Third Sunday of Lent

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, 
that our ancestors were all under the cloud 
and all passed through the sea, 
and all of them were baptized into Moses 
in the cloud and in the sea.
All ate the same spiritual food, 
and all drank the same spiritual drink, 
for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, 
and the rock was the Christ.
Yet God was not pleased with most of them, 
for they were struck down in the desert.

These things happened as examples for us, 
so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. 
Do not grumble as some of them did, 
and suffered death by the destroyer.
These things happened to them as an example, 
and they have been written down as a warning to us, 
upon whom the end of the ages has come.
Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure 
should take care not to fall.
1 COR 10:1-6, 10-12

If the all Israelites were “baptized into Moses” (analogous to Christian Baptism) and “all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink”(analogous to the Eucharist), why was God not pleased with some so that He struck them down in the desert instead of entering into the Promised Land with the other Israelites?

This is the question Saint Paul wants us to contemplate in today’s second reading, because if God behaved in such a way during the first Exodus, and God does not change, we can expect Him to likewise behave towards us in the New Covenant. As Saint Paul says, what happened to the Israelites in the desert is a warning for us.

So what happened in the desert that displeased God? There were three instances in the desert where a portion (often the majority) of the Israelites were so rebellious that God would not let them continue the Exodus journey into the Promised Land He was giving them.

They first ran afoul when they asked Aaron to create a molten calf (the Egyptian god Apsis) for them to worship when they grew tired of waiting for Moses to come back down the mountain. Even worse, they attributed to Apsis their deliverance from Egypt! They had just promised to worship God and Him alone and He specifically said “you shall not make gods of gold”….but 40 days later their hearts were back in Egypt even if their bodies were not. As a result not only were many of the Israelites killed (all who had worshiped Apsis) but they lost the priesthood of the firstborn which was then transferred to the Levites who had not worshiped Apsis.

Israelite’s idolatry was clearly displeasing to God, but the problem began in their hearts not their actions. It took only 40 days without contact from God or His prophet for them to become restless. Worship is written into the heart of man, if we do not worship God we will worship something else (often ourselves). Where is our heart? Are we more intent on doing God’s will than our own? Do we persevere in prayer during times of dryness, when God seems far away? Or do we give up on prayer, thinking it useless, and instead turn to the instant gratification this world offers?

The second time Israel came close to being wiped out was when God was about to give them the Promised Land and they refused to enter. The spies who had seen the land reported the fierce people who lived there and all of Israel despaired. God said He would give them victory, but they did not believe Him. Thus God would allow none to enter but Joshua and Caleb, the only two who had trusted in God (apart from Moses & Aaaron). For 40 years they wandered in the desert, waiting for that generation to die before God could try once again to bring the people into the Promised Land.

The Promised Land is a “type” for Heaven, eternal beatitude with God. God is trying to lead us there but despair lies in wait along the path for those who do not trust God. Our path is the path Christ trod out for us on His way to Calvary. Are we willing to pick up our cross and die to self? Our victory is assured by Christ’s own victory on the Cross….but we can’t claim the victory if we won’t engage in the battle!

The third time Israel failed was during the 40 years of wandering in the desert. When they first complained of hunger God gave them “bread from Heaven,” miraculous manna to feed them. But they grew tired of the manna; more than that, they loathed “this miserable food!” They despised God’s gift, the miraculous food He provided to sustain them during their wandering in the desert. All the food they craved would have been theirs had they trusted God and entered the Promised Land in the first place! So they were left at the mercy of poisonous serpents and many died. Yet when their hearts turned toward God and they cried out for help He had Moses post a bronze serpent on a pole that all who look at it might be healed.

The manna is a “type” of the Eucharist, the true bread from Heaven. Have we come to take it for granted? Do we contemplate this great gift of God and receive it worthily? Do we despise what is from heaven and instead crave what is of earth? Are our hearts still in “Egypt”? We can also see the manna as a “type” of grace, which God pours out on us anew each day, giving us all that we need. Do we cooperate with this grace, or do we think it of little worth? Are we thankful each morning for the spiritual sustenance God provides, or do we take it for granted?

