|Reflections on Lent - Wednesday, February 22, 2012|
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. The Season of Lent is 40 days, not counting Sundays, and ends on Holy Thursday, the Mass of The Lord's Supper.
Lent is the time we immerse ourselves in the Pascal mystery of Christ's death and ressurrection, the center and summit of our Catholic faith! Lent is a time when we examine our relationship with God and others. Our faith calls us to acts of penance (examing closely where we are failing to live in the Word of God), fasting (joining in Christ's suffering), prayer (prayer brings us into closer communion with God) and alms giving (loving and caring for our brethren). Our penance begins on Ash Wednesday, with the ashes. Throughout the old testament there are examples of people covering themselves in ashes as a form of mourning and penance. The ashes we receive on our foreheads is the physical reminder and renewal of our promise to turn away from sin and live the Gospel and alternately a reminder that from ashes we came and to ashes we will return.
We are all on a spiritual journey. It is our purpose to grow ever closer to God by becoming more and more like Jesus. Our journey is not easy, it is fraught with peril, hardship, sorrow and frustration. These are the tests that strengthen our faith and steel our hearts and they are the catachysts that teach us how to trust in God, in his love and his mercy and his care. We are all sanctified and it is to this end that we are working our way through this life.
There are few personal reflections I want to share wtih you about our sanctification and our Lenten journey.
First: All things are possible with God through whom all good things come. It is easier for someone who is in need, who feels the cold, who aches with hunger or thirst, who is imprisoned or maltreated, sick or dying to have faith in God than for someone who has plenty of money, plenty to eat, good health and a home and loving family around them. The reason is because they have nothing on which to place faith IN THIS WORLD, they are truly poor. God is the salvation, God is the strength, God is the love and caring that we so need and desire. If we place our faith in money, in material possessions, and in men we do not place our faith in God by whose grace we have money and material possessions. Having money and possessions is not a sin of itself, but our devotion to these worldly things and our lack of humility are what place us in peril. This world and all that is in it are passing. God is eternal. Only God can offer us real life, real power and real security.
Second: Our life on earth was likened to that of a developing baby in the womb. If you could ask the baby what it needs it would probably say gills, for the baby knows no other world than the one it lives within and cannot understand why it needs eyes to see light it cannot see, or lungs to breath air it does not breath. Thus it is with us and our development. We think we NEED what is necessary to live in THIS world, without thinking about the fact that we are being prepared, we are developing, to live outside of this world we know. Our destiny is not confined to this world, just as the developing baby is not destined to live it's human life inside the womb. We need to develop what we need for our birth into God's kingdom.
Third: Saint Quote of the Day: "Consider God's generosity towards you rather than your own unworthiness in His sight, and live in His strength, rather than in the thoughts of your own weakness." *St. Vincent de Paul
Our Lenten journey should be one that moves us closer to God through the merciful heart of Jesus Christ. We should all take this quote from St. Vincent de Paul to heart this Lent and bring down the wall that separates us from Jesus and his loving merciful heart. That wall is our feelings of inadequacy, and underserved love and mercy. If Jesus was meant to suffer and die so horribly only for those who deserved it then he would have lived a human life to a ripe old age. NO ONE deserves what has been given to us because of LOVE. Love is not contingent on someone earning it. Love is unconditional. What would you do for your children, or give to them, because you love them and not because they deserve it? Would we not lay down our lives for our loves ones? We are not being given something frivolous, but a gift of life. There is NOTHING so bad, or so evil that men can do that the mercy of God through Christ Jesus is not still larger!
Search your hearts and find what separates you from God and work to erase those barriers. Everyday try harder to live life as Jesus did, love God and worship God; be thankful for all the blessing you have through God; show kindness not anger; always love never hate; forgive with your heart everything; be giving not uncharitable. LOVE is the most important attribute. If you love you cannot be angry, selfish, ungrateful, hateful, etc. Love, love, love in everything you do and say, always.
The Scrutinies, celebrated on the 3rd, 4th and 5th Sunday of Lent:
"The scrutinies, which are solemnly celebrated on Sundays and are reinforced by an exorcism, are rites for self-searching and repentance and have above all a spiritual purpose. The scrutinies are meant to uncover, and then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good. For the scrutinies are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. These rites, therefore, should complete the conversion of the elect and deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ and to carry out their decision to love God above all." from http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/Lent/scrutiny-1.html
We celebrate the Scrutinies with the elect (those converting to, or entering the Catholic Church) because, as a community, we are meant to support and assist the elect on their journey through our example and our prayer. Celebrating the Scrutinies also reaffirms our baptism and confirmation in the Church, renewing our faith, strengthening our spirit and helping us to overcome the power of sin and "...hold fast to Christ and to carry out [our] decision to love God above all."
For help in scruitinizing the Gospels for the 3rd, 4th and 5th Sundays of Lent visit http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/Lent/gospels-3-4-5.html
|Praying the Scrutinies - Friday, March 9, 2012|
Praying the Scrutinies
We assist the Elect in their conversion process through the celebration of the rites called Scrutinies. These celebrations are on the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent and are communal prayers celebrated to strengthen the Elect to overcome the power of sin in their lives and to grow in virtue. But it isn’t only for the Elect that the Scrutinies are beneficial. The entire community benefits in the same way.
