Fast First from Sin

Maybe we could summarize our first reading at today’s Mass this way: Fast first from sin.

Hunger does not please God in and of itself. Hunger for justice pleases God, and bodily hunger offered justly pleases Him.

If we hunger for truth, then we will worry more about treating people right than we will about giving up chocolate. Giving up chocolate can please God well—provided I do the penance cheerfully and with greater love for my neighbor.

Some people try to give up coffee for Lent, and they wind up holier and healthier for it. Some people try giving up coffee, and by 9:00 a.m. on the first day, everyone within thirty paces wishes they hadn’t.

We have to strive for a higher life, so our Lent must include some bodily mortification. The more we deny our cravings for physical things, the more we learn to crave spiritual ones. But the greatest Lent a person can keep would actually be more simple: uninterrupted kindness, patience, and ready generosity, without a single thought given to what I will eat or drink and when.

The Lord gave us Lent to help us learn how to forget ourselves and focus on God and others. It would be a shame to waste this gift with nonstop fretting about “When will I finally get to have what I gave up?!” Better to give up giving things up than to have a Lent that is more about chocolate than it is about God and other people.

The Pope and Martin Luther

“How do I receive the grace of God?”

Last week our Holy Father Pope Benedict visited the monastery where Martin Luther studied for the priesthood and was ordained.

The Pope spoke with admiration about the depth of Luther’s desire for God:

‘How do I receive the grace of God?’ The fact that this question was the driving force behind Luther’s whole life never ceases to make a deep impression on me.

The Holy Father went on to outline how different we are now. The contemporary attitude effectively declares: ‘God doesn’t care about my foibles. If He actually does judge me, He magnanimously overlooks all my small failings.’

But, the Pope asked, are our failings really so small? “Is not the world laid waste by the corruption of great and small alike? No, evil is no small matter.”

The Pope went on to say:

We need God; we were created to have a relationship with Him. The more the world withdraws from God, the clearer it becomes that man, in the hubris of his power, in his emptiness of heart and his longing for satisfaction and happiness, increasingly loses his life.

Luther asked himself, “Where do I stand before God?” We must ask ourselves the same question. And when we do, Scripture provides us with the perfect prayer to make:

Justice is with the Lord, our God, and we are filled with shame…
We have been only too ready to disregard the Lord’s voice…
and each of us went after the desires of his own wicked heart.

Luther found himself paralyzed by his own inadequacy before the glory of God. But we need not so find ourselves. We believe in the forgiveness of sins ministered by the Church. God has plans for us involving happiness and not woe. A perfectly fresh start is never more than a good Confession away.

The Lapsed

During the third century A.D., the Roman emperors repeatedly persecuted the Church. The Emperors Decius, Valerian, and Diocletian ordered that all Christians must renounce the faith and offer pagan sacrifices. Registries of compliance were to be kept in all provinces. Recusants could be punished by forfeiture of property or death.

Human beings being human beings, a mad whirlwind of attempted scams ensued.

By the third century, the Empire was home to many well-to-do Christians. These did not relish the prospect of offending God. But neither did they want to be impoverished or executed.

So they paid their slaves to offer pagan sacrifices on their behalf. Or they bribed officials to produce false certificates, saying they had sacrificed, even though they really hadn’t. Or they lent their identification documents to a pagan, who would then offer sacrifices under the assumed name.

The Christians who employed these stratagems to save their hides came to be known as “the Lapsed.”

The persecutions of the third century came in fits and starts; they lasted for a time, but then the Church would enjoy a few years of peace. St. Cornelius was Pope, and St. Cyprian a prominent bishop, through a couple of these cycles.

During the intervals of peace, a question inevitably arose: Could the Lapsed be forgiven? They had failed to exercise the heroic faith and courage of the martyrs. But, at the same time, they had never stopped believing in the Trinity and in Christ.

Now, of course, neither Cornelius nor Cyprian ever lapsed. Both of them eventually went to their deaths as martyrs. But, before they themselves were killed, they had to deal with the question of what to do with the conniving Lapsed who wanted to go to communion.

Perhaps we might think that, since Cornelius and Cyprian proved to be heroic martyrs themselves, that they would have insisted on Christian heroism. But the opposite is the case. Both of them were roundly criticized by other bishops for being too lax.

Cornelius and Cyprian both taught: We believe in the forgiveness of sins. Let the Lapsed confess their sins, do penance, and be reconciled. The martyrs are our heroes. The Lapsed do not pretend to have been heroes. But they are our brothers nonetheless. Let’s gather around the altar together, so that we can all learn to be heroes next time.

