, let them faithfully fulfill the duties proper to their various circumstances of life. Let them also follow the poor and crucified Christ, witness to Him even in difficulties and persecutions.