Category Archives: Ash Wednesday

St Jerome on the Book of Joel

-from a commentary on the book of Joel by Saint Jerome, priest, Doctor of the Church (PL 25, 967-968) as found in the Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, Second Reading, 21st Week in Ordinary Time.

“”Return to me with all your heart [Joel 2:12] and show a spirit of repentance with fasting, weeping and mourning [Joel 2:12]; so that while you fast now, later you may be satisfied, while you weep now, later you may laugh, while you mourn now, you may some day enjoy consolation [cf Luke 6:21; Matthew 5:4]. It is customary for those in sorrow or adversity to tear their garments. The gospel records that the high priest did this to exaggerate the charge against our Lord and Savior; and we read that Paul and Barnabas did so when they heard words of blasphemy. I bid you not to tear your garments but rather to rend your hearts [Joel 2:13] which are laden with sin. Like wine skins, unless they have been cut open, they will burst of their own accord. After you have done this, return to the Lord your God, from whom you had been alienated by your sins. Do not despair of his mercy, no matter how great your sins, for great mercy will take away great sins [cf Luke 7:41-47].

For the Lord is gracious and merciful [Joel 2:13] and prefers the conversion of a sinner rather than his death. Patient and generous in his mercy, he does not give in to human impatience but is willing to wait a long time for our repentance. So extraordinary is the Lord’s mercy in the face of evil, that if we do penance for our sins, he regrets his own threat and does not carry out against us the sanctions he had threatened. So by the changing of our attitude, he himself is changed. But in this passage we should interpret “evil” to mean, not the opposite of virtue, but affliction, as we read in another place: Sufficient for the day are its own evils [cf Matthew 6:34]. And, again: If there is evil in the city, God did not create it.

In like manner, given all that we have said above – that God is kind and merciful, patient, generous with his forgiveness, and extraordinary in his mercy toward evil – lest the magnitude of his clemency make us lax and negligent, he adds this word through his prophet: Who knows whether he will not turn and repent and leave behind him a blessing? [Joel 2:14]. In other words, he says: “I exhort you to repentance, because it is my duty, and I know that God is inexhaustibly merciful, as David says: Have mercy on me, God, according to your great mercy, and in the depths of your compassion, blot out all my iniquities [cf Psalm 51:1]. But since we cannot know the depth of the riches and of the wisdom and knowledge of God, I will temper my statement, expressing a wish rather than taking anything for granted, and I will say: Who knows whether he will not turn and repent? [cf Joel 2:14]. Since he says, Who, it must be understood that it is impossible or difficult to know for sure.

To these words the prophet adds: Offerings and libations for the Lord our God [cf Joel 2:14]. What he is saying to us in other words is that, God having blessed us and forgiven us our sins, we will then be able to offer sacrifice to God.”

Love,
Matthew

Memento Mori – Remember Death


-above is a picture of my “memento mori” rosary. I had it especially made. There are few like it. It is one of my favorite rosaries, and, yes, I have a few. 🙂 The Hail Marys are skulls. Please click on the image for greater detail.

The Roman triumph (triumphus) was a civil ceremony and religious rite of ancient Rome, held to publicly celebrate and sanctify the success of a military commander who had led Roman forces to victory in the service of the state or, originally and traditionally, one who had successfully completed a foreign war.

On the day of his triumph, the general wore a crown of laurel and the all-purple, gold-embroidered triumphal toga picta (“painted” toga), regalia that identified him as near-divine or near-kingly, and even was known to paint his face red. He rode in a four-horse chariot through the streets of Rome in unarmed procession with his army, captives, and the spoils of his war. At Jupiter’s temple on the Capitoline Hill, he offered sacrifice and the tokens of his victory to the god. Republican morality required that, despite these extraordinary honours, the general conduct himself with dignified humility, as a mortal citizen who triumphed on behalf of Rome’s Senate, people, and gods. Inevitably, the triumph offered extraordinary opportunities for self-publicity, besides its religious and military dimensions.

