I listen to many podcasts. The Thomistic Institute, run by the Pontifical Faculty at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., puts many very good excellent lectures online. They recently posted one called “Grace and Anxiety: Spiritual Growth in a Time of Turmoil”. I would highly recommend listening to it. I found it to be a very re-assuring talk for what’s going on in the world right now. Here are, approximately, 50 different ways you can access it:
While putting this post together, I found out that this and another (excellent) talk I was listening to this morning are part of a Quarantine Lecture series that the Thomistic Institute is putting online, which you can find here: https://thomisticinstitute.org/quarantine-lectures.
Death is not something in God’s original plan for mankind. Death is a
consequence of sin, that original sin we hear about in Genesis. We don’t have time
to get into all of that, but it is critical that we always remember that suffering
and death are consequences of humanity’s turn away from God and towards itself.
Even at the beginning, though, God had a plan to redeem us. In Genesis 3:15, we
encounter what is called the Proto-Evangelium—the
first good news—God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the
woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you
strike at his heel.” If there were any doubt that God has put himself into
solidarity with us, He sent his Son to become one of us, and this divine Son—God
Incarnate—wept at the earthly death of his friend. Death makes God weep. Even
though Jesus knew he would soon raise Lazarus, even though Jesus knew that
death on this earth was not an end, but a beginning, even though he knew all of
this: Jesus wept. He became “perturbed,” the Gospel says, that is, he became
stern-faced and resolute, and he commanded Lazarus to come out. He showed his
absolute lordship over life and death. Jesus shows today that while we may perish
on this earth, death is no match for Him.
Here’s the problem, though: if Jesus, i.e., God, has absolute sovereignty over life and over death, if he hates sin and suffering and death even more than we do because he understands it more fully, if even a temporary death makes him weep, then why does he permit such things to happen? Jesus brings us the answer today. In John 11:4, we heard Jesus say, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Later—without having been informed by anyone—He informs the apostles in verse 14 that “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.” To rephrase it slightly, God allows Lazarus to die so that many may come to faith because of the mighty that would be wrought by the hands of Jesus.
This all makes me think of the reflection Pope Francis gave on Friday during the extraordinary moment of prayer and Urbi et Orbi blessing. If you did not see it or have not read it, it is excellent. I would that you go to the Vatican’s website, read it, and reflect on it. The Holy Father, reflecting on the calming of the storm in Mark’s Gospel said, ‘we see how [the apostles] call on [Jesus]: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.’1
But how does Jesus care for us when we feel more like Lazarus: dead? Whether we want to admit it or not, something inside each of us has been killed—and many people have been killed—by this pestilence, this viral plague. The pope continues later, this plague ‘exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities.’ This plague, then, has been a call from God for us to wake up and remember our glory as human beings: that God emptied himself and became one of us to save us, to save us even from death itself, to save us from not only physical death, but also from a far more deadly and insidious spiritual death. The pope, showing us how God is calling us to glorify him, later continued, ‘[t]he Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love.’
This is no easy task on our part. It requires faith and trust in God. We
must believe and be confident in the knowledge that God has and will continue
to save us from sin, suffering, and death. This challenge of faith is what Ezekiel
confronts in our first reading today. To set the scene: the Israelites are exiled
from their lands into Babylon. They are cut off from their temple and their
temple worship of the Most High God. The entire book of Ezekiel is built around
the message that God will NEVER abandon his beloved children. If you
look at the first chapter of Ezekiel, it is, admittedly, a little trippy, but Ezekiel
is struggling to communicate a vision of God that has at its core one truth:
the throne of God moves. God goes anywhere and everywhere that He desires
to go. That hasn’t changed in the last 2,618 years, and it never will. As we
stay at home, separated from our parishes, unable to fully participate in
worship, we face the same tragic question as the captives in Babylon all those
years ago: How can I offer fitting worship to God? How can I truly celebrate
the Lord’s day? How can I do these things separated from my brothers and
sisters in Christ?
