Our Secret Lenten Campaign

In Lent we pray, fast, and give alms so that we can destroy our self-centeredness and become worthy to join our Heavenly Father at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

Homily for Ash Wednesday, 2021.

Our Secret Lenten Campaign

In the collect, sometimes called the opening prayer, we asked God that today “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.” Shortly, as we prepare the gifts before the Eucharistic Prayer, during which they will become the Body and Blood of Christ, and then will be sacrificed and offered to God the Father, we pray that we might undertake this campaign of purification, penance, and charity so that, “cleansed from our sins, [we] may become worthy to celebrate devoutly the Passion of [Jesus Christ].

These prayers tell us everything we need to know about the holy season of Lent which we begin today. they tells us why we engage in Lenten practices: so that we become worthy to celebrate the Passion of Our Lord. We celebrate our Lord’s Passion every time we participate in the Mass, but this is all a shadow of the true celebration to which we are invited at the end of our lives: the Heavenly Wedding Feast of the Lamb. To celebrate this eternal banquet well and devoutly, we must engage in a campaign of Christian service on this earth. The point of this service is to eradicate evil from our lives: evil cannot coexist with our God, whom we will join in Heaven.

To engage in this campaign of Christianity, we utilize the weapons of self-restraint. As the prophet Joel teaches us, we must rend our hearts and not our garments. In plain English, he is telling us that what is inside our hearts is much more consequential than what is outside. Christ tells us how to rend our hearts in the Gospel today: pray, fast, and give alms. Our Lenten practices should incorporate all of these. For example: perhaps instead of buying a coffee and bagel in the morning, we could save that money up and donate it to the Lord’s Diner at the end of the month. We could make a daily effort to pray for those poor people on this earth who are alone, lost, and who have nobody to pray for them. Instead of giving up meat on Fridays alone, we could give it up on Wednesdays as well. These practices of self-denial and mortification “break us in order to raise us up and open our hearts” by destroying our “obsessive concentration on self caused by sin.” (Louis Bouyer as quoted in Magnificat, February 2021, p. 270)

Perhaps the most important aspect of these ascetic practice urged by Christ is one we often overlook: we should do them without drawing attention to ourselves. By engaging in these practices and not seeking worldly recognition, we allow our Father, who Christ repeatedly tells us sees the secrets of our hearts, to give us that recognition when we meet him at the Heavenly Banquet where we hope to join him. Humble prayer, fasting and almsgiving done in secret is a defining trait of Christian asceticism.

This year, we are given an extra chance at humility. Because of the pandemic, the Vatican has changed the distribution of ashes in many countries. Instead of receiving a cross on your forehead, we will sprinkle ashes on the crown of your head. This is an ancient practice, which we find in the Bible centuries before Christ. While new to us, in many countries, such as Italy, this is what they always do.

Unless you are lucky enough to have a beautiful bald head like mine, nobody will be able to tell you are fasting today. Nobody will be able to tell that you went to Mass today. Nobody will be able to tell that you began your Lenten campaign today. Nobody will be able to tell that you are rending your hearts to become worthy to celebrate the Passion of Jesus Christ today. But that’s OK. Because your Heavenly Father, who sees what is hidden, will repay you with everlasting life.

Today’s Readings:
Ash Wednesday
February 17, 2021
Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Conversation with God

Prayer is communication with God, and it is essential for Heaven.

Homily on the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, January 17, 2021.

Come and listen

“Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Never in a thousand years could Samuel have guessed what he would do in his life. He was to be the last of the great judges of Israel. He provided steady leadership and guidance to the people of Israel, but His sons were unworthy to follow him as leaders of Israel, and the people demanded a king. Samuel would anoint two kings, Saul and later David, and he never feared to challenge abuses of Saul’s power directly. All of this was the will of God, enacted through Samuel, who, for the entirety of his life, never stopped listening to God and serving him.

We all must strive to listen to God as Samuel did.