In Republican Rome, truly exceptional military achievement merited the highest possible honors, which connected the vir triumphalis (“man of triumph”, later known as a triumphator) to Rome’s mythical and semi-mythical past. In effect, the general was close to being “king for a day”, and possibly close to divinity. He wore the regalia traditionally associated both with the ancient Roman monarchy and with the statue of Jupiter Capitolinus: the purple and gold “toga picta”, laurel crown, red boots and, again possibly, the red-painted face of Rome’s supreme deity. He was drawn in procession through the city in a four-horse chariot, under the gaze of his peers and an applauding crowd, to the temple of Capitoline Jupiter. The spoils and captives of his victory led the way; his armies followed behind. Once at the Capitoline temple, he sacrificed two white oxen to Jupiter and laid tokens of his victory at Jupiter’s feet, dedicating his victory to the Roman Senate, people, and gods.

Behind the general, in the same chariot, was placed a slave whose sole responsibility was to remind the general of his mortality as a hedge against excessive pride, the kind that comes before the fall. “Memento mori”, the slave would whisper, “Someday you will die.” We are equal coming in and going out of this world.

Love,
Matthew

We are all going to die


-“Et in Arcadia ego” (also known as Les bergers d’Arcadie or The Arcadian Shepherds) is a 1637–38 painting by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). It depicts a pastoral scene with idealized shepherds from classical antiquity clustering around an austere tomb. It is held in the Louvre, Paris.

I volunteer in hospice, and with dementia/alzheimer’s patents. It is a profound understatement to say it is humbling, sobering, heart & thought provoking work. In particular, I volunteer for what is known as “vigil” service. This is providing others human companionship, on a continuous basis around the clock in the last hours or days, typically, of their lives. I would hope someone would do it for me. In particular, we try to relieve family members during non-waking hours, to give them rest and respite. To give them peace that their loved one is not alone, and should they pass when family, if any, is not present no one should die alone. Our work brings relief to both family and medical staff who have too much responsibility for others to offer this human compassion, although they desperately desire to offer it, during their regular duties.

I may read to patients/residents appropriately for their faith or lack of faith persuasion, particularly scripture, both Old and New Testaments, or just Hebrew scriptures if Jewish. But, if not religious, whatever text they may have of their own, that brings them comfort. If Catholic, I may say the rosary or Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours/Office of the Dead for them. Sometimes, I play soft music. Often, those “actively dying” are non-communicative, but not always, most definitely not always. Hearing is known to be the last sense to succumb.

I also teach young people. It is a profound, lived experience in mid-life to spend the day with young people at the prime of their health and beauty, typically, their joyfulness, their silliness, their boundless energy, their certain joie de vivre, their understandable lack of care about the future and their health, their strength, their goofiness, their playfulness, their love of talking to, with, and about each other, constantly, and then to journey just a few minutes to my service for the dying, their diminishment, their humiliation, shame, despair, at their profound inability to care any longer for self, let alone others; they who ruled the world a short time ago. It reminds me of one of my favorite poems, which I find myself self-repeating to myself, as I drive.

Ozymandias – by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Jan 1818

“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

So much for the glory of man.

Or, from my favorite poet, Sara Teasdale’s, “November”: “The world is tired, the year is old, the faded leaves are glad to die.” Yes, they are. Yes, they are. Yes, I will.


-by Br Reginald Hoefer, OP

“We are all going to die.

We were reminded of this on Ash Wednesday when the priest put ashes on our heads saying, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We need to be reminded about the reality of our death because we forget so easily.

Our culture desensitizes us to the fact of dying. It makes death seem so commonplace as to be almost unbelievable—or, at least, so prevalent that we think it could never really happen to us.

We see this in action movies where the death of combatants costs nothing: sure, a couple of those soldiers got blown up, but we didn’t really know them; they weren’t really central to the story. The good guys win, and we forget about the dead. We also see it in video games where players can continuously get killed and then “re-spawn” at no cost.

The point of receiving ashes, then, is to remind us that we are going to die someday. But do we really let that sink in? If we don’t ignore the question, it should naturally occur to us to ask: “well, if I’m going to die, what’s next? Does my life really have any meaning?”

Obviously, for the Christian, the answer is a resounding “of course.” Our life is given meaning by the promise of an eternity of happiness with God, greater than anything beyond our wildest dreams. But life doesn’t just have meaning because of the promise of something we will eventually receive but currently lack.

Those in the state of grace possess immortality now by sharing in the eternal life of God Who dwells deep within the soul. St. Augustine says that God is “more inward in me than my inmost self.” When we recognize that the Undying One wants to dwell deep within us, we begin to glimpse the true meaning He can give to our lives. But we only arrive at this recognition if we open ourselves to this reality and conform ourselves to His love.

