Topic: Penance

Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture

Penance and Hope

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This is a reflection given at vespers at St. Albert's Priory. It is for the second week of Lent, a time when our practices of penance begin to wane. Although the virtue that is typically associated with lenten penances is temperance, this is a meditation on the connection between our acts of penance and the virtue of hope. When we practice penance for the sake of the kingdom of God, we do not merely grow in the virtue of temperance, which orders our desires for bodily pleasures according to right reason. We also practice the virtue of hope, hope for a world to come, and hope for the life of glory that surpasses what we could ever enjoy in this life through our bodily senses. The hidden secret to this season of mortification is the hope that springs from the promise of Jesus Christ.

Br. Andrew Dominic Yang, O.P.'s picture

Filet O'Fish

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Let me kick things off by being the first to admit that I’ve always been terrible at Lenten penances; as in, the whole process. My idea of a Lenten Friday usually consisted of drowning myself in Starbucks and McDonald’s Filet O’Fish Sandwiches for dinner. (Yes, I realize these sandwiches are mashed-up mystery fish parts from who-knows-where, but they're tasty!)

I mean, will God really love me any less just because I ate an extra sandwich, and a fish one at that? (“Hey no meat right?” and “They’re so small!”)

Filet O'Fish

Thankfully, the answer is "No, he won’t." Actually, He can't. It’s impossible for God to love us any less because He loves us infinitely. It is possible, however, for us not to love God. But I never really “got” that. But through God’s merciful providence and no real merit of my own, the virtues of religious life have forced me to see Lent in a whole new way.

Penance has seemingly been abolished from the everyday Catholic’s vocabulary, having been reduced often times to three Hail Mary’s after Confession. Similarly, I find that many Catholics now treat Lenten penances as some sort of Church-sanctioned New Year’s Resolutions event. Lent is now simply a time to lose weight, quit smoking, or eat Filet O’Fish sandwiches for cheap. Where is God supposed to be in all this?

Because our thoughts tend to dwell on the surface, we often fail to see the deeper spiritual journey that God has willed us to live through the Church. The Book of Exodus tells us how the Ancient Israelites went through this same process in the Desert as they departed Egypt for Sinai. The reality is that God was not simply bringing them out of a physical slavery in Egypt; rather, the Israelites were being brought out of slavery to sin and death and into a true freedom as a people consecrated to the Lord. As we know, this is never an easy process for us.

What is easy for me is to have little sympathy for the Israelites in the Book of Exodus. Many people today often claim that they would have faith if only they could see some proof of God’s existence. Now that’s a completely different problem altogether, but not only did the Israelites in the desert actually possess this luxury, they possessed it in a fantastic way. For “the Lord preceded them, in the daytime by means of a column of cloud to show them the way, and at night by means of a column of fire to give them light…Neither the column of cloud by day nor the column of fire by night ever left its place in front of the people” (Ex 14:21-22). And if that wasn’t good enough for them, there’s that whole tidbit about the Lord dividing the Red Sea in two. Now, the Israelites must have trained in the art of complaining during their time of slavery in Egypt, because in spite of the glory of God practically hitting them in the face, they were like you and me, Certified Professional Whiners®. “Were there no burial places in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert? Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Did we not tell you this in Egypt, when we said, ‘Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians?.’” (Ex 14:12) Talk about ungrateful. But isn’t this the chronic human condition? Left to our own devices, we always prefer slavery to freedom, darkness to light, earthly things to heavenly gifts. We would rather live as miserable squatters on this planet than in our true, eternal home in Heaven. And even after we experience firsthand the glory of God in our lives, as the Israelites did when Lord crushed the Egyptians in the Red Sea, we still continue to hand God our Certified Professional Whiners® business card. Behold Exhibits A, B, and C:

“The people grumbled against Moses saying, ‘What are we to drink?’” (Ex 15:24)

“Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” (Ex 16:1)

“Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” (Ex 17:2)

Of course, God never abandoned them, as He never abandons us, and He provided the Israelites with quail, manna from Heaven, and water from the rock. But we’ve heard the rest of this story, and we know that, slowly but surely, Certified Professional Whiners® are always promoted to Certified Professional Idolaters.® We end up worshipping the very things (____ ß your sins here) that we are supposed to sacrifice on the altar of God. The Israelites actually did this literally. God had commanded them to sacrifice a bullock on the altar, but as soon as Moses is gone, what do they do? Out of all the things they could have selected, they choose to fashion a golden calf to worship as the image of God. “Come, make us a god who will be our leader; as for the man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him” (Ex 32:1).

Given our horrible track record as humans, I guess we could always sit here in despair, clutching our now worn-out Certified Professional Whiners® business card. But God loves us too much to allow that, for He “proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). So what are we to do? St. Paul instructs us to “put on the armor of light… the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:12-14). In putting on Jesus, we are to imitate the life of our Lord in order to become alter Christus, other Christs, to the world. But if we are to do that – if we are to reverse our course of slavery to sin during this Lenten season – we must closely examine the actions of Jesus as He was tempted in the desert. Contemplation on Christ in the desert must be an essential part of our own journey of faith. Christ teaches us how to put aside our idols that keep us in slavery – the pursuit of physical pleasures, power, and glory – that prevent us from living in true freedom. Penance – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – serves as our weapon against these idols, reminding us that God alone is the path to happiness and meaning in our life.

Unlike Christ, we know that we will inevitably stumble in our Lenten journeys. We may forget that we gave up red meat, or that we shouldn’t have beer on Friday. We may pull out that old business card of ours, and make something other than God the center of our lives. The purification process will surely be difficult. But as we nervously venture into the desert, we should have immense hope: for we will surely find that God, just as He led the Israelites from Egypt, has already preceded us there through his Son Jesus Christ. So as we journey together through Lent, it is my prayer that we put our trust firmly in Christ, and walk boldly with our eyes fixed on Him who enlightens the way before us. 

