Sunday, 28 February 2010

Sunday 28th February: Second Sunday of Lent.
Readings: Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27:1,7-9, 13-14; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28-36.Dr Hahn's Bible Reflection:
In today’s Gospel, we go up to the mountain with Peter, John and James. There we see Jesus “transfigured,” speaking with Moses and Elijah about His “exodus.” The Greek word “exodus” means “departure.” But the word is chosen deliberately here to stir our remembrance of the Israelites’ flight from Egypt. By His death and resurrection, Jesus will lead a new Exodus - liberating not only Israel but every race and people; not from bondage to Pharaoh, but from slavery to sin and death. He will lead all mankind, not to the territory promised to Abraham in today’s First Reading, but to the heavenly commonwealth that Paul describes in today’s Epistle. Moses, the giver of God’s law, and the great prophet Elijah, were the only Old Testament figures to hear the voice and see the glory of God atop a mountain (see Exodus 24:15-18; 1 Kings 19:8-18).
Today’s scene closely resembles God’s revelation to Moses, who also brought along three companions and whose face also shone brilliantly (see Exodus 24:1; 34:29). But when the divine cloud departs in today’s Gospel, Moses and Elijah are gone. Only Jesus remains. He has revealed the glory of the Trinity - the voice of the Father, the glorified Son, and the Spirit in the shining cloud.
Jesus fulfills all that Moses and the prophets had come to teach and show us about God (see Luke 24:27). He is the “chosen One” promised by Isaiah (see Isaiah 42:1; Luke 23:35), the “prophet like me” that Moses had promised (see Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 3:22-23; 7:37). Far and above that, He is the Son of God (see Psalm 2:7; Luke 3:21-23). “Listen to Him,” the Voice tells us from the cloud. If, like Abraham, we put our faith in His words, one day we too will be delivered into “the land of the living” that we sing of in today’s Psalm. We will share in His resurrection, as Paul promises, our lowly bodies glorified like His.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Saturday 27th February.
Attended Fr Wilthsire's Tridentine Mass this morning. The Mass was offered for the intentions of the older of the two servers, as it was the 62nd anniversary of his reception into the Church. He specifically asked us to pray for his next 62 years as a Catholic.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Friday 26th February.
Friday notes on Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.How does one cling to the reality and not the appearance of the Eucharist? If we were to say that material substance, being matter, is no different, on a purely concrete, physical level, whether that 'matter' be flesh or bread, would that be accurate?That seeing the incarnate Jesus in flesh 2,000 years ago, and seeing Him now, in the Host, is, essentially, no different as both are God incarnate? Is it not the identifiable concentration of God in a physical space - space and time?Christ is 'begotten, not made', but material substance is created, not creator.De Lubac observed that the Church makes the Eucharist, and the Eucharist makes the Church. The Eucharist and Church 'make' each other. The Eucharist is Christ, substantially, begotten, not made. It is the species that is made, while the substance is begotten.More on the Eucharist next week.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Tuesdat 23rd February: St Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr.