At baptism, this most intimate, immortal indwelling of God is planted in the soul like a seed. Through frequent reception of the sacraments (especially Holy Communion and confession), God cultivates this indwelling presence so that it will blossom into a fruitful tree when the soul reaches Heaven. But we forget so easily that His immortal life can be within us; and, as a result, we also forget the true meaning of our lives.

Our consumerist lifestyle tends to bury the question of our origin and our end: it’s a defense mechanism meant to self-medicate us against the fear of not having answers to such fundamental questions. But Lent is a chance to remember—not only our impending death—but the reality that the God who never dies can live within our souls and can invite us to share that life with Him.

So how does Lent jog the memory? The three pillars of Lenten (and, really, Christian) observance are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Fr. Francis Martin teaches that we pray so that we can relate to God; we fast so that we can deprive ourselves; and this self-deprivation prepares us for almsgiving.

The idea behind this is that human beings are self-centered. We eat up everything: food, money, time, clothes, TV. But fasting counteracts that selfish tendency of our fallen nature. Depriving ourselves prepares us to give of ourselves and thus grow in charity (that is, love, the life of God within us). Counteracting our own selfishness prepares us, for instance, to be patient with those who annoy us and kind to those we can’t stand.

So fasting prepares us for almsgiving, but neither have a context without prayer—without recognizing and communicating with the God Who dwells deep in the souls of His faithful ones.

The lesson of Lent, then, is to remember death. But remember death so that you also remember that the immortal God wants to live within you so that you may share in His undying life. Doing so will remind you of the meaning of your own life.”

Love, & the joie de vivre,
Matthew

Deny myself?

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Jesus Crucified, grant that my love for You may make me willing to crucify my flesh with You and for You.

MEDITATION

As a result of original sin, man no longer has complete dominion over his senses and his flesh; therefore he is filled with evil tendencies which try to push him toward what is base. St. Paul humbly admits: “I know that there dwelleth not in me, that is to say, in my flesh, that which is good…. For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do” (Romans 7:18,19).

God certainly gives us the grace to overcome our evil tendencies; but we must also use our own efforts, which consist in voluntary mortification: “They that are Christ’s have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences” (Galatians 5:24). The purpose of corporal mortification is not to inflict pain and privation on the body for the pleasure of making it suffer but to discipline and control all its tendencies which are contrary to the life of grace. The Apostle warns us: “If you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live” (Romans 8:13). We must curb ourselves in order to avoid falls; we must prune the useless or harmful branches in order to avoid deviation; we must direct toward good the forces which, left to themselves, might lead us into sin. For these reasons mortification, although it is not an end in itself nor the principal element in the Christian life, occupies a fundamental place in it and is an absolutely indispensable means toward attaining a spiritual life. No one can escape this law without closing off all access to eternal salvation, to sanctity. St. Paul, who had done and suffered much for Christ, did not consider himself dispensed from it, and said, “I chastise my body and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

COLLOQUY

“This servant of Thine, my God, can no longer endure such trials as come when she finds herself without Thee; for if she is to live, she desires no repose in this life, nor would she have Thee give her any. This soul would fain see itself free: to eat is a torment; to sleep brings only anguish. It finds itself in this life spending its time upon comforts, yet nothing can comfort it but Thee; it seems to be living against nature, for it no longer desires to live to itself, but only to Thee” (Teresa of Jesus, Life, 16).

O Lord, help me, I beg You, to free myself from the slavery of the body! Teach me to conquer its extravagant demands and to mortify its pretensions. You have given me this body of flesh, in order that I may serve You on earth. Grant that it may not become an obstacle to me and hinder the generous, total gift of my whole self to You.

How far I am, O God, from the austerities and mortifications of the saints! “Do I, perhaps, think they were made of iron? No: they were as frail as I. O Lord, help me to understand that once I begin to subdue my miserable body, it will give me much less trouble” (Teresa of Jesus, Way of Perfection, 11). Why should I be terrified by the fear of losing my health?

Sickness and health, life and death, all are in Your hands, my God; everything depends on You. I now make a firm resolution to entrust all solicitude to You, and to keep but one occupation: to love You and serve You with all my strength. Help me, O Lord, to gain the mastery over my body and to conquer it completely, so that I may attain that magnificent liberty of spirit which allows the soul to devote itself undisturbed to the exercise of a deep interior life.”

