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.

1st Sunday of Advent

And so begins a new Liturgical Year and how fitting it is that in this first season we slow down and remember the coming of Christ “in flesh in Bethlehem, in our hearts daily and at the end of days in glory.” The beginning of the year within our cyclical readings and liturgical arrangement commences with a period of waiting and preparation. The year before having ended after a stretch in Ordinary Time, the whole Catholic Church is now waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ. Just as the world, just over 2000 years ago, hoe hummed along into a period where the Word would become flesh and dwell among it. Just as it hoe hums along as Christ is born daily in our hearts through our devotion and obedience of His commandments today. And just as it will hoe hum to the last second of it’s own existence in the face of the glory of it’s Creator.

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’ (Mark 13:33-37)

The beauty and mystery in understanding the season of Advent and the coming of Christ in a threefold manner is manifested in the relevance of what Jesus is saying to each point. When we focus Advent on the coming of Christ in flesh, we see how the Word was made flesh in this world while all it stood in ignorance of His coming. Focusing how Christ in our own lives daily, we remind ourself and heed the call to “stay awake.” And it is certainly clear in this passage that Christ is speaking of the end of days here. All three understandings of Advent which are concurrent and distinct are present in Christ’s words from the Gospel of Mark.

In the part of the passage just before the readings today, we are reminded of the events that are supposed to culminate and signal the end of times. During his sermon today, Father O’Brian touched on this sensitive subject, especially with how some have come to view or articulate what Christ calls the “elect.” Indeed, all baptized Christians, who serve His Bride the Catholic Church are the elect. And what is important to note is that those who serve the Lord and His Holy Catholic Church will be separated by God at the end of time. However, the focus of today is on what Christ says in the readings, and we can look at what Christ is saying here as a quick addendum to what He spoke about earlier (but not officially captured in today’s readings), when He spoke about the end of days. We must be careful, because although the end of days will come and Christ will be glorified before all of creation once and for all (after a period of terrible events on humankind and the whole world), we do not, cannot and will not know when it will happen. It is as if the owner has left and he has not told us when he will return. We must continue to do all of the things the owner wants and likes around the house, for at any time he could return from his journey away.

There are many times in the Gospels when Christ illuminates a concept from the Old Testament (and His own jewish upbringing and teachings) and then swiftly tacks on a newer concept that is related and yet radically different than the original thought. It is what makes His explanation that He comes not to condemn the law but to fulfill it even more powerful. In this instance, Jesus speaks of the end of time, which would not have been a foreign concept to the group of Jews with whom He is presumably speaking. Indeed, the Jewish faith is enriched with the concept of God’s glory manifesting itself in totality at the end of the time. And furthermore, speaks of great retribution for God chosen people (we could say the Jewish concept of the ‘elect’) which comes alongside the coming of glory of God. I would wager that many in the crowd Jesus was addressing would have been nodding their heads in agreement as He spoke of the wars with nations against nation and kingdoms against kingdoms. It was not a foreign concept that the end of times would unfold in such a manner. But then Jesus speaks of something different. He humbles the Jews by saying very clearly that no one will know when the day of reckoning and glory will come. In one instance, He goes so far as to say that not even the Son knows of when the Father will impose His will for the end of time on humanity and the whole world. This is new and this is radical. It means that we cannot put off our requirement as the elect to serve God and His Church, to be a constant reminder and presence in this world of Himself. We cannot say that this debt shall be repaid tomorrow. We cannot say that this fight shall be ended tomorrow. We cannot say I will make amends tomorrow. For there may indeed never be a tomorrow.

Advent is about waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ in the flesh at Christmas, in our hearts daily and in glory at the end of time. May we recommit ourselves to Christ this Advent as we all wait and prepare for the coming of Christ. We do so today with an understanding that the end of days may come at any time, and without any warning, and therefore as the elect we are all called to be ready now and prepared now. Stay awake.