There are two primary ways in which we can listen for God: prayer and study, specifically, study of Scripture. They are not mutually exclusive. Some would argue that the best way to study scripture is, in fact, while on our knees.1 Prayer is absolutely essential to our lives as Christians, and yet, many of us neglect it or think that going to Mass on Sunday and praying a rosary or two is sufficient prayer. These are good things, but they are not enough. We are called to pray without ceasing. (1 Thess 5:17) That is a lofty goal, but it is attainable if we recognize what prayer actually is and devote ourselves to prayer.

Prayer, simply put, is communicating with God.2 To share the deepest moments of our life with him. To ask for his help, but even moreso, to ask for his love. This isn’t automatic, and we must practice communicating with God. In other words: the way we learn to pray is through prayer.3 Think about your relationship with your closest friend: Were you instantly able to talk about the deepest movements of your heart? Or was it a bit challenging and uncomfortable at first? It can be frightening to plumb the depths of your life and bring forward the deepest secrets in our hearts. It is scary to be vulnerable with someone. Make no mistake: more than any moment of physical vulnerability, the moment we open our heart to another person is one of the most vulnerable moment of our lives. We fear rejection at the core of our being. We are human, after all. We have been created to live in community.

With God, though, we need not worry about rejection. He loves us deeply. He will not reject us. “[W]hen we can be vulnerable enough to show it all to God, to let Him into it and let ourselves be loved in the midst of it, we experience the transforming power of His love.”4 No matter how odd our personality, no matter what kind of sin we’ve gotten into, God loves us infinitely and uniquely. Fr. Jacques Phillippe writes that “God’s love is personal and individual. God does not love two people in the same way because it is actually his love that creates our personality, a different personality for each. There is a much great difference between people’s souls than between their faces…”5 Prayer opens our soul to the word God wishes to speak to it, the word of his unique love for us. This love, which he intends for us to share, is living and active. This love calls each of us to a unique mission amongst his holy people.

How, then, do we pray?

First, make a commitment to pray a certain amount per day. I don’t care who you are, you can always find five minutes a day to pray. Honestly, I suspect we all have 15 minutes at least we can give to God. If you don’t think you do, pull out your phone and look at your screen time app. How much time do you spend on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever? I promise you that time in prayer will be better for you body and soul than any thread or post or story.

Second, find some silence. Some people will deny this is necessary: they are wrong. Perhaps someone experienced in prayer can find the peace necessary to pray, but beginners in prayer—most of us—need silence, because we need to quiet our minds from all the distractions of the world. In this area, it is helpful to prepare. For example, you could listen to some music, like Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, or one of Bach’s Oratorios. Note that the kind of music matters. If it doesn’t lift your soul to God, then it won’t help you to cast aside this world and meet God.  If that’s not your thing, do some deep breathing for a minute or so.

Third, just pray. Tell God what’s happening in your life. Tell him what’s good and what’s bad. Tell him what bring you joy and what terrifies you. Tell him how you feel about him, whether you’re happy with him or furious at him. Tell him what you need help with. Ask him to help you. Maybe most importantly, ask him to help you see how much he loves you.

Finally, don’t forget to be silent with him for a while. We need the silence: it is in the silence that God speaks to our hearts. Remember, Samuel said, “speak, your servant is listening.” He did not say, “listen, your servant is speaking.” If you feel inspired to read some passage in Scripture, go for it, but don’t go overboard. Prayer time is not reading time, and even I make that mistake too regularly.

Single people, you can make time to pray, you just have to decide to do it.

Married couples, you have it a little harder, especially if you have children. Nevertheless, husbands and wives: your primary goal is to get your spouse to Heaven. To get to Heaven, a person must pray.

Husbands, I don’t care how challenging it is or how tired you are or how grumpy the children are, there is no excuse for not giving your wife a few minutes of silence a day so that she can pray. You have one job that matters: get your wife to heaven. Do it.

Wives, I recognize that you are burdened with many tasks and are often exhausted and many times have already spent much of the day with the kids, but your husband needs a few minutes of silence a day so that he can pray. Remember, your most important job is to get your husband to heaven.

Children, when your parents are praying, don’t bother them! (Well, if someone is hurt or the house is on fire, you can bother them…) Instead of bothering them, join them in prayer.

