Thursday after Ash Wednesday

This is a strange sort of day.  Yesterday was a day of repentance, fast, and abstinence.  Tomorrow is a day of abstinence.  But today is just the Thursday after Ash Wednesday.  It’ just kind of a place holder on the calendar.  What are we supposed to do today?

I was listening to Bishop Robert Barron today and he suggested we pray the Jesus prayer,  not just today but throughout Lent.  It couldn’t be much simpler, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me,  a sinner.”  This is something you can repeat frequently, not just during Lent, but if you don’t do anything else during the next 40 day but incorporate this simple prayer into your life, it would definitely be worthwhile.

Why not give it a try?

 

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return

Hopefully by this time on Ash Wednesday you have heard these words and had ashes placed on your forehead.  But why do we do this?  It runs counter to Jesus words in today’s Gospel.

“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

Yet here we are running around with ashes smeared on our foreheads for everyone to see.  No, the ashes aren’t there to show everybody how holy we are.  The key is in the words the priest or deacon speaks.  We are dust and we’re going to return to dust.  What you see now is just our intermediate state.  We only pass through this life for a short time.  On this Ash Wednesday glance in the mirror once in a while and be reminded of where we came from and where we’re going.

5th Sunday of Lent

In the New American Bible, which is the Bible from which we get our Lectionary, today’s Gospel, Chapter 8 verses 1-11 is called “A woman caught in adultery.”  Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and our good friends, the scribes and the Pharisees show up dragging a woman who they have caught committing adultery. This incident raises a very real question.  Where is the man? They say she was caught “in the very act of adultery” but somehow they couldn’t find the man who was also participating; who was just as guilty. Obviously this is a test.

 

We’ve heard the story many times.  The punishment for adultery is stoning and Jesus says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  What we don’t often hear is that no sooner had he said it than a rock came flying in from behind Jesus and hit the woman in the chest.  Thunk! Jesus turned around and looked and said, “Aw, Mom.”

 

Now, you may not like that joke.  Maybe you think humor has no place in religion.    But every time I look in the mirror and see myself looking back wearing s Roman collar, I know that God has a sense of humor.  It’s hard to imagine that someone who hung out with twelve other guys, and could turn water into wine, didn’t enjoy a good joke.

 

I spent seven years at Saint John Neopmuk Church in Soulard.  If I’d told that joke in a homily the Archbishop would have gotten letters (to go along with all the other letters he got about me.)  But the Czech culture is very serious. When they sing the Gloria in Czech, you’d swear you were at a funeral. But that’s just the way they are.  It took me a while to figure it out.

 

I think we’ve all heard this Gospel enough times that I can’t really add much to it, so I’m going to talk about what you just sang, the Responsorial Psalm.  We don’t preach on the Responsorial Psalm very often, but I think today, as we get ready to wrap up Lent, it might be a good time.

 

The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with rejoicing.

 

I think Father will agree with me that it’s not always easy to get Catholics to rejoice.  We don’t usually seem to be filled with joy. But, why the heck not? The Lord has done great things for us.  We’re alive and we’re living in the greatest country on earth.  You may or may not know that I just got back from a cruise to the Caribbean.  Every American should make a trip like that one time. When you see the poverty that exists just a few hundred miles from our shores you want to get down on your knees and thank God for what we have.  They may have beautiful weather but they don’t have much else. And they don’t show the tourists the really bad stuff.

 

The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

This is the front page from today’s (yesterday’s) paper. ( I held up the front page of the Saint Louis Post Dispatch, which is copyrighted.  If you want to see it, you can look it up.) It’s a picture of Ozzie Smith waving to the crowd on opening day at Busch Stadium.  The headline reads:  “It’s a Holy Day of Obligation.”  Obviously, the headline writer hasn’t been inside a Catholic Church for a while.  It doesn’t look like this picture, either in the size or in the enthusiasm of the crowd on a Holy Day, or even on Sunday.;

 

Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”  The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad indeed.

 

Those that sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.

 

Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves.

 

[pause]

 

I want to close by looking back on the first reading from the book of Isiah.  Quoting God, Isiah says,
See I am doing something new.  Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.  Wild beasts honor me, jackals and ostriches, for I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink, the people whom I formed for myself that they might announce my praise.”

 

We weren’t created to be gloomy and sad.  We were created to announce God’s praise so others could see us and want what we have.  We sing “Glory to God in the highest” and “hallowed be thy name” and give Him praise. The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.

 

The Wisdom of Sirach, Chapter 2

“Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed?”  What a great line!  It’s right in the middle of Chapter 2 (verse 10).  If we’re looking for a subject for medication, I think this verse is it.

There’s a lot more to this chapter, eighteen verses in fact.  But I’m going to leave you with just this one to think about.  If you’re hungry for more, here’s a link to the entire chapter.

