Lent Is A Journey

lentFor those who do not know, Lent is a journey. It is observed by Catholic and most other Christian denominations. The journey begins on Ash Wednesday, and lasts forty days. During that time Christians practice prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Prayer represents how we relate to God, fasting represents how we relate to ourselves and almsgiving/charitable works represents how we relate to others. The followers of Christ are reminded on Ash Wednesday of their dependence upon God for their very being. The ashes distributed in the ceremony come from the palms from the previous “Palm Sunday.” As the priest or minister marks the forehead of the penitent with the sign of the cross using the blessed ashes he says either of two blessings: “Remember your are dust and to dust you shall return,” or, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” The first blessing, a stark and humbling reality of our mortality, the second, more amicable. Yet to follow the Gospel is by no means for the meek.  Lent then continues through Holy Week, culminating with death’s final triumph over life by Christ’s Crucifixion on Good Friday, and life’s eternal triumph over death through Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

“…better to fast for joy, than feast for misery.” – G.K. Chesterton (The Ballad of the White Horse)

The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is often called “Fat Tuesday,” for it precedes Lent and it is seen as the last feast before the fast of Lent. Many, during Lent, sacrifice that which they hold dear. A personal sacrifice that often is eliminated for the good of the penitent as a test of self-denial. A positive change in the way one lives, rather than, say, giving up drinking coffee (which one often resumes after Lent), is a greater accomplishment of Lent. For if that change is held to, that person emerges from Lent all the better for it. Ridding oneself of a bad habit brings one closer to Christ. And that is the purpose of Lent. One may choose to replace impatience with patience, hate with love, injustice with justice, anger with kindness, greed with charity, indiscretion with prudence, pride with humility, to name a few. By eliminating a weakness, we increase our strength.

It is a difficult task to change from some harmful habits or way of life. Where does one begin? With an act. An act that is contrary to thought. Acts that when practiced continually will conform thought to the act. Good acts foster good thoughts.  Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said: “It should be each person’s goal to rid themselves of one sin per year.” How much better would the world be if that were to be accomplished.

We should emerge from the Lenten journey a better person than when we began. Fat Tuesday, I believe, should be ignored; for one should fast before the feast, rather than after. Because the real feast is celebrated on Easter Sunday. And with such a spiritual feast before us, any last self-indulgence before Ash Wednesday would pale in comparison and not be remembered, save for the moment at which it took place.

The goal of the Lenten journey is not to reform, but to conform. The Lenten journey is unlike a trip to Europe, as you travel with companions and meet many people along the way. In Lent you come face to face with but one person; Christ. On that journey you walk with him and are confronted with all that is in you that is contrary to Him. It is the result of the practice of our will over His. If one seriously values his/her relationship with Christ, that person must remove from himself/herself that which reflects less of Christ.

When our life’s journey is over we will stand before He who intercedes on our behalf before God. His judgment will be based, not upon a list of events of our lives from which we can plead our case. The time for making our case has passed when we have passed. We will immediately know our judgment. For when in the presence of perfection we will see our imperfections. As the imperfections in a portrait are easily revealed in sunlight and not by the light of a candle. His judgment will be based on how much He sees of Himself in us. The saddest response ever to be heard by one who stands before the divine judge is: “I know you not.” How merciful we were to others in life will earn equal mercy from Him. However, if that saddest of all responses, in all truth, applies to any of us, then it is not Christ who bars us from heaven, but we ourselves.

Remember, the Lenten journey need not be impossible to complete; for it is not taken alone. It is taken with He who offers us His Yoke which makes the way easy and the burden light.

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On the Heels of the 35th Anniversary of Legalized Abortion in the U.S.

 “…the humorous look of children is perhaps the most endearing of all the bonds that hold the Cosmos together. Their top-heavy dignity is more touching than any humility; their solemnity gives us more hope for all things than a thousand carnivals of optimism; their large and lustrous eyes seem to hold all the stars in their astonishment; their fascinating absence of nose seems to give to us the most perfect hint of the humor that awaits us in the kingdom of heaven.” – G.K. Chesterton 

At the end of Mass, the celebrant felt the need to acknowledge the members of the choir, who had enthralled the congregation with a most inspirational musical offering. In addition he offered his cheerful thanks to what he called “our baby choir!” During the Mass the baby and toddler voices, as well, echoed through the church.