Christ has invited us, saying Come, and you will see.

Let us go to him in prayer, so that we might see eternal life.

Today’s Readings:
January 17, 2021
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20; John 1:35-42

Lamps of Faith, Oil of Good Works

oil lamp

God gives us faith as a gift. Do we allow it to shine forth by supplying it with the oil of good works?

Homily for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

The Almighty Power of God

God’s absolute power allows him to judge us with leniency.

Homily for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

Online Examen Prayer Retreat now posted!

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 Seven Penitential Psalms

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.

Daily Mass for St. Patrick’s Day

Because of the coronavirus, at Blessed Sacrament we’re doing our best to allow people to pray the Mass even if they cannot physically be there. One of the way’s we’re doing that is by streaming as often as possible on our parish Facebook page. I’ve included today’s Mass, which I celebrated, in this post. The Mass begins at time 3:30 in the video.

Daily Mass on St. Patrick’s Day, 2020

Prayer, Fasting, and Alms-giving lead to Joy!

During Lent, we intensify our efforts to grow closer to God. We fast, pray and give alms, just as Jesus taught us in today’s Gospel. These are things we must do. Humanity has turned away from God. We all have sinned and turned from God—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Psalm 51 speaks to all of these types of sin. It uses three different Hebrew words: פשׁע (pesha), חטאה (chatta’ah), עוון (‘ă·wōn). Each of these expresses a different type of sin. I wasn’t able to find my notes from 4 years ago, but if I remember correctly: עוון refers to a general condition of sin within humanity, חטאה refers to sin committed unintentionally—sort of a side effect of human nature, and פשׁע refers to sin committed intentionally. (I’m fairly sure the words and the definitions are right, and I’m pretty sure that’s how they line up, but I’m not 100% sure!) These are all different ways we get turned around and separated from God. We need help turning back to God. The prophet Joel tells us all—the children, the elderly, those literally just married, even infants—to cry out, “Spare, O Lord, your people!” If the Lord does not forget the cry of the poor, neither will he forget the cry of his children who, poor in spirit, turn back to him.

Jesus today tells us how to make that turn back to him prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. And he tells us how to do each of these things. We are supposed to do all of these things in private, so that others cannot see them. In fact, Jesus takes it one step further: when we fast, we are supposed to anoint our head, wash our face, and no appear to be fasting. It’s as if he wants us to undertake these penances joyfully.

It may seem odd, but there is, actually, a logic to it. Let me explain. Prayer, fasting, and alms-giving clear space out of hearts, getting rid of all the cruft that has been building up: attachments to material things, over-concern about our bodies (see Matthew 6:25-34), or things we have allowed to take God’s place. We clear out all those things that get in between us and God. When we empty out that space, though, we need to fill it up with something. If we fill it up with the praise and adulation of those around us, what good would any penance do? What good would all this work do? We’d be no better off than the hypocrites Jesus talks about in the Gospel today. Instead, we do these things in secret, and offer them to God, so that He can fill up our heart. In addition to the great practice of giving things up, we should add additional time for prayer and the Sacraments during Lent, so that we are filling that space we spent all that energy to clear with God. God is the source of all our joy, and if we are full of him, how can we help but be joyful? Fasting, prayer, alms-giving—these things are not easy, but they clean out our hearts and open them to God, they give us more room for God to work in our lives: of course we’ll be more joyful, because God lives within us!

This is, in fact, what we must do to fulfill what God has asked us to do. Paul, in the second reading, reminds us that we are to be ambassadors for Christ. We must allow God to appeal to others through us. We must be lights, shining brightly with God’s love and his joy and his mercy. What better way is there to do that then to clear out all the junk from our hearts and let God fill it?

Now is an acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. This Lent, let’s do something a bit hard, to truly open up our hearts to God. The collect today was so excellent, it said “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.” (Emphasis is mine.) This is our campaign of Christian service, by which Christ sends us to do battle with evil. We pray, fast, and give alms, so we get everything between us and God out of the way and go forth as joyful witnesses and ambassadors for God.

Today’s Readings
February 26, 2020
Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 & 17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18