2017 Ashes

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A thought : “It’s the beginning of Lent. In this part of the world the season does not start with the splash of celebration that marks Carnival in many other parts of the world, and that I  have to guess is due to much of the Protestant, Puritan, Quaker and  Shaker heritage of this region. Here and for me, trading  Mardi Gras beads for Rosary beads is not all that difficult.”

The readings and the messages of the Mass readings of the day are also quite familiar by now. I am familiar with the call for fast, abstinence, prayer and almsgiving. I have read in detail the legalities of the fast, and have read numerous comments Catholics have made regarding their opinions on how to observe that fast and abstinence. I know all too well that todays fasting requirements are far less than was required decades ago, and I get a sense that many wish the dietary requirements would go back to those of the older traditions. Not that the season should be so lenient to become insignificant, but this season must become more that prescribed legalities and rituals. That’s opinion.

“Dear brethren,
let us humbly ask God our Father
that he be pleased to bless with the abundance of his grace
these ashes, which we will put on our heads in penitence.
O God, who are moved by acts of humility
and respond with forgiveness to works of penance,
lend your merciful ear to our prayers
and in your kindness pour out the grace of your + blessing
on your servants who are marked with these ashes,
that, as they follow the Lenten observances,
they may be worthy to come with minds made pure
to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of your Son.
Through Christ our Lord.”

– prayer for the blessing of ashes

With ashes once again sitting on my forehead  I think of what they mean today. How will  I carry that mark through this season? As I carry that mark, I think of a mark in another part of the world. In truth that part of the globe has been on my mind for several years at least. I think of  Christians recently martyred. In fact I think of all those who willingly bear the mark of Christianity throughout the world and how they wear their mark amid often violent persecution. That’s observation.

For me its ashes on my forehead , for others  it’s the  graffiti word Nun scrawled on their homes. The paint marks them as Nazarenes or Christians; to be driven from their homes and slaughtered. I think about the oppression they have endured for many recent years while being marked as Christians. A mark much bigger than a smudge on a forehead. That gives me strength to honor this season with a dignity it demands. It is not a season to be slighted and many die for the opportunity to participate in Lenten observances. Many face persecution and die for their faith. These are people who I should keep in my Lenten prayers, so that their trials and testaments of faith might be my guide. “But this season must become more that prescribed legalities and rituals.”  I shall follow their examples of prayer, and of fasting, and of giving. For them even the smallest act or gesture was given with the greatest of expense, to them each Christian act was truly precious. Each act of worship, or symbol, or ritual, or prayer or fast strengthened their faith, and that is the purpose of Lent. Renewing a faith and commitment to God, even when a heavy price must be paid on earth. “A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. “

In thinking of them , I can ponder their oppression in prayer and I can ponder their oppression in economic terms too. For me my fast is voluntary and temporary, for many it is neither. Oppression and persecution often leads to hunger, while my Lenten journey asks that I give alms many are reduced to begging for them. Refugees, the downtrodden, the abused, the trafficked, the homeless. Lent isn’t only about restoring a relation with the LORD, but also about restoring relations with others. That’s the LORDS command. Loosing selfishness and thinking of others. “A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Pray. 

edited from an older post

 

 

Two days and Candlemas

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I unknowingly start this a few days ago on the feast of Saint Brigid, one of the Patron Saints of Ireland. I am familiar with Brigid’s Crosses which are made by weaving grass into the pattern of the cross. Wanting to know a little of their history, I began digging. In that reading it was often written that the cross of grass likely predated Irelands Christianity, and its origins were in the Celtic pre-Christian gods. In tone the arguments read often presented evidence against the Brigid Cross being Christian. Not only did those articles go against the Cross, they went against the saint herself. They suggest the patron saint of Ireland is again the Christianization of an ancient Irish pagan goddess that goes by the same name. Christianity decreases and paganism is promoted, in their eyes. The Saint and feast, in pagan ritual, has its origins in a springtime festival. At least to some.

