Category Archives: Lent

The Virtues of Justice & Righteousness

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-by Br Joachim Kenney, OP

“The Gospel describes both justice and the interior dispositions that go even further in making one righteous. The cardinal virtue of justice, as St. Thomas Aquinas defines it, is the “habit whereby a man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will.”

From this, we can draw out two of the chief characteristics of justice. The first is that it is concerned with other persons. It’s about giving to one distinct from oneself what he or she deserves. Secondly, justice is objective. It is primarily about the thing that is owed. It is not about what the other wants to receive or what you want to give.

The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” regards justice, then, in its most proper form. It is a matter of showing due respect for the life God has given to the other man. Jesus gives other examples of unjust behavior to avoid. One owes respect not just to the life of the other but to his dignity as man as well, and so one ought not to disdain him by slandering or committing detraction against him. Christ goes even further than justice properly speaking (i.e., our outward actions) and addresses what can be called justice analogously. That is, He describes how to “be right” with oneself, and this is by overcoming one’s passions, such as anger.

If the Gospel passage talks about establishing a just relation with our brother, what about our relationship with God? We might be tempted to think that Lent is about merely establishing a just relationship between ourselves and Him. Perhaps, for example, we think of the penances we undertake simply as a way of “repaying” God for dying on the Cross for us. It does indeed fall within the scope of justice to offer prayers and sacrifices to God, since we owe all we have and even our very existence to Him. We can never really repay God fully, though, either for that existence or for the redemption He worked for us. So we can never have a truly just relationship with Him in that sense.

Lent is not about evening things out with God. Since our prayers and sacrifices add nothing to God’s greatness or happiness, they are not primarily for His benefit, but rather for our own. Lent helps us recognize what we owe God, but even beyond that it is about preparing for the celebration of Christ’s supreme act of charity in suffering His Passion and death for our salvation. The prayer and penances are a means to our growth in charity, which is achieved when obstacles between ourselves and God are removed.

As Jesus notes in the Gospel, one of those obstacles often is a lack of peace with our brother. For, “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20). This Lent, may the charity of the Just Man fill us with longing for the kingdom of heaven and inspire us to imitate Him.”

Love,
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

Carry the fire…

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“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you…” 2 Tim 1:6

-by Br Michael Mary Weibley, OP

“‘You have to carry the fire.”

“I don’t know how to.”

“Yes you do.”

“Is it real? The fire?”

“Yes it is.”

“Where is it? I don’t know where it is.”

“Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there. I can see it.”

This conversation between a father and son in Cormac McCarthy’s (Pulitzer Prize winning) novel The Road reveals an essential truth about perseverance and survival: there has to be something within us that moves us onward, something beyond sheer willpower and effort. This conversation comes near the end of the story where the father and son have crossed an ash-covered post-apocalyptic world, in search of shelter, food, and security from the perils of darkened nature all around them, both of man and earth. The father’s dying words are meant to encourage his son who must continue down the road on his own, carrying only the fire.

Ash Wednesday issues in a rather darkened sentiment to the Lenten season. No other liturgical season focuses on penitential practices and the journey motif as much as Lent does. Drawing us back to the Israelites’ forty-year journey through the desert toward the Promised Land, Lent brings us down the road of our own journey to our own Promised Land. Cast into the world of ash, we are to travel our own road, facing the perils of our own selves—sin, ignorance, weakness—searching in hope and looking down the road for the Resurrection of the Lord.

Like the son in the story, we don’t always see the fire and what it does for us. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize how God is working in us and guiding our lives. Often times it is only when the wind kicks up and the ash is thrown in our face do we recognize whether we are carrying the fire or not. When suffering occurs in our lives, we are able to test whether we can move onward or whether we will stall languidly in the road. Suffering makes us stop in the road and forces us to look ahead. “Where is my God amidst this ashen world?” This is the question Ash Wednesday asks us.

God does not send us down any road without His grace. No matter whatever road He chooses for us, and no matter the turns we take, as long as we remain with Him we trust that His grace is with us. The fire is with us. Covered in ash, we set out during Lent to find God again, to turn toward Him more fully, and to open ourselves more perfectly to His work in our lives. None of this is accomplished by our own efforts, but He gives us the fire to carry it out along the way.

Looking down the road can be dark. We don’t always see the end or even the next step in front of us. That is why God gives us the fire to carry. When we hold it up we can see the road illumined in a new way. We can see Christ suffering. We can see His Passion. We can see His Cross. We can see all these things, and we can look through them and see at the end of the ash-covered road, the Resurrection of the Lord.”

Love,
Matthew

Feb 4 – St Catharine de Ricci, OSD(OP) & Lent approacheth…

Sr Mary of the Compassion, OP

Given the brutality we have witnessed of late on the news, I turned off the sound so Mara wouldn’t hear.  Her reading is not to a discomforting level yet for her parents.  I can’t help but feel human suffering is more palpable now, than perhaps I have felt before?  We NEED to pray!  I NEED to pray!  It gets me through the day.  It really does.  Lord, keep us ever mindful of Your Passion.  Ever Mindful.

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– by Br Irenaeus Dunleavy, OP

Today the Dominican Order celebrates the feast of St. Catherine de Ricci. She’s known for her mysticism and her devotion, as found in her Canticum de Passione Domini. The studentate has translated and recorded the chant for you.