Click on the image of St Polycarp for a video homily.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Monday 22nd February: The Chair of St Peter.
The Letter of Clement to James: Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon [Peter], who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was by Jesus himself, with his truthful mouth, named Peter (Letter of Clement to James 2 [A.D. 221]).Cyprian of Carthage: The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven . . . ’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. . . . If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church? (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; 1st edition [A.D. 251]).There is one God and one Christ, and one Church, and one chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering" (Letters 43[40]:5 [A.D. 253]). "There [John 6:68–69] speaks Peter, upon whom the Church would be built, teaching in the name of the Church and showing that even if a stubborn and proud multitude withdraws because it does not wish to obey, yet the Church does not withdraw from Christ. The people joined to the priest and the flock clinging to their shepherd are the Church. You ought to know, then, that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church. They vainly flatter themselves who creep up, not having peace with the priests of God, believing that they are secretly [i.e., invisibly] in communion with certain individuals. For the Church, which is one and Catholic, is not split nor divided, but it is indeed united and joined by the cement of priests who adhere one to another. (ibid., 66[69]:8).Firmilian: But what is his error . . . who does not remain on the foundation of the one Church which was founded upon the rock by Christ [Matt. 16:18], can be learned from this, which Christ said to Peter alone: ‘Whatever things you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed in heaven’ [Matt. 16:19] (collected in Cyprian’s Letters 74[75]:16 [A.D. 253]).Ephraim the Syrian: [Jesus said:] ‘Simon, my follower, I have made you the foundation of the holy Church. I betimes called you Peter, because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of those who will build on earth a Church for me. If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which my teaching flows; you are the chief of my disciples’ (Homilies 4:1 [A.D. 351]).Optatus: You cannot deny that you are aware that in the city of Rome the episcopal chair was given first to Peter; the chair in which Peter sat, the same who was head—that is why he is also called Cephas [‘Rock’]—of all the apostles; the one chair in which unity is maintained by all (The Schism of the Donatists 2:2 [A.D. 367]).Ambrose of Milan: It is to Peter that he says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’ [Matt. 16:18]. Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church is, no death is there, but life eternal (Commentary on Twelve Psalms of David 40:30 [A.D. 389]).Pope Damasus I: Likewise it is decreed . . . that it ought to be announced that . . . the holy Roman Church has not been placed at the forefront [of the churches] by the conciliar decisions of other churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. . . . ’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the apostle, that of the Roman Church, which has neither stain nor blemish nor anything like it (Decree of Damasus 3 [A.D. 382]).Jerome: I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none but your blessedness [Pope Damasus I], that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that this is the rock on which the Church has been built. Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane. Anyone who is not in the ark of Noah will perish when the flood prevails (Letters 15:2 [A.D. 396]).Augustine: If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them [the bishops of Rome] from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it.’ Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement...(Letters 53:1:2 [A.D. 412]).Council of Ephesus: Philip, the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See [Rome], said: ‘There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors’ (Acts of the Council, session 3 [A.D. 431]).Sechnall of Ireland: Steadfast in the fear of God, and in faith immovable, upon [Patrick] as upon Peter the [Irish] church is built; and he has been allotted his apostleship by God; against him the gates of hell prevail not (Hymn in Praise of St. Patrick 3 [A.D. 444]).Pope Leo I: Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . has placed the principal charge on the blessed Peter, chief of all the apostles. . . . He wished him who had been received into partnership in his undivided unity to be named what he himself was, when he said: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’ [Matt. 16:18], that the building of the eternal temple might rest on Peter’s solid rock, strengthening his Church so surely that neither could human rashness assail it nor the gates of hell prevail against it (Letters 10:1 [A.D. 445]).Almighty God, You have raised Your Servant, Pope Benedict XVI, to the Chair of the Fisherman: in Your mercy direct him according to Your clemency into the way of everlasting salvation; that he may desire by Your grace those things that are agreeable to You, and perform them with all his strength. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Posted by G. Family

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Sunday 21st February: First Sunday of Lent.

Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91:1-2,10-15; Romans 10:8-13 Luke 4:1-13.

Friday, 19 February 2010

First Friday of Lent: 19th February.

Up at 06:00am to say Lauds and morning devotions. The snow has begun again today.
Today I began Adomnan's De Locis Sanctis (The Holy Places), a record of a sixth century, Gaulish Bishop's pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and journey through parts of the Holy land, and various places on his voyage. Adomnan claims to have recorded these travel memoirs from conversations held with the aforementioned Bishop, Arculf, when he was shipwrecked on Iona on his return journey to his native Gaul (Adomnan was abbot of Iona, of course). Whether Arculf existed, and these conversations actually took place, or whether Adomnan was employing the construct 'Arculf' as a literary device in order to engage in a form of geographically-centred scriptural exegesis, I do not know, as yet, but I shall inform you of my thoughts and findings as my investigation progresses.

I spent an hour with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in the afternoon at Exposition. What a thing it is to contemplate the Eucharist: Christ is more real than any perceived reality - the Host is truly the REAL presence, in a world which we must attempt to regard almost in terms of absence.
How do I negotiate the physical qualities of the Host? It's appearance, taste, colour etc? It appears identical post-consecration to pre-consecration, however, before consecration it was, and now it IS. The only object I will ever see that is totally real, in any sense, is the Eucharist, therefore, it must, by absolute necessity be THAT around which my entire life must revolve.
More about the Eucharist next Friday.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Thursday 18th February 2010

At the beginning of Lent 2009, Pope Benedict XVI chose to concentrate on the practice of fasting as the theme of his message to the faithful. Beginning with the Holy Father's message, and ending in a brief selection of scriptural, patristic and catechetical observations, I will address the penitential acts of self-denial and abstinence.