All of Israel was baptized into Moses and ate of the spiritual food and drank the spiritual drink, just as we all may be baptized into Christ and receive His body and blood in the Eucharist, but just as not all of Israel was found pleasing to God so too will it be with the Church. For now God allows the weeds to grow along with the grain, all that the cast net catches is drawn in, but on the Last Day the sheep will be separated from the goats.

Where is your heart? Is your heart in Christ, being conformed to His? Or is it back in Egypt?

God has given us the means of returning to grace, to spiritual health. Just as all those who looked to the Bronze Serpent were healed, so too all those who look to Christ on the cross, who put their trust in Him, will be healed. If you haven’t yet participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation this Lent, check with your local parish for days & times a priest is available.

Second Sunday of Lent

For many, as I have often told you 
and now tell you even in tears, 
conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Their end is destruction.
Their God is their stomach; 
their glory is in their "shame."
Their minds are occupied with earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven, 
and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified body 
by the power that enables him also 
to bring all things into subjection to himself.
Phil 3:18-21

In today’s second reading from Philippians, St. Paul urges us not to be enemies of the cross of Christ. Who is an enemy of Christ? Is it someone who burns bibles and curses the name of God? Is it someone who actively tries to work against the Church or hinder her activities? Is it someone who puts Christians to the sword or forbids the practice of the faith?

Most likely we can all come through that examination without breaking a sweat.

But an enemy of the cross of Christ is also the one whose God is their stomach, the one who glories in their ‘shame’ and the one whose mind is occupied with earthly things. That hits a little closer to home, doesn’t it? When we read this verse we might think of people we know, but what if we looked at ourselves?

The practices of Lent help us in this examination. The Church requires us to fast on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays in Lent. It also encourages fasting and penance beyond these minimum requirements. If we don’t find the bare minimum challenging, maybe it means that our God isn’t our stomach…or maybe it means we should try a little more penance. If you do find it challenging, relax! It doesn’t mean that you don’t love God! But it is an invitation to evaluate which controls you more: your stomach or God?

Similarly, we are warned that the enemies of the cross of Christ have minds occupied with earthly things. This could be understood in two ways. On the one hand, while we have to think of earthly things from time to time (such as providing for a family, paying the bills, etc.), if our mind is occupied with earthly things it cannot at the same time be taken up with heavenly things. We can become too ‘bogged down’ in the daily life of this world that we leave no room for our mind to contemplate heavenly things. On the other hand, ‘earthly things’ could also mean ‘worldly things,’ the things which the world thinks are important: fame, fortune, fashion, etc. Instead the mind of the Christian should be occupied with heavenly things, the things Christ says are important.

Just as Lent is a time of fasting (as opposed to making a god of our stomach), Lent is also a time for prayer. This increased dedication to prayer during the holy season is a way to re-focus our thoughts on heavenly things rather than worldly things.

It is also important to remember that St. Paul is speaking here of the “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Have you heard of the prosperity gospel? It’s basic tenet is that Christ died and rose from the grave to give us material prosperity (financial blessing and physical well-being) here and now. Yet in Scripture Christ says that anyone who wants to follow Him must “take up their cross and follow me.” Christ did not die on the cross so that we could avoid it. If that were true what are we to make of the many Christians who were crucified for their faith? Christ died and rose from the dead to open a way for us back to God; and He is the way. If the cross of Christ has no place in our life than it is all too easy to make a god of our stomach and occupy our thoughts with earthly/worldly things.

