Wednesday, 27 February 2013

VOICES of Lent - Part Five

We continue with this series of postings entitled, VOICES of Lent. I have structured these models, for your personal prayer, in the form of a dialogue between the Soul and the Guiding Spirit.


Good Spirit: Dear Soul, when we spoke last, we gazed upon the glorious transfiguration of Jesus. This is your destiny, God's plan for you and all souls who are redeemed by His sacred passion and glorious resurrection. But I reminded you, that the enemy of Jesus, the Deceiver, has vowed to prevent this from happening. He will use every means possible to scandalize your faith and cause your downfall into his eternal darkness, which is real death. 
You must learn to discern, to distinguish the voice of deception from the voice of truth, the voice of the Spirit of Light. 

 In the case of a soul who has become ensnared by the deceits of the Deceiver, who has fallen into a pattern of serious sin, it is characteristic of the Deceiver to keep that soul content in its sinful ways; disbelieving and skeptical of any word that comes from the voice of the Spirit of Light, who speaks of God's truth. But to such souls, the voice of Spirit of Light brings confusion and doubt, causing that soul to feel disturb about its sinful ways. The soul is filled with confusion and begins to see through the lies used to deceive it.

In the case of souls who are striving to walk in the light of truth, the Spirit of Light supports them with a certain peace, that enters them from within and not from anything of their own making or any created thing. There grows within them a hunger for truth and a knowledge of God's love. They increase in faith and hope. Their loving is genuine and pure. With such souls the Deceiver grows increasingly impatient, taking full advantage of every opportunity to disturb this peace they have been given.

Soul: Good Spirit, how am I to learn these such important lessons?

Good Spirit: You must be a person of prayer. It is in the school of prayer that  these lessons are taught. This prayer is rooted in the Word of God, in the sacred scriptures, especially the gospels, where Jesus' Voice is heard. Jesus teaches that you tell a good tree from a dying tree by the fruit it bears. Your first lesson in discernment is found at the beginning of the scriptures where you see the Deceiver already at work. In the garden there are TWO TREES, both having an abundance of fruit on them. The fruit of one gives life to all who eat of it. The fruit of the other leads to death to any who eat of it. The first is called, the Tree of  Life, the second is called, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eating the fruit of this tree is forbidden by God.

Soul: Good Spirit, is this not my goal, to know how to distinguish what is good from what is evil?  

Good Spirit: Dear Soul, listen again to the story of how the first souls were deceived over this very question and all went wrong.

Now the snake was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?”  The woman answered the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’” But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Gen. ch. 3:1

Good Spirit: You must understand, the act of eating this fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil symbolizes that a person chooses for themselves what shall be good and what shall be evil. No one can make such determinations by themselves. God alone is the author of all creation. He alone determines the true nature of all things and how they are to be used, rightly or wrongly. This knowledge can only be revealed by God. As it says in the scriptures, "They all shall be taught by God." (Isaiah 54:13 & John 6:45) 

Consider now your own world, how science and technology have unlocked many of the mysteries of creation; yet how man's independent thinking has corrupted their true purposes.  

Consider how religious thought is discredited and relegated to myth and superstition.  

Consider where and to what degree skepticism now influences the way you view the teachings of the Church.


Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness,idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ [Jesus] have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another. Gal. 19:


How Spirits Work  
Some basic patterns are easy to grasp. For instance, as you would anticipate, the good spirit usually brings love, joy, peace, and the like; the evil spirit characteristically brings confusion, doubt, disgust, and the like. Another pattern: when you are leading a seriously sinful life, a good spirit will visit you with desolation to turn you around; an evil spirit will keep you content so that you will keep sinning. Another clear pattern is the opposite of this: when you are seriously serving God, the spirits change roles. The evil spirit clouds your day with desolation to lead you away from God, while the good spirit fills your day with trust and love of God. And a final, easily grasped pattern: a spirit that works in light and openness is good, while a spirit cloaked in secrecy and deception is evil. From Ignatius spirituality. 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

VOICES of Lent - Part Four

We continue with this series of postings entitled, VOICES of Lent. They are approaches to praying in a way that draws its inspiration from St. Ignatius, and his direction for contemplation on a passage of scripture. I have structured these models, for your personal prayer, in the form of a dialogue between the Soul and the Guiding Spirit. Following the dialogue there is a foot note section with additional suggestions.


Soul: Good Spirit, is it a sign of weak faith for one to want to see that which they profess to hold by faith? 

Good Spirit: "Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe"; is Jesus' response to Thomas when he withheld his belief that Jesus was risen until he saw him personally. Yet, to wonder with joyful expectation, fits quite naturally with a person's desire, and hope, to share in the promised eternal life. One may be given glimpses of the glory to come, when they are not required as conditions for belief. They are often given to those who are expected to face great challenges in their service of the Lord. Understand carefully, the Deceiver never rests in his plan to scandalize people's faith in Jesus, especially the faith of those who must give support to other souls, who's faith has been scandalized. Consider now this gospel passage.

Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed 

in appearance and his clothing 
became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing 
with him, Moses and Elijah, 
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish
in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been 
overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men 

standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, 

Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, 

and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a VOICE that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time

tell anyone what they had seen. (Gospel for the second Sunday of Lent)   

Good Spirit: How well and true did St. Paul speak when he said, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him." But this extraordinary revelation has been granted to Peter and James and John for a specific reason. It is given to them to prepare them to undergo the "scandal" of the Cross. This word is carefully chosen, for in its roots, the word means -to ensnare, -to catch in a trap, -to trip up, -to cause a fall into entrapment. 

Remember, the Romans used  crucificion to execute anyone who opposed them, especially those who's leadership was an inspiration to others. Seeing their leaders defeated in such an ignominious way, was meant to scandalize, to crush any hope people had in their leader. But the cross of Jesus was not a confrontation with the Romans, it was the cosmic battle between Jesus and Satan. It was Satan's attempt to destroy Jesus, and to be the ultimate scandal against the faith and trust that anyone might have in Jesus. 

Jesus has come into the world to bring you lowly people into God's kingdom; to give you a place in God's presence that is higher than the place from which Satan has fallen. With an unquenchable resentment, jealousy and hated, Satan vows to prevent this from happening. The goal is simple; prevent them from following Jesus, and for those who have chosen to follow, cause them to fall away and be lost.

Soul: Good Spirit, how can one as weak as I, ever hope to avoid the snares of Satan?

Good Spirit: You must learn discernment. You must learn how to recognize the cleverly disguised snares the Deceiver has set to trap you (to scandalize you). Through praying in this way, you learn to distinguish the Voice of your Lord from the voice of the Deceiver. That is why this way of praying the scriptures is indispensable. In addition to this, there is much wisdom to be learned from the saints, from how God's grace guided them. 

We shall return to these considerations, but for now, set your heart firmly on this vision of the transfigured Jesus. Ask that your heart be filled with the joy of your faith and your desire to see the Lord face to face.


St. Ignatius' Prayer as Conversation.

2 Corinthians 12:1-11

"The Lord said to Simon Peter: I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned to me, you must strengthen the faith of your brothers."


Brothers and sisters:
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. 3:20

Sunday, 17 February 2013

VOICES of Lent - Part Three

This is the third part in this series. For best results, read one & two first.


Good Spirit: Let us return again to your place of solitude and prayer. We have been with the Lord, in the wilderness. The Deceiver has visited him, attempting to entrap him by his wily arguments.

Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple,

and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, 

for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, 

to guard you, and:
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.

Good Spirit: Who, when they come upon an unfamiliar footbridge, would not first tread cautiously upon its threshold, testing, that it is sound and safe to walk on? Clever indeed, this argument, for sound reasoning and good judgement demands it. Is not the saying, "Fools rush in ....."

Soul: Good Spirit, as each day passes, I grow more skeptical, and my trusting grows weaker. Who in today's world trusts enough to have real faith, save the naive? 

Good Spirit: Remember Peter, when he climbed from the boat, at Jesus' beckoning, and walked on the water, only to have his trust fail him. Jesus' hand was there to protect him, (proof for a man's failing trust.) In a tone of chiding affection, Jesus says, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" Mtt. 14:22

As you consider now, the quality of your trusting faith, do not judge yourself harshly. Rather, holding tightly to the side of the boat (with Peter). Ask the Lord to call you to step forward into the things you now fear; for only in this way can your faith grow stronger. Look into your heart and let not fear cause you to hesitate.

Soul: Good Spirit, help me now to discover where my trusting is weakest, that God's good grace may build up my faith.


Review again the structure of this approach to prayer:
  • PLACE: choosing a place with a measure of quiet and solitude.
  • PRESENCE: entering this prayer expecting to be guided by Grace.
  • PETITION: asking for the graces that will make this prayer fruitful.
  • PASSAGE: preparing a passage of scripture for reflection.
  • PRAYER: entering the passage, looking, listening, imagining you are there,    focusing on various persons, collecting your thoughts, feelings, reaction. 
  • PRAISE and thanks: closing with a prayer formed in your own words, as one speaking face to face to another; expressing your gratitude for the blessings and guidance received in this prayer time.

Friday, 15 February 2013

VOICES of Lent - Part Two

 This is part two of a series of posts. For best effect, before reading here, refer back to the previous posts of VOICES of Lent.


Good Spirit: Come now, let us enter this quiet place you have prepared. As before, I am here with you to guide you into the mystery of this contemplative prayer.