"He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry" (Mt 4,1-2)

Dear Brothers and Sisters! At the beginning of Lent, which constitutes an itinerary of more intense spiritual training, the Liturgy sets before us again three penitential practices that are very dear to the biblical and Christian tradition – prayer, almsgiving, fasting – to prepare us to better celebrate Easter and thus experience God’s power that, as we shall hear in the Paschal Vigil, “dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy, casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride” (Paschal Præconium). For this year’s Lenten Message, I wish to focus my reflections especially on the value and meaning of fasting. Indeed, Lent recalls the forty days of our Lord’s fasting in the desert, which He undertook before entering into His public ministry. We read in the Gospel: “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry” (Mt 4,1-2). Like Moses, who fasted before receiving the tablets of the Law (cf. Ex 34,28) and Elijah’s fast before meeting the Lord on Mount Horeb (cf. 1 Kings 19,8), Jesus, too, through prayer and fasting, prepared Himself for the mission that lay before Him, marked at the start by a serious battle with the tempter.We might wonder what value and meaning there is for us Christians in depriving ourselves of something that in itself is good and useful for our bodily sustenance. The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with occasions that invite fasting. In the very first pages of Sacred Scripture, the Lord commands man to abstain from partaking of the prohibited fruit: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gn 2, 16-17). Commenting on the divine injunction, Saint Basil observes that “fasting was ordained in Paradise,” and “the first commandment in this sense was delivered to Adam.” He thus concludes: “ ‘You shall not eat’ is a law of fasting and abstinence” (cf. Sermo de jejunio: PG 31, 163, 98). Since all of us are weighed down by sin and its consequences, fasting is proposed to us as an instrument to restore friendship with God. Such was the case with Ezra, who, in preparation for the journey from exile back to the Promised Land, calls upon the assembled people to fast so that “we might humble ourselves before our God” (8,21). The Almighty heard their prayer and assured them of His favor and protection. In the same way, the people of Nineveh, responding to Jonah’s call to repentance, proclaimed a fast, as a sign of their sincerity, saying: “Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?” (3,9). In this instance, too, God saw their works and spared them.In the New Testament, Jesus brings to light the profound motive for fasting, condemning the attitude of the Pharisees, who scrupulously observed the prescriptions of the law, but whose hearts were far from God. True fasting, as the divine Master repeats elsewhere, is rather to do the will of the Heavenly Father, who “sees in secret, and will reward you” (Mt 6,18). He Himself sets the example, answering Satan, at the end of the forty days spent in the desert that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4,4). The true fast is thus directed to eating the “true food,” which is to do the Father’s will (cf. Jn 4,34). If, therefore, Adam disobeyed the Lord’s command “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” the believer, through fasting, intends to submit himself humbly to God, trusting in His goodness and mercy.The practice of fasting is very present in the first Christian community (cf. Acts 13,3; 14,22; 27,21; 2 Cor 6,5). The Church Fathers, too, speak of the force of fasting to bridle sin, especially the lusts of the “old Adam,” and open in the heart of the believer a path to God. Moreover, fasting is a practice that is encountered frequently and recommended by the saints of every age. Saint Peter Chrysologus writes: “Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself” (Sermo 43: PL 52, 320. 322).In our own day, fasting seems to have lost something of its spiritual meaning, and has taken on, in a culture characterized by the search for material well-being, a therapeutic value for the care of one’s body. Fasting certainly bring benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a “therapy” to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God. In the Apostolic Constitution Pænitemini of 1966, the Servant of God Paul VI saw the need to present fasting within the call of every Christian to “no longer live for himself, but for Him who loves him and gave himself for him … he will also have to live for his brethren“ (cf. Ch. I). Lent could be a propitious time to present again the norms contained in the Apostolic Constitution, so that the authentic and perennial significance of this long held practice may be rediscovered, and thus assist us to mortify our egoism and open our heart to love of God and neighbor, the first and greatest Commandment of the new Law and compendium of the entire Gospel (cf. Mt 22, 34-40).The faithful practice of fasting contributes, moreover, to conferring unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord. Saint Augustine, who knew all too well his own negative impulses, defining them as “twisted and tangled knottiness” (Confessions, II, 10.18), writes: “I will certainly impose privation, but it is so that he will forgive me, to be pleasing in his eyes, that I may enjoy his delightfulness” (Sermo 400, 3, 3: PL 40, 708). Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.At the same time, fasting is an aid to open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live. In his First Letter, Saint John admonishes: “If anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, yet shuts up his bowels of compassion from him – how does the love of God abide in him?” (3,17). Voluntary fasting enables us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends low and goes to the help of his suffering brother (cf. Encyclical Deus caritas est, 15). By freely embracing an act of self-denial for the sake of another, we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger. It is precisely to keep alive this welcoming and attentive attitude towards our brothers and sisters that I encourage the parishes and every other community to intensify in Lent the custom of private and communal fasts, joined to the reading of the Word of God, prayer and almsgiving. From the beginning, this has been the hallmark of the Christian community, in which special collections were taken up (cf. 2 Cor 8-9; Rm 15, 25-27), the faithful being invited to give to the poor what had been set aside from their fast (Didascalia Ap., V, 20,18). This practice needs to be rediscovered and encouraged again in our day, especially during the liturgical season of Lent.From what I have said thus far, it seems abundantly clear that fasting represents an important ascetical practice, a spiritual arm to do battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves. Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire human person. Quite opportunely, an ancient hymn of the Lenten liturgy exhorts: “Utamur ergo parcius, / verbis cibis et potibus, / somno, iocis et arctius / perstemus in custodia – Let us use sparingly words, food and drink, sleep and amusements. May we be more alert in the custody of our senses.”Dear brothers and sisters, it is good to see how the ultimate goal of fasting is to help each one of us, as the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wrote, to make the complete gift of self to God (cf. Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 21). May every family and Christian community use well this time of Lent, therefore, in order to cast aside all that distracts the spirit and grow in whatever nourishes the soul, moving it to love of God and neighbor. I am thinking especially of a greater commitment to prayer, lectio divina, recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and active participation in the Eucharist, especially the Holy Sunday Mass. With this interior disposition, let us enter the penitential spirit of Lent. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Causa nostrae laetitiae, accompany and support us in the effort to free our heart from slavery to sin, making it evermore a “living tabernacle of God.” With these wishes, while assuring every believer and ecclesial community of my prayer for a fruitful Lenten journey, I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing.