Watch the video above, sung by the student brothers in Ireland, of the canticle of the Passion of Our Lord. It was revealed to Catherine immediately after her first great ecstasy of the Passion. Our Lady desired Catherine to spread it as a form of prayer and contemplation for the salvation of souls. Below is the text from the canticle which is traditionally chanted by Dominicans on Good Friday.

My friends and loved ones
draw near to me and stand aloof

I am shut up and I cannot come forth
mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction

and my sweat became
like drops of blood falling down on the ground

For dogs have compassed me
the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me

I gave my back to the smiters
and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair

I hid not my face from shame
and from those who spit on me

I am feeble and sore broken
I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart

The soldiers platted a crown of thorns
and put it on my head

They pierced my hands and my feet
I may tell all my bones

They gave me poison to eat
and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink

All they that see me laugh me to scorn
they shoot out the lip, they shake the head

They look and stare upon me
they part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture

into your hands I command my spirit
redeem me, Lord, God of truth.

Remember your servant, O Lord.
when you come into your kingdom

Jesus cried with a loud voice
yielded up the ghost

The Mercy of the Lord
I will sing for ever

Surely he hath borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows

He was wounded for our transgressions
he was bruised for our iniquities

All we like sheep gave gone astray
we have turned every one to his own way

And the Lord hath laid on him
the iniquities of us all

Awake, why do you sleep, O Lord?
arise, and do not cast us off for ever

Awake, why do you sleep, O Lord?
arise, and do not cast us off for ever

Behold, God is my Savior
I will trust, and not be afraid

We ask you, come to help your servants
whom you have redeemed by your perilous blood.

V. Have mercy on us, O benign Jesus. R. Who in Thy clemency didst suffer for us.

Look down, we beseech Thee, O Lord, on this Thy family for which Our Lord Jesus Christ did not hesitate to be delivered into the hands of the wicked, and suffer the torments of the Cross. Amen.

The Canticum de Passione Domini consists of two-line verses from Scripture, both from the Old and New Testaments, which a solo cantor chants in Gregorian mode II (2) while kneeling before the crucifix. The solemn, sorrowful melody pulses like the heavy breathing of the dying Christ, and the silence between verses hangs with the gravity of Calvary. The span of time that passes between the verses communicates the reality that God inspired the words of David, always knowing that Christ’s crucifixion would fulfill them. As God was granting the Israelites their kingdom and building the temple, He was also announcing that He, the true King and Temple, would be torn down.

Yet, Christians know that what was torn down was rebuilt in three days. Friday is perfected by Sunday. Those who die with Christ also rise with Him. From the moment of Baptism we are taken up into the Body of Christ. We begin to live like St. Paul who says, “And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me” (Gal 2:20).

Christ’s presence within St. Paul was so profound that Paul bear[s] the marks of the Lord Jesus in [his] body (Gal 6:17). He is possibly the first saint of the Church to bear the stigmata. Another popular account of the stigmata is that of the Dominican St. Catherine of Siena, but less known are the wounds of her religious sister St. Catherine de Ricci.

There’s an interesting relationship between the two Dominican saints. They share the same name, the same mystical visions, and the same wounds. Look for a painting of St. Catherine de Ricci and try to distinguish her from St. Catherine of Siena. They almost seem to be the same person. This is because both women had a devotion to Christ crucified. Just as Christ was joined to the cross with His wounds, so too these saintly women were joined to Jesus by His wounds. It was de Ricci’s love and union with Christ Crucified that led her to compose the devotion we shared above.

The divine favors that both Catherines received announce the presence of Christ, suffering in His Body the Church. While you or I will likely never encounter such miracles, the reality of Christ’s presence within His faithful people should not be overlooked. It should be seen through the eyes of faith. The baptized are taken up into Christ and adjured to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice. By this, the sufferings of this world are no longer meaningless. God has taken on our sufferings and transformed them into the bridge that connects man to God.

Those who mocked Christ on the Cross, beckoning Him to come down, were ignorant of what was being accomplished – His life was not being taken, but He was laying it down for His friends. What kept Jesus on the Cross was not the nails, but His love. No one else possesses the power to choose his or her own afflictions; we are passive in suffering. Yet, the baptized can join St. Catherine’s example. She meditated on the Passion of Our Lord not because it was something that happened in the past, but it was an event that pervaded time, up to her present and up to our present. Christ continues to suffer in His members. Those in the Church, who unite their sufferings to His wounds, are brought up into something greater than themselves.

Pope Benedict explains,

This liberation of our “I”… means finding oneself within the vastness of God and being drawn into a life. . . . [By the Resurrection] we are associated with a new dimension of life into which, amid the tribulations of our day, we are already in some way introduced. . . . This is the meaning of being baptized, of being Christian.

St. Paul’s own words, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me,” were taken up again by St. Catherine of Siena and St. Catherine de Ricci, marking their own lives. Their similarity of life, their union in the wounds of Christ, bear great witness to the living reality of Jesus in His mystical Body, the Church. They also beckon us all to look to the Passion in prayer. Then, seeing what Christ did two thousand years ago, we can see what Jesus continues to do within us.

Love,
Matthew