Soul: Good Spirit, my mind is a whirl with all the business of my life. Help me now to hear your voice calling me to follow. Capture my imagination by the revelations you will show me as you guide me into the mystery of the scriptures.

Good Spirit: Take the passage we began with, reading further into the mystery of Jesus' encounter with the Deceiver in the wilderness, when the Deceiver attempted to persuade Jesus to break his fast for the sake of his health and missions. Jesus responded, "Man does not live by bread alone." Now we read .......

  • Then he took Jesus up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.   The devil said to him,
    “I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish.
    All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
    Jesus said to him in reply,
    “It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” 

Good Spirit:
 Ah, indeed, if Jesus is to be God's champion will he not need to have power to put down his enemies? How can one conquer without a powerful army and mighty weapons? Who will follow a leader who is meek and mild, without weapons, without armies; who does not ride high upon the glorious praises of the masses?

Consider now; is it not your own weaknesses that troubles you most? If only I was stronger, smarter, naturally gifted in many ways. Think for a moment, by what standards do you measure your self esteem?  

Consider now; how, by the world's standards, one's worth is measured by appearances, by popularity, by possessions, by reputation, by position of authority, by youthfulness, by achievements, by wealth and power and such like.

Consider now; that in God's eyes, you are his precious child, formed by his hands, in whom the breath of life has been given; loved and called by the name he has given you. Nothing in all the world can add anything greater than this. It is you, who you are, that he calls to serve him. What he asks of you, he also provides.

Consider now, to what, and to whom, have you given over your heart and are now serving?


Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 
Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:20-31

A closing reflection in song:

by Paul Curtin

Thursday, 14 February 2013

VOICES of Lent - Part One

As Lent approaches, the next few postings will be devoted to praying in a way that draws its inspiration from St. Ignatius and his direction for contemplation. I have structured the  prayers in the form of a dialogue between the Soul and the Guiding Spirit. Following the dialogue there is a foot note section with additional suggestions.


Good Spirit: Come with me now, I will lead you into the wilderness of your soul. I will show you how to distinguish from the many voices, the one that is mine, from the one that comes from the mouth of the Deceiver. My voice calls you to gather with me that I might lead you safely to the Father. The Deceiver has but one purpose, to scatter you, to drive you off into the wilderness, where you may easily be devoured.   

Soul: Grant me a listening heart, that I may hear and learn all that you wish to teach me. Give me courage to face these things of which you speak. Reveal to me how these deceitful voices have seduced my heart in order to harm me.

Good Spirit: Come with me now, take up the scriptures, listen intently, as you hear my voice responding to the carefully crafted arguments of the deceiver. 

  • Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.The devil said to him,“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”Jesus answered him, “It is written, One does not live on bread alone.” (Luke 4:1)

Good Spirit: To those souls who are striving to follow my voice, the Deceiver will not use arguments that are blatantly false and easily detected. He begins with a proportion that is partly true, that sounds quite reasonable. [Fasting makes you hungry, you need food to survive, God does not want you to perish from hunger, how can you serve Him if you are starving? Indeed, all your physical needs are part of being human. Satisfying your needs simply fulfills God's design for your humanity. They are all good, and more is better.]

And so the argument goes, failing however, to mention that LIFE is more than the body alone. I will show you how this argument appeals to three characteristics found within every person. There is the powerful instinct within the human person to survive. There is human intelligence which enables one to devise ever more clever ways to control their security. And there is the pride of life that convinces one that all of this is their god-given right to have; and so you must pursue them.    

Let us begin, but first you must find a place of solitude, away from all the distracting voices that fill your life. This will be difficult, surrounded as you are by so many instruments of sound. I will let you seek out a place for prayer. Set a time and go there, and simply experience the silence for a time. Quiet your soul there, and I will come to your quiet.

..................................... footnotes .....................................

Structure of this approach to prayer:
  • PLACE: choosing a place with a measure of quiet and solitude.
  • PRESENCE: entering this prayer expecting to be guided by Grace.
  • PETITION: asking for the graces that will make this prayer fruitful.
  • PASSAGE: preparing a passage of scripture for reflection.
  • PRAYER: entering the passage, looking, listening, imagining you are there,    focusing on various persons, collecting your thoughts, feelings, reaction. 
  • PRAISE and thanks: closing with a prayer formed in your own words, as one speaking face to face to another; expressing your gratitude for the blessings and guidance received in this prayer time.

Refer to the page Ignatius Way of Prayer.

Friday, 1 February 2013

The History of Lent

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the period of penance, prayer and sacrifice that precedes the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. 

Since the earliest days of the church there is evidence of some form of Lenten preparation for Easter; but the duration and nature of this preparation took countless centuries to evolve and is still changing even today.  