Fasting in Holy Scripture, the Catechism, and the Fathers:

References to the value and power of fasting as penance, and a means of supplication in intensifying prayer in the books of the Old Testament are many, but can be summed up by a single passage from the book of Tobit:

Prayer is good with fasting and alms more than to lay up treasures of gold. (12:8)

Can a disciple of Christ refrain from fasting?

Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. (Mark 2:18-20)

Quite simply, then, no: the days have come. Christ even gives instruction on ‘how’ to fast:

…when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matt 6:16)

Note that Christ says ‘when’, not ‘if’ – fasting is not an optional extra, anymore than prayer is, and the two are always linked. Christ Himself fasted, of course:

And he fasted forty days and nights. (Matt 4:2)

The act of fasting is bound up in the mystery of power as weakness; in the losing of 'self' to find SELF. It is, literally, a case of the 'I' decreasing (physical, material appetites), for 'Him' to increase (spiritual conformity and co-operation). This is manifested in Scripture also, in various ways, and highlighted by Christ's fasting as a preparation for combat with Satan. We also see this in an incident involving the attempted casting out of a demon by His disciples:

And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?" And he said to them, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting." (Mark 9:28-29)

We also witness the nascent Church prefacing important decisions and actions via the uniting of prayer with fasting:

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2-3)

And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed. (Acts 14:23)

And so, for us as Catholics, as the Catechism tells us: The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church's penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).CCC1438

However, just as James tells us that faith without works is to no avail (James 2:26) so, like all works, fasting without the proper intent is no more than a physical diet, or an ostentatious show for self-aggrandisement: fasting is a means, not an end.