Friday Penance

The Lord Jesus died for us on Friday, and He arose from the dead on Sunday. It happened nearly two millennia ago. But the significance of these events does not fade. We want to keep them in mind.

The death and resurrection of Christ took place in the springtime, at Passover, at the first full moon after the vernal equinox. So we keep Holy Week and Easter every year, to make sure the events of salvation stay fresh in our minds, at the time of year when they originally happened.

But, obviously, commemorating our salvation once a year is not often enough.

We need to commemorate it at least once a week.

So every Sunday we remember the resurrection of Christ in church. We keep the Sabbath by remembering the resurrection of Christ.

Every Friday, we commemorate the Passion of Christ. As the Lord Jesus tells us in today’s gospel reading:

The days will come when the Bridegroom is taken away from the wedding guests. They will fast in those days.

He was taken away from us on a Friday; He returned to us on a Sunday. So, on Friday, we fast; we do penance; we keep the Passion of Christ in mind.

The traditional way to do this is to abstain from eating meat on Fridays. A generation ago, the shepherds of the Church decided to leave it up to us individually to decide what we would do to commemorate the Passion of Christ on the Fridays of the year outside of Lent.

Abstaining from meat still makes for a good Friday commemoration of the Passion. We can abstain from meat every Friday, just like we all do together during Lent.

Also, there are other options. Coming to Mass, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, saying the Rosary, making the Stations of the Cross, sacrificing some time for the good of others, visiting the sick, abstaining for some food or drink we like—all these make for a good Friday commemoration of the Passion, too.

Now, outside of Lent, the choice of how to remember Christ’s death on Friday is ours. But God forbid that we let a Friday pass without giving a thought to what our Lord did for us.

Father W’s Lenten Resolution

Owing to my advanced age, I forswore road races a couple years ago. But I am weak-willed.

I will run 13.1 miles on Lazarus Saturday (the day before Palm Sunday). If I were a true penitent, I would run 26.2. Perhaps next year.

I would like to raise money for Pro-Life Across America.

You could sponsor me by the mile or for the whole race.

Send checks made out to “Prolife Across America” to: Father White Run, 115 Elm Ave., S.W., Apt. B4, Roanoke VA 24016.

If I don’t finish in under two hours, I will send your money back and cover all the funds from my own meager bank account.

Sinners and Fruits

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.

He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?

“By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!

“Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?

“By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (Luke 13:1-5)

We all have some idea of how much the people of Haiti have gone through since the terrible earthquake on January 12th.

Do we think, because the Haitians have suffered, that they are greater sinners than all the other people in the northern hemisphere?

By no means!

Continue reading “Sinners and Fruits”

You my Glance Seeks (Psalm 27)

A deep, terrifying darkness enveloped Abraham. (Genesis 15:12)

The Lord had called Abraham to come to the Promised Land. God instituted a covenant with Abraham. He made promises to Abraham. Then the Lord enveloped Abraham in a “deep, terrifying darkness.”

Many centuries later, the Lord Himself walked the earth. He took His closest Apostles up to the top of a towering mountain. He revealed His divinity to them. Then He enveloped them in a cloud that cast a shadow over them. Peter, James, and John became frightened.

Continue reading “You my Glance Seeks (Psalm 27)”

Seven Deadlies Compendium, Etc.

blondie

I woke up this morning feeling basically okay with myself. But then I discovered that I agree with Ken Woodward…(If the comic strips appearing here are too small for you to read, you can see a larger size by clicking on it.)

stoning…According to the Law of Moses, capital crimes were to be punished by stoning to death.

The first stones were to be cast by the witnesses upon whose testimony the guilty party was convicted. Then everyone else could join in the stoning. By this violent act, the injustice of the crime would be purged from the nation.

God is perfectly just. He examines every heart. Before Him, no one is innocent.

But He has not cast a stone and done violence to the guilty ones. Rather, He subjected Himself to violence at the hands of the unjust.

By this violent act, our injustice is purged. We are not condemned to death.

devilGod restores justice; we are pardoned; we may live.

…Here is a little compendium of my sermons on the seven deadly sins…

Pride

Greed and Envy

Anger and Lust

Gluttony and Sloth

chaliceAlso, there are some new Bests above.

And I added a new feature above…a collection of the collections.

…I wish I could say that I am willing to take the sins of others upon myself, like our Lord.

I can say this, though: I do take the germs of others upon myself.

This is what communion under both species means for the priest: Taking the germs of the entire people upon yourself.

The Consecration of a Priest

The office of Apostle has been handed down by the laying on of hands since the Lord Jesus originally consecrated His chosen Twelve.  A man becomes a priest when a bishop lays his hands on him and says the prayer of consecration.  What does it mean when this happens?

