A few days ago we celebrated the optional memorial of St. John of God. Our pastor gave a marvelous homily that day, which inspired this post. One of the key connection points the pastor made was the connection St. John of God had with other Saints with whom I was more familiar. To be quite honest, I knew next to nothing about St. John of God. So I began to investigate his life, and what an amazing man of God, St. John of God was! I thought his life–as well as his spiritual connection to other Saints–made this a very appropriate topic for a post during Lent….especially as we approach the end of Lent.
St. John of God is best known for his many followers who eventually founded the Hospitallers, a religious institution focused on aiding the sick, suffering, and dying, among other services they now provide. They are still in existence today.
What I didn’t know was St. John of God’s late conversion in life. In many ways he was a prodigal of the Church. A baptized Catholic, like virtually all his family and friends, he was a public sinner, who sinned in countless ways. He wasn’t just known for one particular sin, but many. He was a soldier, but was particularly known for leading a life best described as completely “wild.” He was around 40 years old, or so, when he had his conversion. He found mercy rather late in life.
One of the most important but neglected spiritual practices is the daily general examination of conscience. No business would last very long without taking stock daily, calculating how much profit was made, etc., and there is no business more important than our soul. Socrates famously said that, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” We could say that an unexamined life is dangerous. It’s important to examine how we are doing fairly regularly in order to improve. When our goal is off in the distance, a little misdirection early in the journey–if it is not corrected–can spell disaster, landing us far off the mark.
The morning offering is a very traditional Catholic practice that seems to be neglected by so many Catholics I run into. Many have never heard of a morning offering. We’re already well into Lent, 2016, but I thought I’d post on this wonderful Catholic traditional prayer. There are numerous prayers that can be said as a morning offering, and you can google them, or find many different versions in Catholic prayer books. The specific form or words of the morning offering, is less important I think than the actual practice of praying the morning offering. The basic idea is simple. When you get up in the morning, you start your day by offering the entire day to God. You offer all of the joys and sufferings that will come that day, as well as all of your work and prayers, for God. Of course you can include other intentions, like for the Pope, your local bishop, etc. Offering your day to God first things is a great way to begin to sanctify your ordinary life. What better time than Lent to begin taking up this traditional Catholic practice. It’s a great way to start the day off right, and it only need take a few seconds. You can always renew the offering throughout the day as you offer specific tasks, or instances of suffering, to God. One of the best resources out there on the morning offering is Michael J. Ortiz’s fine book, Like the First Morning: The Morning Offering as a Daily Renewal. His book cover is the image I used at the top of this post. So let’s start our days off right this Lent, offering what lies ahead to God in advance as we get up to begin the day, facing all the challenges and joys and whatever else lies ahead.
Jesus ate with sinners. That’s always been amazing to me. In some ways it’s the heart of the Gospel:
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7–8, ESV).
I was struck by St. Augustine’s imitation of Jesus in the last days of his life:
As the then Cardinal Ratzinger tells the story,
“When Augustine felt his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and took upon himself ecclesiastical penitence. In his last days, he set himself alongside, in solidarity, with the public sinners who seek forgiveness and grace through the pain of not receiving Communion.”
What a gesture! I wonder if that message would come across today. Think about it: your bishop comes to Mass this Sunday and sits in the pews, toward the back. When it’s time for receiving Holy Communion, he stays in his pew and doesn’t receive! When asked, he says he’s trying to show solidarity with those who are divorced and remarried who come to Mass, but can’t receive Holy Communion.
Lent is upon us…only a few more days…as this upcoming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. With that in mind I thought I would post a few thoughts about Lenten resolutions, just in case anyone might find these thoughts beneficial, especially if Lent is taking you by surprise, or if you haven’t yet made any Lenten resolutions.
First, the three traditional Lenten practices are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In general, it is encouraged to work on all three areas during Lent. It’s a good thing to up our spiritual practices during Lent, doing a little more than we typically do throughout the year. In this post, however, I want to focus on a different way of making good Lenten resolutions. I don’t mean to detract from the traditional, “upping it,” as it were, during Lent. By all means, do a little more this Lent than you typically do throughout the year, and than you likely will when Lent is over and we enter the joyous Easter season. But here I want to focus on small resolutions that we can maintain throughout the year.