“The first step to be taken by one who wishes to follow Christ is, according to Our Lord’s Own words, that of renouncing himself—that is, his own senses, his own passions, his own will, his own judgment, and all the movements of nature, making to God a sacrifice of all these things, and of all their acts, which are surely sacrifices very acceptable to the Lord. And we must never grow weary of this; for if anyone having, so to speak, one foot already in Heaven, should abandon this exercise, when the time should come for him to put the other there, he would run much risk of being lost.—-St. Vincent de Paul

The same Saint made himself such a proficient in this virtue that it might be called the weapon most frequently and constantly handled by him through his whole life until his last breath; and by this he succeeded in gaining absolute dominion over all the movements of his inferior nature. Therefore, he kept his own passions so completely subject to reason, that he could scarcely be known to have any.

“He who allows himself to be ruled or guided by the lower and animal part of his nature, deserves to be called a beast rather than a man.”——St. Vincent de Paul

“Whoever makes little account of exterior mortifications, alleging that the interior are more perfect, shows clearly that he is not mortified at all, either exteriorly or interiorly.”——St. Vincent de Paul

This Saint was always an enemy to his body, treating l it with much austerity—-chastising it with hair-cloth, iron chains, and leather belts armed with sharp points. Every morning on rising, he took a severe discipline—-a practice which he had begun before founding the Congregation, and which he never omitted on account of the hardships of journeys, or in his convalescence from any illness; but, on the contrary, he took additional ones on special occasions. All his life he slept upon a simple straw bed, and always rose at the usual hour for the Community, though he was generally the last of all to retire to rest, and though he often could not sleep more than two hours out of the night, on account of his infirmities. From this it frequently happened that he was much tormented during the day by drowsiness, which he would drive away by remaining on his feet or in some uncomfortable posture, or by inflicting on himself some annoyance. Besides, he willingly bore great cold in winter, and great heat in summer, with other inconveniences; in a word, he embraced, or rather sought, all the sufferings he could, and was very careful never to allow any opportunity for mortifying himself to escape.

“Mortification of the appetite is the A, B, C of spiritual life. Whoever cannot control himself in this, will hardly be able to conquer temptations more difficult to subdue.”——St. Vincent de Paul

This Saint had, by long habit, so mortified his sense of taste that he never gave a sign of being pleased with anything, but took indifferently all that was given him, however insipid or ill-cooked it might be; and so little did he regard what he was eating, that when a couple of raw eggs were once set before him by mistake, he ate them without taking the least notice. He always. seemed to go to the table unwillingly, and only from necessity, eating always with great moderation, and with a view solely to the glory of God; nor did he ever leave the table without having mortified himself in something, either as to quantity or quality. For many years, too, he kept a bitter powder to mix with his food; and he usually ate so little that he frequently fainted from weakness.

St. Vincent de Paul made himself so completely master of his tongue, that useless or superfluous words were rarely heard from his mouth, and never a single one inconsiderate, contrary to charity, or such as might savor of vanity, flattery, or ostentation. It often happened that after opening his mouth to say something unusual that came into his mind, he closed it suddenly, stifling the words, and apparently reflecting in his own heart, and considering before God whether it was expedient to say them. He then continued to speak, not according to his inclination, for he had none, but as he felt sure would be most pleasing to God. When anything was told him which he already knew, he listened with attention, giving no sign of having heard it before. He did this to mortify self-love, which always makes us desire to prove that we know as much as others. When insult, reproach, or wrong of any kind was inflicted upon him, he never opened his lips to complain, to justify himself, or to repel the injury; but he recollected himself, and placed all his strength in silence and patience, blessing in his heart those who had ill-treated him, and praying for them. When he found himself overwhelmed with excessive work, he did not complain, but his ordinary words were: “Blessed be God! we must accept willingly all that He deigns to send us.”

“It should be our principal business to conquer ourselves, and, from day to day, to go on increasing in strength and perfection. Above all, however, it is necessary for us to strive to conquer our little temptations, such as fits of anger, suspicions, jealousies, envy, deceitfulness, vanity, attachments, and evil thoughts. For in this way we shall acquire strength to subdue greater ones.”—-St. Francis de Sales

“Believe me that the mortification of the senses in seeing, hearing, and speaking, is worth much more than wearing chains or hair-cloth.”—-St. Francis de Sales

Love, & Blessed Lent,
Matthew

Protestant Objections to Ash Wednesday

AshWednesday

-by Fred Noltie, author “The Accidental Catholic

“Some Protestants suggest that Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:17 are an unconditional prohibition of the use of ashes in association with fasting (and presumably that their use at the beginning of Lent is therefore unwarranted):

But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face. (Matthew 6:17)

For them it seems pretty clear that any use of ashes in association with fasting contradicts what Jesus says here and therefore constitutes disobedience to Him. This conclusion is unwarranted.