How often, as we attended Mass or services while the priest was speaking, either in the Homily or reading scripture, have we heard a restless little one give an unsolicited opinion or enthusiastically implore an embarrassed mother that it was time to leave? We find ourselves sometimes perturbed by these outbursts at a moment when we are deepest in contemplation or in calm repose. At that moment we wish for silence.

But, when we take our thoughts away from ourselves we may appreciate that these moments, if not pleasing to us, are most pleasing to God. For these little ones are the product of His love. As we bow our heads and whisper our homage in prayer, the children raise their voices, unknowingly, in like homage, too; glorifying God the Father who has loved them and us all into existence. They are simply announcing to all that, “We are here!”

Thirty five years ago the wish for silence that we sometimes seek was fulfilled. Not the temporary silence sought during a Mass, movie theater or restaurant. But, rather a permanent silence. A silence secured by those children whose voices would never be heard. The legalization of abortion in the United States would see to that. From its initial passage by the Supreme Court in 1973, legalized abortion has blocked the births of nearly 60 million would-be children. The weakest of us all are left unprotected by the laws formulated by man. No other species on the face of the earth, I believe, has less regard for the value and sanctity of life than that of the most prominent; man.

When I now have a knee jerk reaction at Mass, or any venue, as a child’s impromptu voice is heard, I stop and think of all those unborn who since have not had the opportunity to do so. Not to have the universe seen anew, in wonder,  through the inquisitive eyes of an unhindered innocent child, who has yet been subjected to the jadedness that the world can impose, is truly the saddest of events. It robs from parents and family the chance to once again witness the beauty of the universe and the validation of God’s love through the eyes of the innocent.

When the Wise Men and those of meager means came to pay homage to the Christ-child, they stepped not into a cave, but rather into the universe. For there in the crib lay the very creator of the universe. And He had come to make all things, including heaven and earth, new.  In every new-born is the hope of mankind. For God, himself, came into his own creation as such.

Abortion is an unnatural process that empowers exceptions to the rule. The rule of the natural process that reproduces life.  When the exceptions become the rule, I find that the words of G.K. Chesterton ring as loudly as does the deafening silence of the unfortunate children of inconvenience, not protected by the laws of men; “Just because one has the right to do something, does not mean that they are right in doing it.”

This year has been proclaimed the “Year of Mercy” by Pope Francis. May the prayers of repentance for the millions of pre-born slain through abortion be heard. Should those who promote it, those who perform it, and those who patronize it, turn from such further practices with contrite hearts we ask God’s mercy. And for the defenseless innocents slain, whose voices will never joyously be heard in “the baby choir,” we ask God’s mercy and by it we hope they will know the joy of His loving eternal embrace. 

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The Carpenter’s Son

joseph“And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? Did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business?” – Luke 2: 48-49

Jesus, at the age of twelve, during the Passover, was missing for three days. When His frantic parents, who thought he was with relatives or acquaintances, had returned to Jerusalem, they found Him in the Temple discoursing with the elders. As He said, He was in His Father’s house tending to His Father’s business. All, save for His earthly parents, did not understand His meaning. For often it was said among those who knew the family: “Is this not Jesus, the son of the carpenter, Joseph?”

When God, the Father, sent His Word into the world in Christ, He sent Him by way of the womb of a sinless women. But, why to a surrogate Father who was a carpenter? Why not to a man of some other vocation?

My cousin, Ralph, is a carpenter. He once constructed a new deck overlooking the back yard of our house. He first tore down the old existing deck and replaced it with a new and improved deck that served better than the first. After he had finished the deck, and as we stood upon it and admired his work, I paid him and shook his hand in gratitude for the wonderful job completed. Have you ever shaken the hand of carpenter? It is a strong firm hand of rough texture. It is a hand of one who knows hard work. But also a hand that validates the skilled craftsman. A hand that attests to a keen creative mind of one who is disciplined to the laws governing his trade. A hand that demonstrates the characteristic of one who possesses an eye for the aesthetic. A hand that transforms an idea into a reality.