The Wisdom of Sirach, Chapter 1

Thanks  for joining me today as we begin to explore the Book of Sirach, or the Wisdom of Sirach as it was once called.  The book begins with “Praise of Wisdom.”  Sirach tells us that “all wisdom comes from the Lord and with Him it remains forever.”

Wisdom was the first creation.  “To whom has wisdom’s root been revealed?”  The answer is pretty obvious..  “There is but one, wise and truly awe-inspiring, seated upon His throne;  It is the Lord; He created her, has seen her, and has taken note of her.”

Moving on to verse 12, we read that “the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord, which is formed with the faithful in the womb.”  That certainly puts a different spin on the abortion debate, doesn’t it?  Wisdom is formed in the womb.

I’m going to stop there and suggest that you read the rest of Chapter 1 on your own.  Either find your Bible, or here’s a link to the USCCB page.  Either way, I think you’ll find plenty to think about without my commentary.  In fact, as we dig further into this amazing book, some days you won’t find any commentary at all, just Sirach’s words.

Please feel free to add your own comments below.

Ash Wednesday

Well,  here it is Ash Wednesday.  The warm-up to Lent.  I’ve never been quite sure about this, but in 2019, counting today, there are there are forty four days until Holy Thursday, the official end of Lent.  So where do we get forty days?  I’ve decided at this point to just stop worrying about it and accept it for what it is.

Anyway, I’ve decided this year to read the book of Sirach during Lent.  It works out nicely as there are 52 pages of Sirach in my Bible or just over 1.1 pages per day.  I chose Sirach because it is one of the most practical books in the Old Testament.  Originally called The Wisdom of Sirach,iIt’s full of good advice on how to live your life.  If you follow Sirach’s teaching you will be a better person for it.

The book was actually written by Jesus, Son of Eleazar, Son of Sirach.  (Yes, people in Old Testament times did name their kids Jesus, just as they do in Latin American countries today.)

The book was written in Hebrew between 200 and 175 BC.  It was translated into Greek sometime after 132 BC by the author’s grandson who included his own forward.

Sirach is not included in the Hebrew Bible after the first Century AD or in protestant Bibles, which is too bad.  The Catholic Church uses this book often in its Liturgy.

As Lent goes by, I will share parts of Sirach with you along with my thoughts.

Have a blessed Lent!

Good Friday

[Originally posted March 29, 2013]

Good Friday is a day of fast and abstinence in preparation for Jesus’ glorious resurrection. We’re all encouraged to attend services today, but it’s not a Holy Day of Obligation. You don’t have to come to church today. You can’t eat meat and you can’t eat between meals, but you don’t have to come to church. I think that’s a little bit odd. On the day that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to save you and me from our sins, I think we should be here. Obviously, so do you.

On the other hand, the fact that this isn’t a day when we’re obliged to come to church, says something about those of us who do come, and those who don’t. One of my wife’s pet peeves is people who don’t send thank you notes. It seems like that simple, common courtesy has fallen by the way side. It’s just good manners to thank someone who’s done something for you. If it’s bad form not to thank someone who has given you a toaster, how much worse is it to not thank someone who’s died for your sins.

Our church will be full tomorrow night for the Easter Vigil. Doesn’t it make sense that it should be full today too? Even in this politically correct, what’s in it for me, don’t mix religion and politics, world, a lot of people get today off. Good luck trying to find a politician in Washington DC today. They’ve all gone home for the Easter break. You’d think that more people, not having to work or go to school today, might take an hour to drop by and say, “Hey, Jesus! Thank you for suffering terrible torture, being beaten and ridiculed, and for dying the painful death on the cross for me.”

I could have told you ahead of time who would be in church today. I can also tell you a lot of people who aren’t. But you and I are here. We love Jesus and we’re thankful that a loving God would send His only begotten Son to die so that we might live.

Today is a solemn celebration. We mourn Jesus’ death. We see Him lying in the tomb and we realize that if it wasn’t for our sins, He wouldn’t be there. We’re sad and we’re sorry for what we’ve done. We also have the advantage of history telling us what’s about to happen. Tomorrow the tomb will be empty because He’s risen from the dead. Where today’s service is solemn, tomorrow’s will be joyful. There will be candles and bells and incense and we’ll rejoice that He’s overcome death. We will celebrate His resurrection because it’s the precursor to our own resurrection!

In a few minutes, we’ll quietly leave church anxious to return tomorrow or Sunday for the great celebration.

Thank you, Jesus, for saving us from ourselves.

Thy Will Be Done

Lord's prayerIf you’re like me, you say the Lord’s Prayer often, possibly many times per day.  After all, it’s the prayer that Jesus himself taught us.  The Apostles asked Him how they should pray and He gave him this prayer, so we call it the Lord’s Prayer.  But do we say it so often that we don’t consider what it means?  I’m afraid maybe we do.