The First Scrutiny (3rd Sunday of Lent) is John 4:5-42 and is commonly referred to as “The [Samaritan] Woman at the Well.” The Samaritan woman at the well is far from innocent. She has been married 5 times and is living in sin with a man who isn’t her husband. Through her story it is revealed that the “well” of grace is ready to refresh the soul damaged by sin and suffering and that Jesus came to save the sick and to serve those who still need both physical and spiritual healing – not only the converted.
The Second Scrutiny (4th Sunday of Lent) is “The Man Born Blind” John 9:1-41. The disciples ask Jesus “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither…it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” In the beginning the man born blind referred to Jesus as “a man called Jesus”, and then he called him “a prophet” and finally the man who was born blind called him “Lord” and knelt to worship him. It is a progression of belief not unlike that experienced by the Catechumens/Elect.
In the Third Scrutiny (5th Sunday of Lent) Jesus resurrects Lazarus from the dead, John 11:1-35. Lazarus falls ill but Jesus does not go immediately to him. Lazarus dies before Jesus departs for Judea and Jesus, knowing this without being told, tells the disciples “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” Lazarus had already been in the tomb for 4 days when Jesus arrived. Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
The Progression of Deepening Belief
It is interesting to observe the progression, the deepening of belief and understanding of who Jesus is that occurs in the Scrutinies and how this changes individuals profoundly. It is a spiritual change, not just a change of mind because it is a very deep understanding and love.
The Samaritan woman first observes Jesus to be a Jewish man. Jews and Samaritans did notget along and would surely not share food or drink! Furthermore, women, on the whole, were no better than second class citizens. So, Jesus, a Jew, is speaking to a Samaritan WOMAN and asking for a drink: I’m sure she was as shocked as His disciples! Then, Jesus tells her the truth about herself and she is amazed and now she believes him to be a prophet! Then she tells Jesus that the Messiah is coming and “he will tell us everything” to which Jesus replies, “I am He, the one speaking with you.” She brings many to come and see Jesus (“Could he possibly be the Christ?” she says to them) and they come first because of her word but they end up believing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ because of His word.
The man born blind first tells people that “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’” But when interviewed by the Pharisees he states that Jesus is a prophet. In the end Jesus asks him if he believes in the Son of Man and he wants to know who he is so he CAN believe in him and Jesus tells him that He is the Son of Man. The man born blind, who now sees, says, “I do believe, Lord” and he worshipped him. This man was once blind both physically and mentally and spiritually now he sees, in all ways. Even this man’s parents were too frightened to admit that their son had been healed by Jesus because at that time people were threatened with excommunication from the temple if they paid credence to Jesus and his teachings. The progression of belief in this scrutiny is, I think, most powerful!
Lazarus raised from the dead was a miracle for the benefit of those who believed but still had doubts, who believed that Jesus was favored by God and could ask much of God, but didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Martha tells Jesus that had he been there she knows that Lazarus would not have died, and that even now she believes that whatever Jesus asks of God will be given. She does not understand fully who Jesus is and what is possible through him. Martha tells Jesus that she knows Lazarus will rise in the resurrection on the last day. Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” The death of Lazarus had a greater purpose, to glorify God and to glorify Jesus as the Son of God through the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus. The progression of belief in Martha was mirrored in many others who witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus and thus came to believe that he is the Son of God.
This progression of belief is like that of the Catechumens/Elect. It is for their benefit of complete conversion that we scrutinize these readings and for our benefit to strengthen our spiritual resolve and renew our baptismal vows. When I was an Elect I could personally relate to these readings. I saw myself in each of the roles. It was easy to put myself into the role of the Samaritan woman…why would Jesus talk to me? Why would he share water with me? Why would Jesus offer me the water of life? I am certainly no better that the Samaritan woman. Like a doctor who doesn’t administer to the healthy, Jesus didn’t come here to minister to those who had faith but to those who didn’t believe. He didn’t come to save some, but came to save all.
Most people are “blind” at some time in their lives. I was blind and now I see. I have always been able to see with my physical eyes but I couldn’t always “see” spiritually, and believe in Christ fully, just like Martha. Sometimes people lose their “sight” they fall into a life of sin and they lose faith in God and in Jesus. Perhaps scrutinizing these scripture readings they may be given their sight again!
The power of these stories lies in that each one has Jesus setting someone free from unbelief, from sin and death itself. We celebrate these prayers as a community because we all need to be set free of sin, not just the catechumens. Every one of us struggles with sin, an action or an attitude that we just can’t seem to change. Or maybe we are resentful, jealous or unforgiving of someone who has done us harm.
The first thing we need to do to be set free is admit our sin. It is probably the most difficult thing to name your sins out loud in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This isn’t about numbers of sins or kinds of sins or an attempt to embarrass someone for their sins. The reality is that it is easy to fool ourselves about our actions by making excuses or denying the reality of our sin.
Only after we can admit to our sin can we examine the reasons why we commit them in the first place. And then we can work on eliminating those sins once we understand why we choose that path in the first place.
It is God who brings us to recognition of our sins, God who helps us to understand why we sin, and God who will forgive us our sin through Jesus Christ. We cannot be set free of our sins unless we ask to be. Only Gods grace through Christ Jesus can give us strength to live up to our Act of Contrition and to resolve to sin no more.