Second Sunday of Lent

Second Sunday of Lent

There comes a time in all our lives when ‘we need to get away from it all’.
We need to find an escape when and where we can think, catch up, reflect, remain silent, un-distracted and uninterrupted.

Lent is a good time to take a day away in prayer somewhere for silence, reflection, confession and new purpose, a place like Mt Melleray for example.

Today’s reading from the Gospel is about the Transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus and His closest friends take some time out together. For a moment they see Him as the Son of God in glory.

What is that reading doing in the middle of Lent you might ask? Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham points out the relevance importance and necessary contrast between the reading for the event today and that of Good Friday.

The mountain of Tabor explains the hill of Calvary and vice-versa.

The transfiguration event recalled today can only be fully understood when we pair it with Good Friday.

Here Jesus’ clothes are dazzlingly white, on Calvary He is stripped of his garments
Here He is flanked by the great Moses and Elijah, there He is flanked by two thieves
Here He is surrounded by the brightness of the cloud; there He is covered in darkness
Here He is seen in glory, there He is in agony and flecked with blood

Here He is surrounded by some faithful men when all is well, there by faithful women when all is at its worst – how often women are the ones who are silently faithful as men suffer but men-friends cannot cope and are cowards in the face of pain

Here Peter has faith; there he is in hiding and in doubt

Here God the Father’s voice declares ‘This is my Beloved Son’; on Calvary there a pagan soldier says ‘truly this man was a son of God’

Here on Tabor, all is silence and solitude, there on Calvary all is clamour, violence and crowds and noise.

The point is both are important events: and that just as joy and sadness fill our lives, God is present not only when things are brightest but also when things are dark – in loneliness, pain, suffering and tears. God is with us not just when things are going well and all is calm; God is equally with us when all is chaos and even seemingly meaningless.

We are urged today to Listen to Him.
Let us take time apart sometime in Lent to listen to His voice in the silence.

There we might be able to make sense of things and also face the future with faith and trust and not fear.

First Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent

If you ever had the experience of having your house burgled or of having property stolen, you know that one of the questions you ask yourself is: ‘how could I have been so casual or foolish about my property?’ ‘I was asking for it’. We give out to ourselves for letting our guard down. We were not vigilant and pay the price.
You might next ask: ‘how did they (the burglars) know I was out?’ It is scary, and a further violation, to think that a stranger was on the watch, watching our movements in and out of the house for some time.

That’s how the devil operates. He knows our weaknesses and vulnerability. He is patient, and then he pounces. We are tempted, but never beyond our means. On one occasion he is compared to one.

The Lord Himself is tempted by the devil on three occasions when he is at his weakest in body. He survives and succeeds in these mysterious trials and is strengthened for the ministry He is about to undergo. Lent commemorates this 40-day trial, and reminds us of our ongoing life-long battle (or what used to be called spiritual combat' with the ever-present realities of sin, temptation and of Satan.

There is great and, sometimes, unhealthy interest in Satan. The reality that there can in 2011 be commercial films about exorcism points to curiosity but also to the fact that the Church has been too shy or overly cautious (or too embarrassed) to remind us of the dangers of the Evil One. But we are not preaching the Gospel in its entirety if we neglect the many references of Jesus to the Tempter as well as the many exorcisms Jesus and His followers performed.

Temptations differ because we are different in our tendencies to sin. Self-indulgence opens the way to sin, and therefore fasting as one of three remedies – the others being prayer and almsgiving - is recommended. Pope Benedict said in 2009, that the practice of fasting is the means by which we can avoid and overcome sin. We may recall, or it may be recalled for us, that fasting and abstinence was a lot stricter in the past than today. Yet fasting has not lost its power and value, despite the fact that its relevance has not been understood, or the fact that we are still obliged to do penance every Friday, once we have reached our fourteenth year has not been taught sufficiently. This year 2011 is also a Year of Penance, as directed by Pope Benedict and we are called to do penance for our own sins but this year too for the sins of clerical sexual abuse – see the Irish bishops website.*
I am not sure that dieting was a familiar term until recently. A wise bishop once said that what the Church drops, the world picks up in a secular manner. Fasting was abandoned, but the world picked up fasting and turned them into ‘diets’ and commercialised it.