Fasting and penance are an exterior expression of an interior process - again, the Catechism has much to say on this: The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.CCC1434
A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting "in order to be seen by men").CCC1755
The New Law practices the acts of religion: almsgiving, prayer and fasting, directing them to the "Father who sees in secret," in contrast with the desire to "be seen by men." CCC1969
Jesus' call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, "sackcloth and ashes," fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.CCC1430

The Church Fathers also have a gread deal to say about fasting, in fact, Tertullian dedicates an entire work to the subject, but I shall give the final words on this subject to St John Chrysostom, as he expresses the nature of fasting - which is not merely a matter of dietary regulation - so well:

When the fast makes its appearance, like a kind of spiritual summer, let us as soldiers burnish our weapons, and as harvesters sharpen our sickles, and as sailors order our thoughts against the waves of extravagant desires, and as travelers set out on the journey towards heaven. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven, rugged and narrow as it is. Lay hold of it, and journey on... I speak not of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting; not merely abstinence from meats, but from sins as well. For the nature of a fast is such that it does not suffice to deliver those who practice it unless it is done according to a suitable law. So that when we have gone through the labour of fasting we do not lose the crown of fasting, we must understand how and in what manner it is necessary to conduct the business since the Pharisee also fasted, but afterward went away empty and destitute of the fruit of fasting. The Publican did not fast, and yet he was accepted in preference to him who had fasted in order that you may learn that fasting is unprofitable unless all other duties accompany it.Fasting is a medicine. But like all medicines, though it be very profitable to the person who knows how to use it, it frequently becomes useless (and even harmful) in the hands of him who is unskillful in its use. For the honour of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices, since he who limits his fasting only to abstinence from meats is one who especially disparages fasting... Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see an enemy, be reconciled with him. If you see a friend gaining honour, do not be jealous of him. And let not only the mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all members of your bodies. For as the harvester in the fields comes to the end of his labours little by little, so we too if we make this rule for ourselves and in any manner come to the correct practice of these three precepts during the present Fast and commit them to the safe custody of good habit, we shall proceed with greater ease to the summit of spiritual wisdom. And we shall reap the harvest of a favourable hope in this life, and in the life to come we shall stand before Christ with great confidence and enjoy those unspeakable blessings of which, God grant, we may all be found worthy through the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord, with whom be glory to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit unto ages of ages. Amen! (Homilies on the Statutes)

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Ash Wednesday: 17th february 2010

Up at 05:30am to make the trip from South Wales to Bristol Cathedral for the Imposition of Ashes and Mass at 07:30am. Ashes were distributed, and Mass celebrated by Bishop Declan Lang.
After praying the Rosary, post-Mass, in the Cathedral, a quick trip was taken to Bristol University library to pick up copies of De Locis Sanctis by Adomnan of Iona, and Geography in early Judaism and Christianity by James Scott.
Once home, we started on our Lenten reading: Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI by Scott Hahn. I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about this book as we progress through it.
Now, to Lent:
We are told in the Gospels that Christ is baptised by John (a mystery in itself, but one I will have to return to) and 'Then' was led into the desert to be tempted. The waters of baptism led directly to the desert of temptation as the first act of the Holy Spirit, after the descent at the Jordan. The Baptist must play a major role in how we understand the unfolding of the Gospel and the way in which we should approach our own 40 days in the desert of Lent.
We know that John preached in the wilderness, lived on locusts and wild honey, and: wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather girdle around his waist (Matt 3:1-6). The terms 'wilderness' and 'desert', are, obviously English words which are used, fairly interchangeably, to translate the Hebrew word 'horbah', which, as the Jewish Encyclopedia notes: '... are inadequate and misleading. "Ḥorbah" implies violent destruction; and it is more exactly rendered by "waste places" or "desolation" :

Psalm 102:7 I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am become as an owl of the waste places.

Jeremiah 44:2 Thus saith HaShem of hosts, the God of Israel: Ye have seen all the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, and upon all the cities of Judah; and, behold, this day they are a desolation, and no man dwelleth therein.

The 'otherness' of the uninhabited wastes are defined starkly in Scripture - these are not just 'open spaces', as un-dynamic notions such as these could not be expressed in the Hebrew tongue, or mind - they can only be expressed in terms of the cataclysmic act(s) of becoming desolate; as 'being' horrific:

Deuteronomy 32:10 He found him in a desert land, in a place of horror and of vast wilderness

Jeremiah 51:43 Her cities have become a horror, a land of drought and of desert, a land in which no one dwells, and which no son of man passes.