Br. Chris Brannan, O.P.'s picture

The Labor Pains of our New Birth

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Br. Chris' preaching on 1 Peter 1:3-5, for Vespers on Sunday, February 19, 2012.

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Christ is risen!

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The feast of Easter has begun, and what a glorious feast it is! Although secular society may choose to mark the occasion for one day, with chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks, we Christians know that the reason for our celebration is something much more than that.

 

It began 40 days ago, when we were marked with the sign of the cross in ashes. Lent, that solemn season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving followed. We gave up our favorite foods. We did works of charity. We turned back to the Lord in prayer and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our sins confessed and our consciences clean, we came to church on Palm Sunday and sang “Hosanna” to our king. Sadly, the allure of sin was to still too great, for after Jesus washed our feet on Holy Thursday, we betrayed him, deserted him, and denied knowing him.

 

Perhaps it was this thought in my mind that made Good Friday so especially moving for me this year. Although I sang the part of Jesus in the Passion according to John-- composed by one of our former Nemwan Center interns, Tyler Ross Boegler--I actually identified with all the other characters. I could picture myself as Judas, betraying Christ with a kiss; for this is what happens every time words of gossip or insult leave my lips, those same lips which receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion. I could see myself in Peter’s shoes, saying, “I do not know him.” Every time I turn away from a brother or sister in need, and ignore my Christian duty, I echo these words. Every time fear and shame impede my ability to profess our faith, it is as if I am saying, “I do not know Christ.”

 

All the experiences of Good Friday: the pain, sorrow, anguish and confusion; they leave us in a place of desolation. After walking the Via Crucis, praying through the Passion, and venerating the wood of the cross, we are left wondering if anything good can come out of this suffering. We find ourselves in darkness and misery.

 

After many hours, suddenly, a light shines in the gloom. It is the light of Christ, risen from the grave, that dispels the darkness and casts out all shadows of fear and doubt. Bells ring, people sing with joy, “Alleluia” and “Resurrexit” are the words upon our lips. This is the reason for our celebration. Christ’s death has conquered sin, and his resurrection has conquered death. The gates of the netherworld are smashed to pieces, and the gates of heaven are open wide to those who believe.

 

Now is the time to rejoice with the holy women who came to pay their last respects, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Now is the time to sing God’s praises with the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints. And not just for one day, but for 50 days. The season of Easter has begun, and what a glorious season it is!

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Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

Seeing God In Lent

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"Table reading" is a traditional monastic practice of taking meals in silence while some book of spiritual significance is read for the duration. This Lent, our community at St. Albert's has undertaken to begin nightly dinners with ten minutes of table reading from Church Father and desert ascetic, St. John Cassian, who is a kind of spiritual father of the Dominican Order. It is said St. Dominic kept with him and would read a little from two books every day: the Gospel of Matthew (his favorite of the gospels) and the Conferences of Cassian. The conferences afford useful insights into the Christian life which are particularly appropriate to Lent.



In the first conference, Cassian speaks of two "ends" or "aims" of the spiritual life. The final end (telos) of the spiritual life is the Kingdom of God. But the "immediate" or "closer" aim is its skopos (Greek for something to "fix the eye on," as an archer his target). This skopos is purity of heart, as in "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God"(Mt. 5:8). Lent is a special time to purify our hearts so our spiritual vision may be sharpened.

We all have the experience of giving something up to get something better. Doctors, athletes, teachers, mothers; any worthwhile life requires moral, physical, and mental discipline to be lived well. During Lent, the Christian refocuses his spiritual energies by giving certain things up so he can live the Gospel more deeply. Food is taken in smaller portions; perhaps we resolve to rise a half-hour earlier in the morning for extra Scripture meditation; or resolve to visit infirm friends and relatives who otherwise lack companionship.

As a Dominican, I've found Lenten disciplines extremely helpful: abstinence from certain foods and full portions of meals trains a certain inner-temperance and self control which – I've found – can make me more alive and alert to my neighbor, even at times more perceptive in prayer and so with a deeper thanksgiving for God's many gifts, and greater insight into His desires for my life. Underneath the outward discipline, a kind of hidden and secret exultation in God is discovered, a way of perceiving and "seeing" Him more clearly.

It is a bit like backpacking in a great national park like Yosemite or Kings Canyon. On such trips – especially the ones of several days – food is spare, sleep is uncomfortable, and fatigue is constant. But precisely by giving up normal conveniences, we receive marvelous visions of pristine wilderness, and often a deeper companionship with the comrades we journey with. Somehow we often come back more energized and appreciative of our everyday life. Every Christian undertakes such a journey in Lent, but in a spiritual way. I myself rejoice to do it as a Dominican: every ounce of my energy given to studying, contemplating, and rejoicing in the Lord, so that he may use me to bring his gospel to the world.

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Br. Isaiah Mary Molano, O.P.'s picture

Lenten Blossoms

My father died during my third year in the Order. As a memorial, my mother donated two magnolia trees--my father's favorite--to the gardens of Saint Albert Priory. The one featured here is our Magnolia Solangiana Rubra Rustica, located west of the chapel.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "Lent" comes from lengthen, meaning "spring" or "Springtime." Spiritually speaking, then, Lent is a season in which we revive our devotion to the Lord Jesus and His Passion.

I took these photos the Thursday after Ash Wednesday. It's interesting and profound, I think, to see the Solangiana blossoming at the beginning of Lent, especially against the morning fog. In a sense, too, our spiritual lives are called to blossom as Lent moves on.


For all of us, may this Lenten season be a time of revival, penance and conversion, as we await the Springtime of the Ressurection.

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