For example, I’m going to have surgery tomorrow.  It’s called “insertion shunt ventricular peritoneal“.  Pretty scary, huh?  What it means is that they’re going to drill a hole in my head and insert a plastic tube in my brain.  The tube will then run down the side of my head, through my neck, and eventually end up in my abdomen.

inside outIt will relieve pressure that has been building up inside my brain and messing with the wiring.  Once all that extra liquid is gone, the things in my brain should have more room to move around and control my thinking, my balance, and who knows what else.  It’s a fairly common surgery.  They do it all the time.  But they’ve never done it to me!  To be honest, I’m a little scared.  No, that’s wrong.  I’m a lot scared!

Which brings me back to the Lord’s Prayer.  We begin by praising God, “hallowed be thy name.”  The very next line we say “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”  We say it, but do we mean it?  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times about this surgery.  “It’s in God’s hands.  It’s all about God’s will.”  And I believe it.  I really do.  But I don’t know what God’s will is.  Maybe His will is for me to jump out of bed and be totally cured.  But maybe His will is for me to be the same, or worse.

The good news is that by this time tomorrow we should have some idea.  It may be good news.  It may be bad knows.  But either way it’s God’s will and I have to accept it.  I want to accept it because I have faith in Him and I know that everything always turns out for the best.

So, keep me in your prayers and I’ll let you know how everything turns out.

Friday after Ash Wednesday

As I’m sitting here in my office pondering the mysteries of the universe and being just a little irreverent (who me?) I can’t help think about what the Church calls this day.  I wonder, is there an office at the Vatican where a Cardinal or two gives things names.  I’m reminded of the Monte Python skit about the Ministry of Silly Walks.

The Cardinal(s) in charge of naming things must have thought long and hard to come up with this one!  Friday after Ash Wednesday.  Oh well,  That’s what it is so Happy Friday after Ash Wednesday, everybody.  (Isn’t next Friday also Friday after Ash Wednesday.  Maybe today should be the First Friday after Ash Wednesday).  I guess that’s one reason why I’ll never be a Cardinal

Since this is the first Friday after Ash Wednesday, it’s time to scope out the local fish fries.  I write this assuming every city has Catholic fish fries during Lent.  Maybe not.  Maybe it’s a Saint Louis thing like toasted ravioli or gooey butter cake.  If you’re reading this somewhere else, let me know.  If you don’t have fish fries, you’re missing out.

If you’re in Saint Louis, why not let me know in the comments who you think has the best fish fry in town.  Maybe I’ll find one I haven’t tried.  Right now I’m leaning toward Saint Cecelia’s which has a Mexican fish fry.  There’s Mexican music and dancing and rice and beans among the side dishes.  The only problem is it’s always so crowded.  So, if you’re here in the Gateway City, try this one next Friday.  I’ll mention some of my other favorites as Lent progresses.

Another thing about Lent.  I LOVE tuna fish sandwiches and my wife only fixes them during Lent.  I don’t know why.  That’s just the way it is.

Finally, a family story about Lent.  My Aunt Fern wasn’t Catholic.  Frankly, I’m not sure what she was.  I never saw her go to church.  But if it was Lent and it was Friday, she would have rather have had a sharp stick driven into her eye than to ever eat meat.  No meat on Friday during Lent!  Period.  End of story.  Salmon patties and creamed peas was the special of the day at my aunt’s house for six Fridays in a row.  As they say in the South, bless her heart.  Even though she never went to church,  I imagine Aunt Fern is waiting to see me in heaven.  I hope I make it.

80 degrees on February 15

As I sit in my office on the day after Ash Wednesday with the window open I can’t help but wonder about the weather here in Saint Louis.  It’s 80 degrees!  But not to worry, tomorrow the high is supposed to be in the thirties.  We’ve been on a meteorological roller coaster this year.  It’s been cold, then hot, then cold again, over and over.  Don’t get  me started on global warming.

But the temperature, precipitation (or lack thereof) is small potatoes compared to what the people in Florida are suffering today.  More children have been taken from us by a sicko with a gun.  Notice that I’m not blaming the gun any more than I could blame the car in a hit-and-run accident that caused one or more deaths.  How do we stop the killing?  Let’s start by paying attention.  Apparently, there were warning signs that this individual was going to snap.  But nobody paid attention, or nobody wanted to get involved.  Whatever the excuse,  this massacre could have been avoided.

Father Z blogs today about the role of the Main Stream Media in all this and as usual I agree with him 100%).  He writes

Say you are someone who wants to create maximum pain and be remembered for it.  Time and again you see running children, interviews of tear streaked survivors, lines of officials in uniforms at microphones, politicians pushing each other out of the way to convey their “thoughts and prayers”.  An endless stream of attention and – in a twisted way – affirmation that, “HEY!  Yeah… I could do THAT!”

He refers to the Main Stream Media as MSM (mass shooting media).  “I can’t hear the network execs: “But CNN is down there with about 20 producers and cameras!  If WE don’t go, we’ll lose market share tonight!”  Go to Father Z’s blog and read the whole post.  There’s nothing I can add.

And don’t forget that tomorrow is Friday, Fish Fry Day.