Christ spent the first thirty years of His life obeying. In that He was obedient to the nurturing and direction of His earthly parents. During that period of time he learned and practiced the art of carpentry; as was the profession of Joseph. He knew the purpose and proper use of the tools of carpentry of His time; including the predecessors of the hammer and nail.

Christ’s hands were also strong and rough. Made so by His apprenticeship. Yet, His hands healed, as well. Not solely in the repair of worn furniture, leaking roofs and broken plows, but, of most importance, the restoration of a malfunctioning mankind. Broken bodies, empty hearts and tortured hopeless souls were made anew. His were not the soft hands of one who handles money or fine cloth. His work in the practice of carpentry was hard and demanding, requiring much physical strength. God sent Him not to be raised by a money changer nor a trader in goods. He was sent to one who would train Him in hard labor. For the true mission that lay before Him would be hard and laborious, as well. Joseph was a skilled craftsman in the use of the instruments of his trade. He cut and shaped the wood according to the image that he had in mind for a particular item that he was commissioned to make or repair. The parts were then firmly joined by hammer driven nails resulting in the desired product of that image.

The Son of God, too, was a craftsman. Except one of a divine nature. The knowledge, skill and discipline of His earthly trade would be implemented in the mission for which God had commissioned Him to accomplish. Christ was God’s idea and reality. As in carpentry His mission required some tearing down and rebuilding. The then unmerited altered and tainted truths being taught by the learned, which were once truths revealed in perfect purity by God to His creatures as the guiding principles of life, had to be torn asunder. And by the power of divine sacrificial love, God’s reinstated truth would be secured in the longing hearts of the contrite, as the carpenter’s hammer drives nails in fastening. By this action the son of the carpenter set the stage for the Son Of God.

In an absurd divine irony, the son of the carpenter, who often tore down to build anew, would, Himself, be torn down by the very tools of His trade. Hammer and nail that joined two pieces of wood now has fixed the hands and feet of the Son of God to the tabernacle of His own making, formed from the successful execution of His very mission.  And on that tabernacle of pain and suffering  the Son of God would achieve for mankind what no son of a carpenter ever could; redemption. The hands that once pierced to restore broken woodwork have now, themselves, been pierced to restore a broken world.

By that redemptive act, Christ would forgive the sins that have since, The Fall, separated man from a complete and loving relationship with God. And in three days hence, He would renew a never-ending relationship between God and mankind.

The work done by a good carpenter can last a lifetime. But the work of the Divine Carpenter lasts forever.

 

 

 

 

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Stumbling Past Failure To Success

Source: Stumbling Past Failure To Success

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Christmas: Links, Saves and Restores

And though no man knew it, the hour was near which was to end and to fulfill all things; and though no man heard it, there was one far-off cry in an unknown tongue upon the heaving wilderness of the mountains. The shepherds had found their Shepherd.” – G.K. Chesterton (“The Everlasting Man”)

Archaeologists have long searched for evidence of a missing link that would join modern man to the primates from the world in which he lives. By the study of unearthed remains of early cavemen there is hope that one day the link that would bridge the elusive, if existing, gap will be discovered. But the missing link has already emerged. He was a caveman too. Because he was not born on the earth, but beneath it. Although, a caveman, He did not come to link men with beasts, but to link men with God. Men and women should not dwell on that which is beneath them, but that which is above them. For it has been revealed to men and women that they possess such a capability. A capability to be a sons and daughters of God.

“The Thief Who Understood Value”

I was disappointed to find that the life-size Nativity was not on display in our town green this year. A town parks and recreation representative informed me that the display organizers had arranged to have it moved to a church near the park. Reason being, that the baby Jesus which had been taken from the display, but returned in recent years, was not returned last year.

The thief must have been a good thief. Because only a good thief would know the greatest value of something. That is why he or she chose to take the central figure of the display; which so happens to be the central figure of Christmas. The baby Jesus always draws the most attention. Especially the attention of those who need him most.

Two thousand years ago, another thief was not in a park but on a hill. In his darkest moment, he too was drawn to Jesus. And as a good thief, himself, saw great value in the man who hung from the cross next to his. His last act on earth was that of a thief; for he stole heaven.