As early as the second century, St. Irenaeus, an influential bishop and missionary, wrote to Pope Victor I complaining of controversy around the dating of Easter and the observance of a period of fasting leading up to this feast day. Some regional churches fasted for one day, others for several days and still others for 40 hours (most likely based on the traditional belief that Christ lay for 40 hours in the tomb).

It was another two centuries before the Council of Nicea tackled St. Irenaeus’ issues head-on. Assembled by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 325, bishops at Nicea developed a complex formula that placed the date for Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of spring. The canons emerging from that council also referenced a 40-day Lenten season of fasting. 

The word Lent is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words, lencten, meaning “spring,” and lenctentid, which was the word for “March,” the month in which the major part of this season of sacrifice falls. 

Why the period of 40 days was chosen is not entirely understood, but scholars believe it was influenced by biblical references to 40-day fasts by Moses on Mount Sinai and by Christ in the desert before He began His public ministry. Nonetheless, by the time of Pope Gregory the Great in the last decade of the sixth century, Christians in Rome and the West were generally observing six weeks of fasting prior to Easter.

But the math wasn’t quite right. Given that no fasting was to occur on Sundays — as Sunday was viewed as a weekly memorial of the Resurrection and therefore a day of celebration, not fasting — six weeks of fasting added up to 36 days, not 40. To correct this, Pope Gregory moved the start of Lent to a Wednesday.

Gregory is also credited with initiating the practice that gave the first day of Lent its name, Day of Ashes or simply, Ash Wednesday. To begin the season of fasting and repentance, Gregory marked the foreheads of his congregation with ashes, a biblical symbol for penance. It was also a reminder to early Christians of their mortality (“For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” Genesis 3:19) and the need to prepare for the afterlife.

A millennium and a half after Pope Gregory, the duration of the Lenten observance is still not immediately clear to many Catholics. Confusion stems from the fact that liturgically, Lent lasts 44 days. 

The traditional 40-day Lenten fast begins on Ash Wednesday, excludes Sundays and carries through to the night before Easter. But the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969, established slightly different parametres for the season of Lent. 

Returning to a long-held custom within the church, the Second Vatican Council re-established the three days before Easter as a separate holy time apart from Lent proper. Known as the Easter or Sacred Triduum, this three-day period begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday and concludes at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, which is when the Easter season begins. So, from a liturgical perspective, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends just before the Mass on Holy Thursday, the start of the Sacred Triduum. And it includes Sundays, making it 44 days in duration.

The nature of the Lenten observance has changed significantly over the millennia. While fasting seems always to have been part of the paschal preparation, there was significant latitude around abstention in the early centuries of the church. Some Christians fasted every day during Lent; others, every other week only. The more austere fasters subsisted on one or two meals a week; but many found that cutting back to one repast a day was a sufficient sacrifice. And while many abstained from meat and wine, some ate nothing but dry bread. 

Pope Gregory weighed in on this issue as well. He established the Lenten rule that Christians were to abstain from meat and all things that come from “flesh” such as milk, fat and eggs. And fasting meant one meal a day, normally taken in the mid-afternoon.

The prohibition around milk and eggs gave rise to the tradition of Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras (French for Fat Tuesday), which is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday. On this day Christians would feast on the foods they were required to abstain from during Lent — gorging before the fast as it were — and pancakes became a popular meal for using up all the eggs and milk. 

Over time, concessions were made to the rules around fasting. In the 12th and 13th centuries, church authorities such as St. Thomas Aquinas accepted that a certain amount of “snacking,” in addition to one meal a day, should be allowed, particularly for those employed in manual labour. Eating fish was eventually allowed and even the consumption of meat and dairy products as long as a pious act was performed to compensate for the indulgence. 

Today the Catholic Code of Canon Law requires those 18 to 59 years of age to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

And fasting means partaking of only one full meal, with snacks or smaller meals allowed at two other times through the day. It is also recommended that those 14 and over abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent.

Lent is not just about fasting, however. Prayer, almsgiving and works of charity have always been encouraged by the church. And walking the Stations of the Cross (also called the Way of the Cross or Via Crucis) is a Lenten devotion that dates back to the fourth century.

Pilgrims to Jerusalem would retrace the steps that Christ walked on His way to Calvary, stopping at specific points to pray. When the Crusades in the Middle Ages prevented such sacred journeys to the Holy Land, the Via Crucis was reproduced in different parts of Europe. Chapels and markers (first referred to as Stations of the Cross around 1460) decorated with scenes of the Passion were erected in monasteries and in numerous cities to allow for miniature pilgrimages. Now images of the Stations of the Cross appear in almost all Catholic churches and are an integral part of many Lenten worship services.

The traditions and practices surrounding Lent are varied, but they have a common focus:  preparation for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. Some would argue that at the start of this new Lenten season, that should be the focus of every Catholic.

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