Once again, I ask for your forgiveness as I am almost a week late in getting this reflection up. Regardless, I do want to say a few things regarding this last Sunday’s reading as His Holiness puts it in his 2011 Message for Lent. Here is what he says:
On the fifth Sunday, when the resurrection of Lazarus is proclaimed, we are faced with the ultimate mystery of our existence: “I am the resurrection and the life… Do you believe this?” (Jn 11: 25-26). For the Christian community, it is the moment to place with sincerity – together with Martha – all of our hopes in Jesus of Nazareth: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world” (Jn 11: 27). Communion with Christ in this life prepares us to overcome the barrier of death, so that we may live eternally with him. Faith in the resurrection of the dead and hope in eternal life open our eyes to the ultimate meaning of our existence: God created men and women for resurrection and life, and this truth gives an authentic and definitive meaning to human history, to the personal and social lives of men and women, to culture, politics and the economy. Without the light of faith, the entire universe finishes shut within a tomb devoid of any future, any hope.
Today’s Gospel reading is about Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman about thirst and water. The Holy Father’s brief synopsis from his lenten reflection is the following:
The question that Jesus puts to the Samaritan woman: “Give me a drink” (Jn 4: 7), is presented to us in the liturgy of the third Sunday; it expresses the passion of God for every man and woman, and wishes to awaken in our hearts the desire for the gift of “a spring of water within, welling up for eternal life” (Jn 4: 14): this is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who transforms Christians into “true worshipers,” capable of praying to the Father “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4: 23). Only this water can extinguish our thirst for goodness, truth and beauty! Only this water, given to us by the Son, can irrigate the deserts of our restless and unsatisfied soul, until it “finds rest in God”, as per the famous words of St. Augustine.
My favorite part of this interpretation is found in the ending, when the Holy Father tells that it is the Holy Spirit alone who can “irrigate the deserts of our restless and unsatisfied soul”. The human person is thirsty. Without a doubt, there is some sort of primeval emptiness in the human heart, a perennial search for completeness. What can satisfy the heart, the core of man?
Continuing on with our journey through Benedict’s Message for Lent this year, we come to the Second Sunday of Lent, which is the Transfiguration. The Holy Father writes:
The Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord puts before our eyes the glory of Christ, which anticipates the resurrection and announces the divinization of man. The Christian community becomes aware that Jesus leads it, like the Apostles Peter, James and John “up a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1), to receive once again in Christ, as sons and daughters in the Son, the gift of the grace of God: “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor. Listen to him” (Mt 17:5). It is the invitation to take a distance from the noisiness of everyday life in order to immerse oneself in God’s presence. He desires to hand down to us, each day, a Word that penetrates the depths of our spirit, where we discern good from evil (cf. Heb 4:12), reinforcing our will to follow the Lord.
In Jeffrey Morrow’s recent post, he suggests a prayerful reading of Pope Benedict XVI’s lenten message. I second that suggestion. The Holy Father’s words are touching, beautiful and enlightening. As somewhat a response to Morrow’s post, I have decided to write a brief, personal reflection over the text of the Pope’s lenten message. What I would like to do is develop this into a short series given each week of Lent. I propose this because the Holy Father, in his message, offers a theological synopsis of each Gospel reading on the given Lenten Sundays. Hence, he writes this message with a chronological, theological flow in mind. As best I can on a blog and with my limited theological knowledge, I want to reflect upon and follow the theology weekly. And I invite you, reader, to accompany me on the journey! Let us begin:
The Holy Father begins with an invitation to the Church: to intensify her journey in purifying the spirit, “so as to draw more abundantly from the Mystery of Redemption the new life in Christ the Lord”. Through this invitation, Benedict introduces Baptism, explaining that this life “was already bestowed upon us on the day of our Baptism, when we ‘become sharers in Christ’s death and Resurrection’, and there began for us ‘the joyful and exulting adventure of his disciples'”. After quoting from the writings of Paul, the Holy Father comes to a beautiful conclusion:
Lent is upon us. It is a time of renewal, a time of purification. I thought I would post just a few comments to help get us in the right frame of mind.
I love the season of Lent. It is the perfect time to get one’s life in order. It is the perfect season to reflect upon our relationship with God in an even deeper way than usual. We have many disciplines to help us, especially the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. To be clear, it is important that we pray at all times and in all seasons, not just in Lent. Likewise, it is good for us to fast and habitually practice small mortifications, small penances, small acts of loving reparation, throughout our lives even outside of Lent (and outside of Fridays throughout the year). And, it’s never a bad time to give alms; “now” is always the perfect time. But in Lent, the Church lays a special emphasis on these practices to help us through our desert journey. In Lent, we travel with Jesus (and with all of the saints who have gone before us) into the wilderness, toward the joy which Easter brings.