The 'desert', 'wilderness' or waste-places are to be regarded in the same sense as that species of true 'nothingness' that God calls the world into existence from, and that sin is the tending back toward. It is more than just a physical wasteland: it is synonomous with the abode of evil - the place where the Jackal dwells, wild beasts, the serpent - it is a type of cosmic battleground: the domain of the ancient enemy: the utter lack and opposite of 'creation' expressed dynamically as annihilation:

Matthew 4: 1 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit to be tempted of the Devil.

Mark 1:12-13 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts

As with the Hebrew conception of horbah - the wilderness - the Hebrew term for 'ashes' expresses a similar idea of annihilation/negative void. The usual translation of the Hebrew for ashes - efer - occurs often in expressions of mourning, and in other connections is a symbol of insignificance or nothingness in persons or words:

Genesis 18:27 And Abraham answered and said: 'Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes.

Isaiah 44:20 He striveth after ashes, a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say: 'Is there not a lie in my right hand?'

Job 13:12 Your memorials shall be like unto ashes, your eminences to eminences of clay.
Records testify to the use of ashes as a sign of grief in Talmudic times. In the Mishnah (Ta'an. ii. 1) it is recorded that during the fast-days proclaimed in consequence of drought, the Ark of the Covenant, as well as the people participating in the procession, were sprinkled with ashes, and on such occasions as public fasts, ashes were strewn upon the holy Ark set up in a public place, and upon the heads of the people. That part of the forehead where the phylacteries were placed was selected (Ta'an. 16a). The reason given for covering oneself with ashes is either that it should serve as an expression of self-humiliation, as if to say, "We are before thee as ashes" as in Genesis 27 above, or as in Job 42:6: Wherefore I abhor my words, and repent, seeing I am dust and ashes.

Ashes, as a symbol of mourning, were (are) also sprinkled upon the bridegroom during the wedding ceremony, interestingly enough, in order to remind him, at the height of his felicity, of the destruction of Jerusalem. This custom is still observed among some of the orthodox. This reminder of Jerusalem's destruction should be related to the quote from Jeremiah 44:2 above, and connected to the horror that these ashes upon the head of the groom are to convey in the midst of his joy.

At this time, then, we should be mindful that John the Baptist called out the people of Jerusalem and all about Judea into the wilderness, where he himself was to be found, and that they: were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matt 3:6)
That John was he of whom the Prophet said 'Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; a voice of one crying in the wilderness; make His paths straight.' (Mark 1:2-3)
That John was he who acknowledged that: 'He must increase, but I must decrease' (John 3:30)
As the Catechism states: By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. CCC540.

We are marked with the ashes of humility and repentance (in precisely that place, on the forehead, where the phylacteries would be placed); we confess our sins; we go out into the wilderness and desert of self-denial in order to combat temptation, and defeat the powers of desolation that would have us turn from God into an abode of wickedness and desolation. We walk before God as signs and, thus, messengers, in our secular wasteland, making His paths straight. To do this, 'I' must decrease, whilst He increases. Not as I will, but as thou wilt (Matt 26:39)

I'll leave the last word to Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI:
Ash Wednesday 2010.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the Church’s Lenten journey towards Easter. Lent reminds us, as Saint Paul exhorts, “not to accept the grace of God in vain” (cf. 2 Cor 6:1), but to recognize that today the Lord calls us to penance and spiritual renewal. This call to conversion is expressed in the two formulae used in the rite of the imposition of ashes. The first formula – “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” – echoes Jesus’s words at the beginning of his public ministry (cf. Mk 1:15). It reminds us that conversion is meant to be a deep and lasting abandonment of our sinful ways in order to enter into a living relationship with Christ, who alone offers true freedom, happiness and fulfilment. The second, older formula – “Remember, man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return” – recalls the poverty and death which are the legacy of Adam’s sin, while pointing us to the resurrection, the new life and the freedom brought by Christ, the Second Adam. This Lent, through the practice of prayer and penance, and an ever more fruitful reception of the Church’s sacraments, may we make our way to Easter with hearts purified and renewed by the grace of this special season.

Tomorrow, I will address 'fasting' and Lent.