Friday Week III, Office of the Readings

The first part of psalm 69 that is read in today during the Friday Week III of the Office of the Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours (using the Christian Prayer breviary) really jumped out at me today during my prayer. I would like to share the psalm extract with you here as well as some Lenten flavoured reflections.

Antiphon: I am worn out with crying, with longing for my God.

They offered me a mixture of wine and gall (Matthew 27:34)

Save me, O God,
for the waters have risen to my neck.

I have sunk into the mud of the deep
and there is no foothold.
I have entered the waters of the deep
and the waves overwhelm me.

I am wearied with all my crying,
my throat is parched.
My eyes are wasted away
from looking for my God.

More numerous than the hairs on my head
are those who hate me without cause.
Those who attack me with lies
are too much for my strength.

How can I restore
what I have never stolen?
O God, you know my sinful folly;
my sins you can see.

Let those who hope in your not be put to shame
through me, Lord of hosts;
let not those who seek you be dismayed
through me, God of Israel.

It is for you that I suffer taunts,
that shame covers my face,
that I have become a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my own mother’s sons.
I burn with zeal for your house
and taunts against you fall on me.

When I afflict my soul with fasting
they make it a taunt against me.
When I put on sackcloth in mourning
then they make a byword,
the gossip of men at the gates,
the subject of drunkards’ songs.

What an amazing psalm to read in the middle of the Lenten season! What an insightful and powerful Spirit guided the hand that ordered the Hours in such a way.

Part of my Lenten obligation for this season was a commitment to begin praying the Liturgy of the Hours more completely and in order to do that I reasoned that it was about time to get the prayers off of my phone and into my hands in physical book form. Last week, my Christian Prayer book came in and since that time I have been that busy Catholic with book tabs and prayer cards marking the various points of prayer through out the day. Having the large book and making a real attempt to pray the Hours entirely means that I have to lug the thing around with me wherever I go– including work. Right now the book sits on my desk with me and I have had some people ask about it. A few times I’ve walked around my work with it in my arms (usually headed toward a quiet spot to pray a particular hour) and I’ve heard some sneering. A big thick red book with gilded pages, coloured cloth book tabs and gold lettered “CHRISTIAN PRAYER” in the front, it becomes pretty obvious that I am carrying some sort of religious book around. The prayers themselves have caused me to “burn for zeal for [God’s] house” as we say in the psalm but they have also caused “taunts against [God] to fall on me.” This psalm speaks to me on such a deep level, it actually gave me a little shiver after I read it this morning.

Reflecting on the Way of the Cross this Lent (which is something I try and do each Wednesday after Low Mass in the evening), Jesus calls us to take up the cross and pick up the yoke. He assures us that “my burden is light” but the devil is literally in the details here, because the Evil One is the reason Christ has to remind us that the burden is light. Satan is always there to make things far worse, or rather seem far worse than they really are. But this psalm put that reluctance and that struggle into context and by context I mean it puts it right at the feet of Christ Himself. This is more than just a poem complaining about life, this is a person reaching up toward the Heavens and calling out to God, placing their burden and their own struggle at the feet of God. What a powerful and moving sentiment. What a perfect image for the middle of Lent when our obligations and our own temptations are beginning to mount.

During this Lenten season there is no doubt in my mind that when you fast you will be taunted. When you wear sackcloth and mourn and deny yourself certain pleasures in the face of those who take no issue indulging during the Lent season, you will be taunted and call out. You will be made to feel small and worthless and made to feel as if the waters are indeed rising all around you. Your throat will become red and raw from crying out to God but this is what we are meant to do, this is how we deal with struggle in our faith. We lift up, we reach up and we lay our struggles at the feet of the Lord.

I feel that it is appropriate to end this reflection with the prayer from Morning Prayer (Friday, Third Week of Lent), which also the prayer I used today to close out the Office of the Readings.

Merciful Father,
fill our hearts with your love
and keep us faithful to the gospel of Christ.
Give us the grace to rise above our human weakness.
Grant this thought our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Reflections on Lenten Sacrifice

Yesterday the whole of the Church entered into Lent, that penitential period of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. We marked the beginning of Lent with a contrasting message, one that we are very much from and in this world, “remember, from dust you came and from dust you shall return.” We marked our foreheads with one of the most ancient markings of our faith using the ashes from palms raised in the mimic of celebration from the previous year’s Easter celebrations reflecting on Christ entering the city of Jerusalem. The second message that we are not destined to remain in this world or to be in the world in the life to come. That soon, in forty days to be nearly exact, the Body will be raised and a new covenant will be established between humanity and God.

So with Lent underway, Christians the world over have no doubt began their Lenten obligations, in some cases giving up some sort of an indulgence over the period. Last night during his sermon on the subject, my Rector reflected on what people give up for Lent. He stressed that we do not need to give up something that carries with it any sort of superhuman quality to overcome. He informed us that this Lent he would be giving up the occasional glass of whiskey that he enjoys from time to time. He emphasised that although it is not a daily occurrence, or something that he found he absolutely had to do, it was something which he took immense pleasure in doing when he had the chance. For that reason, he found it a fitting indulgence to give up. And he reminded us that a funny thing will no doubt happen as Lent progresses; by the mere fact that he has make whiskey taboo over his Lenten period, he will probably start to desire and want it more, such is the nature of humans with these sort of things.