If you want a day to go slowly, fast. Fasting is not meant to end in a splurge of gluttony at Easter, but rather the season helps us to attain moderation and appreciation as well as a certain measure of self-control. Fasting and abstinence helps us to remember to give thanks for what we have received as well as what we ought to do to provide for others who hunger out of poverty - out of a sense of solidarity helping to address the imbalance in the world. We atone too for our personal sins of waste and gluttony as individuals and as a society. We can fast from food, but more importantly we must always strive to fast from sin.

The Lord has a number of names for the devil in the Gospels as ‘a liar, a murderer from the beginning’. We will see him referred to again because in Holy week he enters Judas.

And yet on this occasion in the wilderness he does not call him by his name(s), but counter-argues the Scriptures with him. This is a reminder that we too conquer evil with the Word of God. Knowledge of scripture is knowledge of Christ (St Jerome). We ought to realise that familiarity with Scripture is also a safeguard from ‘the wickedness and snares of the Devil’.

*I now invite all of you to devote your Friday penances, for a
period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to this intention. I ask
you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your
works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the
Church in Ireland. I encourage you to discover anew the sacrament of
Reconciliation and to avail yourselves more frequently of the transforming
power of its grace.
Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, and
in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted
to this purpose. I ask parishes, seminaries, religious houses and
monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that all have
an opportunity to take part. Through intense prayer before the real
presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for the sins of abuse that
have done so much harm, at the same time imploring the grace of renewed
strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests,
religious and lay faithful. I am confident that this programme will lead to a rebirth of the Church in Ireland in the fullness. [From the Pope's letter, March 2010]

Ash Wednesday

This Lent we need to make SPACE for God

I find the acronym SPACE helpful as a programme of renewal in my own spiritual life for Lent. The suggestions below are not exhaustive (but may be exhausting!)

S is for Self-denial or Spiritual reading

Lent is the great test of our character and our commitment to self-discipline. We succeed or fail in it, and in doing so we see the true measure of our attachment to the Lord (and our detachment from earthly worldly things) by not only our willingness but our measure of consistency in keeping our Lenten resolutions. Fasting from food is difficult but rewarding. It can mean a significant reduction of food intake, for a prolonged period. We can abstain from certain foods, or eat less than usual. We can abstain from snacking. It can help us to appreciate the food that we eat as well as reminding us of those who are hungry without choice, and to remind us of our duty to provide for them. Fasting and abstinence on Fridays and Wednesdays have always been part of the Irish Christian tradition.

Spiritual reading is also a necessary part of spiritual growth. Particularly recommended to all Catholics is ‘a growing familiarity’ with Sacred Scripture. 'I remind all Chrsitians that our personal and communal relationship with God depends on our growing familiarity with the word of God'. Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 124)

P is for prayer and penance

Time given to prayer and penance is a particular characteristic of Lent. It may comprise of earlier arrival before and/or later departure after Mass; time spent alone in one’s room in quiet reflection; a day of recollection away for a while in a monastery or retreat centre. Prayer focussed on the Lord’s Passion is extremely beneficial – the Stations of the Cross, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, the Seven Sorrows of our Lady, the divine Mercy chaplet.

Penance may be a more prompt and faithful diligence in the performance of one’s daily duty; patience in dealing with others as well as patience in coping with the sacrifices demanded of us that come with inconveniences to our plans. It may entail the performance of jobs we have delayed or procrastinated for a long time.

A is for Almsgiving

The Queen of France asked St Vincent de Paul what she could be doing for the poor, and he answered her with one word: ‘more’. The Catechism teaches us that love for the poor comes under the remit of the seventh commandment. The paragraphs numbered 2443-2449 of the Catechism are worth looking up to see our obligations and the proper motivation of Christians in regard to love for the poor.

C is for charity, especially in conversation; and Lenten confession

We need to close our mouths to desserts and fancies and excess, but also to close our mouths (and ears) to gossip, slander, detraction and hearsay. To fast from lack of charity is pleasing to the Lord.
Always associated with Lent is time taken to examine our consciences and to go at least once to confession.

E is for the Eucharist – Mass and adoration.

If the other practices mentioned above are, as it were, the flesh and bones of the practical ways of commemorating the Lord’s 40 day fast in the wilderness, it is renewed and prolonged adoration of his Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist that comprises the heart of Lent. There we renew and deepen our love for Him and come to a greater awareness of understanding His love for us. There we learn how to respond to His love (as well as to see Him) in our neighbour, especially those whose need is great.

‘Lord may be accept from your hands this day of Lent, may we make it yours by deeds of love’(from the Breviary)