“The One Awaited”

How strange this night; like no other.                                                                                        With silence and stillness beyond compare.                                                                                  So dense the air of forlornness.                                                                                                    Trials of days gone by and trials yet to come,                                                                            pale in contrast to those that lie within.                                                                                         So heavy the burden of life.

All attention is now given to an unoccupied crib, humble in nature;                                     its purpose yet to unfold.                                                                                                            And within its emptiness, so go our hearts.                                                            A weary faithful world awaits.

In an instant of time long measured,                                                                                               the veil of obscurity is lifted;                                                                                                   revealing the eagerly anticipated visage.                                                                                          For now, in the crib resides all beauty, all purity, all innocence;                                empowered by divine love.

The radiance of this infant presence instills light                                                                         in the darkest of human hearts.                                                                                                      And in so doing removes the sting from suffering, despair and death.                                  Order is restored, trust renewed and truth has its place.

So, then, to whom may joyous voices freely sing their praise;                                                   and homage be paid?                                                                                                                       Who is this advocate of salvation, peace and good will?                                                               It is He, God’s gift of love; in whom all hope is well placed.

A Blessed Christmas to all my followers and those of which who have become valued  friends.

 

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Where Advent Leads

xmas mangerLet’s go back and think of all the repercussions of the sin of Adam. There isn’t an Arab; there isn’t an American;  there isn’t a European; there isn’t an Asiatic in the world who does not feel within himself something of the complexes, the contradictions, the contrarieties, the civil wars, the rebellions inside of his human nature which he has inherited from Adam. We all struggle against temptation. Why? Simply because our human nature was disordered in the beginning. There is a terrific monotony about human nature. You must not think that you are the only one in the world who has a tortured soul. Now if the sin of Adam has had so many repercussions in every human being that has ever lived, shall we deny that the Incarnation of our Blessed Lord has had a greater repercussion? Can it be that the sin of one man can have greater effects and disorder in human nature than the Incarnation of the Son of God has in ordering all humanity? That is why I say that everybody in the world is implicitly Christian. Some may not become Christians, but that is not the fault of Christ. He took their humanity upon himself. – Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Advent is a time of waiting. Waiting for a promise to be fulfilled. A promise that God would again make all things right between Himself and Man. The Creator would be reconciled with His creatures. Through Christ we all become adopted sons and daughters of God the Father. And thereby are heirs of all that His love has had in store for us from all eternity. The first man said no to God and broke their relationship. Through the Incarnation man has been given the opportunity to renew that relationship by saying yes to Christ.

All who come to Christ are reconnected with God. And all are changed, because in coming to Him all must be changed. When the wise men came to pay homage to Christ they did not return by the way they came, for fear that Herod would know the Christ child’s whereabouts and seek do Him harm. In another sense, all who come to Christ with a contrite heart, will likewise, not return by the way they came. They cannot return to their lives which once belonged to the world, because their lives must now belong to Christ. One cannot stand in two camps. One must decide one way or the other. One can choose to remain a worldly sinner or become a saint. For all who one day enter heaven are exactly that; saints.

So this is where Advent leads. To a crib in which nestles the key that frees weary men and women from souls enslaved by sin, and restores peace to uncertain anxious hearts that the world cannot. The key which will soon re-open the gates of heaven to all who believe in Him. 

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Why Advent?

A reprise from last Advent. I felt it worth posting again this year. For those reading it for the first time I hope you find value in it. For those reading it again, perhaps the events of the past year will cause it to be seen in a new light.
-Alan

CROSSROADS-Right Choices

Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches. It is the beginning of the liturgical year in the Catholic Church, as well. It is a time of both anticipation and preparation for the celebration of the Birth of Jesus at Christmas.

But, why? Why the need for the Incarnation? Why did God find it necessary to come to man as a man; while maintaining His divine nature?

I believe the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen explains it best in the following.

We Are Fallen

“God certainly did not create us this way. We are fallen. All the facts support this view. There is a voice inside our moral conscience that tells us that our immoral and unmoral acts are abnormal. They ought not be there. There’s something wrong in us, something dislocated. God did not make us one way. Or rather, he did make us one way. And we have made ourselves, by virtue…

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