The quotation is taken from the Sermon on the Mount. Elsewhere in the same sermon the Lord Jesus says this:

So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5:16]

Jesus says that one of the proper effects of our good works is to serve as a witness to others, so that they will come to glorify God as we do ourselves. This being the case it is likewise clear that to hide one’s good works at all times and in every case amounts to a direct contradiction of what He says here. We may reasonably conclude that our good works are good not just for our own souls but also for the souls of others.

The next thought to consider is whether fasting qualifies as a “good work.” I believe that this goes without saying. It is unquestionably a good work when done for the right reason: namely, as a sign of our penitence before God. I ask, then, whether there is any reason to suppose that fasting is a good work that we should let other men see? In light of Matthew 5:16 is it reasonable for others to see our penitence? Yes. There is good reason to suppose that fasting should at least sometimes be seen by others. Why? Because it is a sign of penitence, and it is absurd to suppose that men would always and only be harmed by seeing our penitence. Indeed, the fact of our repentance could very reasonably be understood by others as a reason that they too should be sorry before God for their own sins.

So fasting is a good work, and it is perfectly reasonable to hold that others may benefit from seeing us fast, and thereby come to glorify our Father who is in heaven (as Matthew 5:16 says). But fasting is something that isn’t immediately obvious. We can’t look at a man and thereby know that he is fasting. Hence the value of the sign of ashes, which are a visible sign of the inward realities of penitence and fasting. Contrary to being an evil thing, an external sign of penitence is a good thing precisely because it shows to other men that we are penitent—something that is a good work, and which therefore (in keeping with the Lord’s command in Matthew 5:16) we ought (at least sometimes) to let men see so that they too may glorify God with us.

What shall we say, then, about Matthew 6:17? Does this view of penitence as something that should at least occasionally be seen contradict what the Lord says there? No it does not. To see this we need only look at its context:

“Take heed that you do not your justice before men, to be seen by them: otherwise you shall not have a reward of your Father who is in heaven. Therefore when you do an alms-deed, sound not a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honoured by men. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you do alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does. That your alms may be in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men: Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But you when you shall pray, enter into your chamber, and having shut the door, pray to your Father in secret, and your father who sees in secret will repay you. … And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face; that you appear not to men to fast, but to your Father who is in secret: and your Father who sees in secret, will repay you.”                      –[Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18; emphasis added]

In context the Lord’s point is clear: when we do good, and when we give alms, and when we pray, and when we fast, our goal must not be to gain the approval of men, and we must not be hypocritical: that is, our good deeds, alms, prayers, and fasting must be genuine. In this light there is no conflict at all between the Lord’s prior command (in Matthew 5:16) to let men see our good works and these commands. We do good not for the sake of the praise of others and not as hypocrites but out of love for God, and in the hope that if men do see them, they will be moved to glorify God with us. So the point with regard to fasting (in Matthew 6:17) is not that ashes are simply out of bounds, but that we must be truly penitent.

The alternatives are ridiculous. It is absurd to think that public prayer is always hypocritical. It is absurd to think that hypocrisy is always present if a man makes known his penitence by means of ashes. Furthermore the Lord at least tacitly commends the use of ashes as a sign of penitence when He said this:

Woe to you, Corozain, woe to you, Bethsaida: for if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in you, they had long ago done penance in sackcloth and ashes. [Matthew 11:21]

Jesus says here that sackcloth and ashes are signs of the genuine repentance that would have been found in Tyre and Sidon. Consequently it is clear that He considered the use of ashes as a sign of genuine penitence to be a good thing and not evil. So the use of ashes by Catholics on Ash Wednesday is not a violation of what the Lord says in Matthew 6:17 unless a particular Catholic or other is hypocritical in receiving them. If he is not genuinely penitent, or if he receives the ashes merely for the sake of being seen to receive them, then he would indeed be violating what the Lord has said.”

Love,
Matthew