Ezekiel today tells the Israelites that God will open their graces and
rise them up from them. God will continue to lift us up from our sorrow and breathe
new life into us even now, during this time of challenging separation. And God
does not stop there. He promises to bring Israel home. God never told Israel
that their temple was not the most fitting place to offer him worship. It was
the most fitting place to glorify him prior to the fulfillment of the old covenant
and the establishment of the new covenant during the Easter Event. The most
fitting place to offer God worship now is when we are assembled as a community to
participate in the Easter Event which is made present during Holy Sacrifice of
the Mass. God has never taught us otherwise. But as the Israelites learned all
those years ago, and as we are being forced to remember now: God will not allow
himself to be sequestered or confined to that hour we spend at Church on
Sunday. God lives within our hearts at every moment of every day. He desires to
be with us and involved in every aspect of our lives. Through this
plague, perhaps God is calling us to glorify him by putting our Easter faith
back at the center of our lives. The psalmist today cries, ‘Out of the depths I
cry to you, O Lord; Lord hear my voice!’ and ‘With the Lord there is mercy and
fullness of redemption.’
Let us ask the Lord to increase our faith, so we glorify him every moment of our lives.
Today’s Readings: March 29, 2020 Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45
Since the coronavirus has stopped most (all?) public gatherings, it forced my parish into cancelling my in-person Examen Prayer Retreat that was supposed to be today. I wasn’t going to let a little thing like being in-person get in the way of the retreat, though! I’ve recorded my retreat talks and put together a page for the retreat. It includes a schedule for watching the videos, reflection, and prayer. It also includes information on other resources where you can go deeper into the Examen Prayer.
The retreat takes about two hours long, and is available by clicking here.
The Pope gave an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi (To the City and the World) blessing today. As part of this hour of prayer, Pope Francis preached a wonderful homily. The text of it is available on the Vatican’s website. Click here to read it.
Vatican News has a video with English commentary, which I have included here:
In other news, I recently stumbled on an interesting little article by Philip Kosloski about the development of the Hail Mary prayer. The first half of the prayer is quite ancient; however, the second half seems to have developed during the dark times of the Black Death. If that is the case, than we should not hesitate to pray to Mary to ask for relief from this plague! Click here to read the article on Aleteia.
All sorts of things are shut down right now, and many of us are left trying to fill the time. One excellent thing to do during this time is to regularize our prayer lives. If we aren’t happy with our current practices of prayer, change them! That doesn’t mean we should be fickle and change our way of praying every single day; however, it can be good to have a little variety from season to season.
One good practice we can take up during Lent is the ancient practice of praying the Seven Penitential Psalms. For many centuries, they were a part of priests’ daily prayers during Lent. These were prayed kneeling and with an antiphon at the beginning and end.
I’ve begun praying these psalms recently, partially because I have a bit more free time due to the Coronavirus cancelling many of my meetings, but also because it is also helpful to remember where we stand before God. The penitential psalms help us to recognize that we all struggle to follow God in our daily life.
I have included links to the Penitential Psalms in English. I am unable to include them directly due to copyright concerns. I have also put together a page for both the English and the Latin version of these psalms. Click here to visit that page.
The Penitential Psalms
Note: the words in italics are instructions to assist in praying these psalms.
Begin with the first antiphon: Do not remember, O Lord, our offenses, or those of our parents. Do not take vengeance for our sins.
Pray the psalm:Psalm 6 End the psalm by praying the Glory Be: Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Pray the psalm:Psalm 32 End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.
Pray the psalm:Psalm 38 End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.
Pray the psalm:Psalm 51 End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.
Pray the psalm:Psalm 102 End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.
Pray the psalm:Psalm 130 End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.
Pray the psalm:Psalm 143 End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.
Repeat the initial antiphon: Do not remember, O Lord, our offenses, or those of our parents. Do not take vengeance for our sins.