First Sunday of Lent

In today’s Gospel from Saint Luke we heard that when Jesus came up from His baptism in the Jordan the Holy Spirit led Him into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the devil. These 40 days signify the 40 years Israel spent wandering in the wilderness before finally entering the promised land. Why didn’t God make them wait 40 years? It wasn’t His original plan, but when He tried to lead them in the people were overcome with fear of the current occupants and did not trust that God would or even could fulfill His promise. It was 40 long years until that generation died before God could bring their children into the land and fulfill His promise. While they wandered they were tested; God gave them ample opportunities to grow in their trust in Him. Yet over and over when they were put to the test, they failed.

When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan He also received His anointing as king by the Holy Spirit. He came to set His people free and lead them into the promised land. He was the New Adam, the New Moses, the new Joshua and the new Israel, besides being the new King David. To set His people free He first went back to fight and win the battles they had lost so many years ago. Jesus left the wilderness victorious, and He won that grace for us. By our baptism Christ lives in us and makes us victorious as well.

Lent is a special season set apart for us by the Church as a time of prayer and fasting so as to enter more deeply into the Paschal mystery and the mystery of our salvation. It is a time for penance, not because meat or chocolate or whatever we might give up is evil, but because it is good, and to give up good things for a time will strengthen our will so that when we are confronted and tempted by evil we may, through God’s grace, be victorious. It is a time to have our hearts purified for a deeper love for God.

Then, as before, I lay prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no food, I drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed in the sight of the LORD, doing wrong and provoking him. For I dreaded the fierce anger of the LORD against you: his wrath would destroy you. Yet once again the LORD listened to me.
—Deuteronomy 9:18-19

Ash Wednesday

Repent and believe in the Gospel. It is with these words that the priest exhorted us this morning as he placed ashes upon our heads. What is this Gospel that we are to believe in, and why do we have ashes placed on our heads when today’s Gospel seems to prohibit such external signs?

‘Gospel’ is one translation of the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον. It can also be translated as ‘good news.’ This isn’t just any good news, though. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) εὐαγγέλιον is used to denote the message of victory sent from the battlefield back to the people. This meaning is retained in its use in the New Testament. The good news is that Christ is victorious in His battle against sin and death. Jesus can set us free, free from our enslavement to sin and the tyranny of the devil. But for this victory to take place in us we must turn away from sin (repent) and believe in salvation through Jesus Christ (the gospel).

But why do we have ashes placed upon our head? Doesn’t today’s Gospel reading from Matthew tell us not to use such outward signs?

Blessed ashes are a sacramental, and thus are sacred signs instituted by the Church which prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. They remind the faithful of death but they also remind us of Christ’s victory over death when placed in the shape of a cross. They mark the bearer as a sinner, as one who is guilty but also repentant and whose hope is in Christ.

In today’s Gospel Jesus warns his disciples to “be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see,” and, specifically, for people to praise. This warning does not prohibit visible religious acts, such as the wearing of ashes, but rather condemns the ulterior motive of one who does so to receive human praise. The gospel warns us not to receive ashes today in order that those around us will think that we are a good Catholic, or holy, or observing the prescribed fast, or for any such reason. We are to wear ashes with humility and reverence, contemplating on our own sinfulness and God’s limitless mercy. This practice helps us to prepare to observe Lent fruitfully.

Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.

Joel 2:12-13

Upcoming Change in Mass Times/Horarium

Beginning on Ash Wednesday there will be a change in Mass times as we rearrange our monastic horarium a little.

Weekday Mass from Monday through Saturday will be at 7:30AM
and Sunday Mass will be at 8:00AM.

The horarium will be as follows:

5:20—Rising Bell
5:55—Matins & Lauds (Sunday: 6:10 AM)
Followed by Lectio/Prayer/Study
7:30—Holy Mass/Thanksgiving (10min)/Terce (Sunday: 8:00 AM)
11:45— Sext
12:00—Dinner (main meal of the day)
12:45—Optional Recreation
1:30—Profound Silence (Time for a nap, prayer, reading, free time)
5:20—Rosary & Vespers
7:45—Community Recreation