I could not agree with Father Travis more on the subject of sacrificing indulgences. Often we get distracted because we focus on what we should be giving up as if Lent is a secular time to “better oneself” or “overcome a particular bad habit.” That is not the point of the Lenten sacrifice at all. It is about giving up an indulgence, about giving up something that you enjoy doing, something that you don’t keep as a dark part of your life (those should be sought out to be eradicated at all times). There is a whole list of things that I could give up for Lent because they are sinful or keep me from God. These are things that I struggle with daily in my life to be more Christian and more holy. These are not things that are appropriate for me to give up during Lent, indeed I should be striving to give them up all of the time and always. What I give up is meant to force me into the desert of my own soul by denying me an indulgent escape that I would otherwise use to avoid being in that desert. Lent remember is a mimic of Christ’s time in the desert before His own public ministry– we too must spend our time in the desert. And Christ’s time in the desert was a further mimicking of the Jewish exile when they spent forty years with no real place to call home, to settle down and worship God.

This Lent let us strive to enter the deserts of our souls, to force ourselves to feel the longing, loneliness and confusion of being part of a temporal world and yet carrying a spiritual hope for the world to come. Let us sacrifice an indulgence that we enjoy in life, that is good for us and not use this time as a secular means of overcoming a bad habit or undesirable trait. Let’s bring ourselves closer to God.

Ash Wednesday 2018

This year, Ash Wednesday falls on the Feast of Saint Valentine (otherwise known as Valentine’s Day). Christopher Hale is quoted on Millennial in a post on this very same subject as linking Valentine’s Day with Ash Wednesday as a reminder of the true nature of love. I would like to expand on that sentiment a little here.

Saint Paul provides the most clear understanding of love in his letter to the Corinthians. He explains that love is more than just words, love is an action. Indeed, as Hale points out, Paul goes so far as to say that love spoken without action is as worthless as a “clashing cymbal,” while a love that’s performed in deed “always perseveres.”

Ash Wednesday opens up the season of Lent. For forty days, Christians from all around the entire world will mimic the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert in the lead up to His own Divine Ministry, which was a further mimic of the forty years that the Jewish people– God’s chosen– spent in exile. Ash Wednesday reaches back in time to the very foundations of our faith, when the Jewish faith began to crystalize into something substantive for the world to consume and understand. The forty years of exile for the Jewish people was a time of great strife and unknown but it was also a time when some of the most beautiful and articulate aspects of the faith were explored, written down and shared among the people. It was indeed while in exile that the Jewish people found their true identity and place in the temporal world. The same can be said of Jesus during his days alone in the desert. Christ is tempted by Satan and rejects all of the Evil One’s presentations because He has a Ministry and a purpose, He has a place in this temporal world. He finds that place during his forty days in the desert and that understanding is manifested in his public ministry which follows. Just as Judaism traces its roots to the exile, Christianity can trace its roots to the temptations of Christ is the desert– that period of feeling lost, alone and in exile from the world where we don’t understand how we fit in.

To love is to sacrifice the immediate “now” for the long term “then”. Love that is served up immediately, in some impulsive manner, is not love, it is lust or at best infatuation. Real love demands an outlook toward the future, toward what is next and what is to be. For this reason, Christian weddings are celebrations about the present (two people declaring their love for one another), as it is a celebration about the future (promises of raising Christian children and growing old together). Love and sacrifice are inseparably linked and we can see the impact of a world that values one aspect over the other when we see how many failed marriages and miserable people there are in unhealthy relationships. Sacrifice demands equal respect for the future as well as the present. You cannot justify giving up something today for the betterment of tomorrow, if you have no concept, no idea of what tomorrow is, in fact it would be illogical to give up anything beneficial today if you cannot articulate an understanding of tomorrow.

Ash Wednesday is the first day when we take the time to put ourselves in our own exiles from the world, in our own deserts to be lost, lonely and confused. We do this because we sacrifice ourselves in order to be prepared and be ready for our own ministries to come. We remove ourselves from this world in order that we may more accurately find our own place within it. And we do all of this out of a spirit of love that is propped up by sacrifice and penitential acts.

Today is not about wearing a symbol of our faith proudly on our foreheads (as some secular minded people might have us believe). Today is about reminding ourselves that we are dust– we are from this world and into this world we will die again. We make this first act to remove ourselves from this world because of the immediate contrast to the message that Christ brings us. We are not meant for this world as a final destination, but we are here now and we are part of it now. We must detach ourselves in order to find our place within it– in order to craft our ministry and enter back with the confidence of a saint.

O almighty and eternal God, who hast dominion over both the living and the dead, and hast mercy on all whom Thou foreknowest shall be Thine by faith and good works: we humbly beseech Thee that all for whom we have resolved to make supplication whether the present world still holds them in the flesh or the world to come has already received them out of the body, may, through the intercession of all Thy saints, obtain of Thy goodness and clemency pardon for all their sins. Amen.