That was a couple days ago, today is the feast of the presentation of the LORD. It occurs forty days after the Nativity when Jesus is presented at the Temple in accordance with Jewish custom and law. It also is the purification of Mary, yet another tradition of Judaism. Finally, it is also known as Candlemas. Candlemas is the day when all candles to be used throughout the year are blessed. In earlier times the Church used many candles. Bees wax at one time was the valued product of the bee, its honey as a welcomed byproduct. Why Candlemas today, on this religious feast? It is because at the presentation Jesus is proclaimed as the light of the world. It is the day the proclamations of Anna and Simeon are made at the Temple. Christ, the light of the world. It is one of the great celebrations of the Church. Ironically if one were to read a new age online encyclopedia the day is almost always referenced to some other pagan seasonal feast. That feast can be Irish, or Roman, or Nordic, and almost always related to the changing of the seasons. It is not. Today is the feast of Presentation of our LORD Jesus the Christ and light of world. It also is the celebration of purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of God. It is a day with its origins in sacred scripture, and it is celebrated with Candlemas. It is a day a great light is proclaimed, the light of salvation. Why the ire? First the deliberate attempts to portray the day as a hostile takeover of an earthy and folksy wicianesque tradition. It is not. Second is the attempted replacement of a scared day rich in tradition with another (actual the same) pagan celebration, Groundhog Day.

Today is a good day to voice anger against the promotion of paganism. It is a good day to be reminded of words such as heresy, and blasphemy, and apostasy, and sacrilegious. In using that voice to proclaim the great light that is Jesus Christ gives reminder of the voice of the person. Along with light, voice enters into the liturgy. The Christian Voice. Words and sounds. The day after Candlemas comes the feast of Saint Blase , and it is the day of the blessing of throats with today’s candles. At the presentation Jesus is proclaimed light of the world, and to proclaim often means to use your blessed throat.. .

Ignatius of Antioch

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Lk 12:13-21 Today I have a different take on the wealthy barn builder. He is the one that has so much success he can no longer store his possessions, so he builds a barn to hold them. He gloats in his success and gets ready for a long and comfortable retirement. It is all about him, but the LORD strikes him down.The LORD reminds him that what is important to man is not important to God.

But to the beginning of the reading, someone asks Jesus to tell another to share their inheritance. The inheritance implies the stuff in the barn, the stuff important to man but not to God. That person wants trinkets shared, they want cash. But that is only one side of the inheritance, the other is cultural and the region was rich in them.

That was the land of a culture that often revolved around a city-god, and city gods were not about sharing. They defended its residents and demanded homage, they built walls and they hoarded much like someone stocking a barn, and those barns were often raided, pillaged, and plundered.

Inheritances were not shared, they were hoarded and raided. Each god its own kingdom, but that was not Christ’s teaching. Christ taught one kingdom under God, and one God. That is a shared humanity that inherits all that the LORD gives, a shared inheritance available to all. It’s where the word catholic comes from, universal.

Today is the memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, student of Apostle John and the third bishop of Antioch appointed by Peter. Ignatius was a victim of Christian persecution, and was led from Antioch to Rome to be martyred in Circus Maximus. Along the route from Antioch to Rome he composed seven letters to be delivered to the early Churches. In those letters he passes down his inheritance, his knowledge of Christ as taught to him by the apostles. His inheritance today is passed down through Apostolic succession. Through Ignatius we inherit much of the Church we know today. Surprisingly he was one of the first to use that word Catholic. A shared inheritance.

Lazarus under a table

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Well, what did I think of this Sundays’ reading, the story of Lazarus and the rich man? Lk 16:19-31 First, this person noticed that concern for the poor and infirm, notably absent in this story, is a cornerstone of Christianity. It is the religions defining trait, which is  Christian charity. It is an outward display of Christian love that is so often the theme of the gospel. It is the alms giving of Lent. It is the Christ centered foundation of the homeless shelter, the reason for  Christian education initiative, and the inspiration for the  development of Catholic hospitals. Can I suggest the root word hospital is in hospitality or good will towards men? Charity towards the likes of Lazarus, the man begging from beneath a table, is absolutely fundamental to Christianity. It is nothing new today, but it was radical at the time of this story.