A priest is consecrated by the grace of Christ the High Priest.  Christ is a priest by virtue of His holy humanity, because it is only by being human that He has a relationship with the eternal Father that includes being a part of creation.  A priest offers sacrifice in order to reach across the great divide between heaven and earth.  Of course, this sacrifice of the incarnate High Priest Jesus Christ is the infinite offering of the Son to the Father in the Holy Spirit (the Uncreated divine love).  But Christ’s offering is only a priestly sacrifice because it is made by a creature (albeit the unique creature who is Personally also the Creator).  In other words, only creatures need priests; only creatures can be priests.  The priest’s office is to connect creation with the Creator.  (I learned all this from Bl. Columba Marmion’s book on the priesthood.)

So Christ the God-man is a priest.  He stands at the center of creation and gives it beautiful order; He makes it fitting and good:  He offers His gift to God to express the gratitude, submission, adoration, and glorification that the creature owes the Creator, and His gift is the infinite divine love, offered from a pure and upright human heart.

The priest makes the relationship between creature and Creator visible by standing at the altar and offering sacrifice to God in the sight of the people.  Then he gives what is sacred to the people.  Christ did this perfectly by offering the Holy Sacrifice of His Body and Blood, and giving Holy Communion.  The Holy Priesthood in the Church is the continuation of this until the end of time.

So the ultimate goal of the consecration of a priest is the Holy Mass.  The pattern that is to be unfolded according to the wisdom of God for His glory and the well-being of creation is for everyone to come to the altar of God to assist the priest in the Holy Sacrifice.  The Holy Mass, with the priest standing at the altar in the place of Christ and the people gathered around him in praise and worship of the Triune Majesty, is the image of creation perfectly fulfilled and consummated.  Everything that God has made possesses an inherent movement towards this consummation which is expressed in the Holy Mass.  May it please God:  When history is over, what we see under a veil at Mass will be fulfilled in heaven; we will be filled with peace and joy by glorifying God forever through Christ our High Priest.

To attain this goal the Church must preach the Gospel, and the priest first and foremost must preach, as the Prayer of Consecration says:  With the same loving care you gave companions to your Son’s apostles to help in teaching the faith: they preached the gospel to the whole world.  Preaching is clearly necessary for two reasons: 

1.  In order for people to come to Holy Mass regularly, they need to know that there is one God, Who is the loving Father that Christ has taught us about, that the Lord Jesus is God made man, that He instituted the holy sacrifice and all the sacraments.  People need to be taught all the things they need to know in order 1) to get in the habit of coming to Mass and 2) to hope for the heaven that the Mass promises.

2.  Even if people regularly come to Mass, they may not be participating in the Holy Sacrifice in such a way as will get them to heaven.  The gathering of the people around the holy altar with the priest has to be pure and true, which means that the souls of everyone present have to be cleansed and purified.  The only way for this to happen is by virtue of the Blood of Christ, which cleanses souls through the sacraments of Baptism and Penance.  Baptized sinners have to confess their sins and turn to God, and they are much more likely to do so if the priest preaches the truth and exhorts his people to penance and the practice of virtue.

So here we have the story of my life:  the Lord has chosen and consecrated me to say Mass at the appointed times (in Upper Marlboro, Md., for the time being) and to baptize, hear Confessions, and administer all the sacred things.  I have to be tireless and generous in doing this, as the Lord Jesus Himself was.  (Though I need to take care of myself and the dignity of the priesthood, too.)  Also, I have to preach:  preach to the people in the parish who do not come to Mass, and preach to the people who do. 

It is easier to see how I am supposed to preach to the people who do come to Mass, since they listen to what I say when it comes time for the homily.  In a way, I guess, I am preaching to everyone when I do this, since the doors are open, everyone knows that our building is a Catholic church, and the Mass times are clearly posted.  Obviously, I have to stick to the teaching of the Church in my homilies.

I preach to everyone in the parish boundaries by being at my post, wearing my cassock and clerical clothes, coming out of the house and doing the things that a priest would reasonably be expected to do.  I think I can hope to make my way to heaven by dutifully doing these things for the rest of my life at whatever assignment I have.

 In the hopes, however, that some of the people who do not come to church might read what I write here, I am undertaking to publish some occasional essays on the internet.  Even if no one ever reads these, my attempts to write out the things that I think about will certainly do me some good.  And it will get me out of the house to my favorite watering hole.  Here you have the first installment of my little blog.  The good Lord knows how many more are to come.  May He be glorified in every word and work; may we all come home to Him when everything is said and done!