My other thoughts towards that story revolve around the details and how they are used. The story takes place at a table, so suggestive of the heavenly banquet mentioned frequently in Old Testament. The story does hint at that heavenly banquet; yet in heaven roles reverse; it is the rich man that begs beneath the table. In heaven Lazarus is granted that cherished seat at the table. As a side note, can anyone ponder the Lords table. That theme of table is common in many of the stories of Jesus. The dinner of the Last Supper , was it set in motion to  offer Lazarus a seat at the table? “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Lazarus would have gladly eaten crumbs that fell off that rich mans table, yet he was so far removed even they were a dream. How far can an outcast be cast, how great can a barrier be?

Next I marvel at those purple robes, the color of royalty. It is so much the color of royalty that it was worn exclusively by royalty, for anyone else to wear that color was a crime. Jesus clearly wanted those Pharisees to see how they identified with royalty. They were (in their minds) religious royalty. There also was the royal court, and one should not leave out the King of all creation. Those Pharisees did behave like they were royalty, so obvious as  they avoided all who were ritually unclean. At their table Lazarus would not even be granted a seat under the table, he would be pushed out the door. That was the reality of the day, there were clear boundaries between the privileged and the suffering. The gospel story clearly mirrors the society of that era. Lazarus was an outcast, ritually unclean and the definition of a sinner. The illustrated facts of life. Does this paint a picture?

“And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man’s table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.”

The next detail comes from the beggar himself, Lazarus and his name translates “God is my help.”  With him is the call for society to change. In the “next” world he is the one  rewarded, and the rich that behaved as royalty is sent to hell. That, to put it bluntly, is in direct opposition to the common belief. To those Pharisees, those who were suffering or cursed on earth were cursed for eternity. To make matters worse, that condemnation was as contagious as influenza is today. A vision of heaven and hell should be interpreted as the Ancient’s would have envisioned it. Heaven resided beyond the firmament ( a tangible physical barrier) and the place of the stars. Hell that frightening tortious place beneath the earth. Jesus, in His story, clearly argued for a call to change. That change is the good news of Jesus Christ, it is the essence of Christianity. To Christ the fear could be replaced with compassion, and compassion meets its reward in heaven. Christian compassion, and Christian charity, they begin with Jesus Christ.

Much of the world in my opinion has taken the lesson of this story to heart. That does not mean there isn’t room for improvement. I think of those hospitals Christian religious orders set up throughout Europe in the middle ages. I think of the charitable work with youth carried out by the likes of John Bosco’s Salesian order, I think of the outreach efforts off the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities. I think of the parishes St. Vincent De Paul Societies, and of the generosity of a country, and a churches citizens. Christianity in action, a table turned over and a world upside down.

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 138

Employees of Catholic Relief Services contribute heavily to pro-abortion political candidates : News Headlines

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Interesting reading, click the link:

Source: Employees of Catholic Relief Services contribute heavily to pro-abortion political candidates : News Headlines


hermitNotes: If yesterdays article illustrated the problems of Catholic politicians, this looks at the problem of Catholic organizations and their employees. With Joe Biden, it is his parties platform that is supportive of many issues that go against his faiths teachings, specifically abortion and gay marriage. Often politicians such as Mr. Biden declare the difference between a personal belief and their political parties position. That particular argument fell short when Mr. Biden served as a witness to a gay wedding ceremony.

Today’s news article looks at a Catholic Institution that employs many people that have opinions that are counter to the Church that their organization represents. Catholic Relief Services is a major charitable arm of the Catholic Bishops. The Linked  article discuss the donation practices of the leadership of that organization. Somewhat surprising is that these CRS employees largely offer support to politicians and organizations that are in opposition to the views of the Catholic Church their organization (CRS) represents. The problem is further complicated because many of the programs CRS oversees also go against Catholic teachings. One part of the problem is that many of the management are not in agreement with the Church. There is a difference in opinion. The second issue that complicates matters is that CRS often distributes goods and services in a cooperative agreement with other organizations, and the government. How then does Catholic Relief Services stay Catholic? How can Catholics that give to this organization be assured that their money is being used in ways that are constant with their faith? That is one of the primary reasons for giving to a Catholic organization. I have read where catholic priests have not had their parishes participate in CRS programs such as the Rice Bowl for this reason. It’s a complicated issue for sure, proof that the Church does not exist in a vacuum.An illustration of the current stormy seas.