One of the easiest ways to help us see the sacrifice of the Mass with fresh eyes and give us renewed vigor is to attend Mass somewhere other than our regular parish. Not only can we hear the homily given by a different preacher, we can also meet new brothers and sisters in the faith as well as be instructed by the sanctuary itself. As we know, everything in our holy spaces is full of meaning, from the statutory to the altar to the design and layout of the building itself. The architecture and design of every Catholic Church is highly intentional and theological and can illuminate an aspect of the Mass in a new way.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a new-to-me church, and that was exactly what I experienced. I appreciated the wisdom of the pastor, I was welcomed by several parishioners and I was especially captivated by the rather striking sanctuary.
This particular sanctuary, St. Paul the Apostle in Horseshoe Bay, Texas, followed closely the words of the Catechism, which says that “the ornamentation of a church should contribute toward its noble simplicity rather than to ostentation. Moreover, in the choice of elements attention should be paid to authenticity.” (CCC 292) The architect got it right, on both counts. The artist who was commissioned to create works of sacred art for the sanctuary, Sister Mary Peter Tremonte, O.P., made it easy for us to contemplate the work of God through the practice of Visio Divina, “divine seeing,” or praying with art.
Jesus the Light of the World and the Living Water
As you can see from the picture of the sanctuary (above), the backdrop of the altar is God’s own creation. Behind the altar is a large crucifix, animated by blocks of colored glass reflecting the Light of the World on the cross, while behind the blue sky stretches out, opening widely above Lake LBJ, which is made up of the joining of two rivers. Because the lake wraps around both sides of the altar, it looks as if the words of Genesis are being alluded to. Genesis says “A river rises in Eden to water the garden; beyond there it divides and becomes four branches.” (Gen 2:10) The reference to “four branches” reminds us that the fertilizing, irrigating water that will go out to cleanse the entire world, all four corners of it, arises in the temple, originally a garden, of God. We know that Jesus is the Living Water, whose blood flowed from him, mixed with water, at his death on the cross and that same mixture of blood and water flows forth across the world in every Mass.
Jesus the Bread Come Down from Heaven
The sanctuary visibly showed us Jesus the Light and Jesus the Living Water, and in another piece of sacred art, it also reminded us that Jesus is the Bread Come Down from Heaven. At the apex of the roof is a beautiful work of original art, a mosaic that displays a sunflower-like sun reaching out. The petals of the sunflower, a symbol of obedience, take on the action of a sun as its rays turn into stalks of golden wheat, pointing in every direction. Just beyond the wheat is a green vine, the classic symbol of eternal life used since the earliest churches, joining with full-bodied purple grapes and orange and brown leaves, signifying the harvest. This work of art reminds us that the Eucharist which we gathered that Sunday to participate in, the bread of thanksgiving and the cup of salvation, invites us to become what we receive, to continue God’s work.
Everything in this small space pointed to the glory of God, seen in both his creation outside and in the work of human hands, inside.
One last note. When I read the history of this particular church, I was amused, but not surprised, to find that it originated from a gift of land and money donated by some early parishioners, who owned property on this steep incline. Guess what they had named this large hill? Thanksgiving Mountain.
My daughter was named after her great, great aunt, whom we affectionately referred to as “Auntie Choot.” She was given this name by her 3-year-old nephew who thought she resembled a little chick or “chook,” but he couldn’t quite pronounce “chook” so for the next 6 decades or so, Edith Stephens was simply called Auntie Choot. She didn't mind.
Auntie Choot was a firecracker of a woman. Standing at a proud 4’ 11”, she told us stories of riding her horse to school as a young girl in the South Island of New Zealand. During one visit, I noticed she had a large bruise on her forehead. When I asked her what had happened, she laughed and said “It was so silly of me. I locked myself out of the house so I went around to the back and climbed in the bathroom window. I slipped on the floor and banged my head.” At that time, she was 95 years old.
Her house was stuffed full of old paintings, furniture and bits and pieces of china. I especially remember all the cups of tea. Auntie Choot, like most Kiwis, loved her tea and averaged a good 5 to 6 cups a day. Tea was always brewed and served from a teapot into a dainty cup and saucer. “It tastes better in a beautiful cup,” she would say.
Like the tea, Auntie Choot always made a big deal of the little things. It was how she chose to respond to a difficult life. Her husband was diagnosed with schizophrenia and she stayed with him, through the good days and the bad days. Her only daughter married a verbally and physically abusive alcoholic, and then died unexpectedly herself. Diagnosed with a heart condition, Auntie Choot had to sleep sitting up for the last 30 years of her life. No one could ever say she had an easy life. That’s what made her spirit so remarkable. She clung to her Catholic faith and to beauty, as two sure signs of better things to come.
After she passed away at the age of 103, her possessions were divided among the family. My mother, who was like a second daughter to her, received quite a few items, including several sets of teacups and saucers. These were particularly special to us, since we knew they had been used by Auntie Choot herself.
As my own daughter grew up, I would occasionally take a couple of these teacups out and have a cuppa with her, telling her stories about her great, great aunt. Although they never met, I wanted my daughter to know all about the wonderful woman she was named after.
Time goes by and previous generations seem to slip further away. Yet, God is good and he sometimes reminds us that we are not as separated as we might think. My daughter, now a young adult, recently finished a Master’s of Music degree, with a concentration in Music Composition. As the final requirement for her degree, she had to present an hour of original music, performed live in front of an audience. Accordingly, she spent weeks working on this recital. She wrote the music, found the instrumentalists (a pianist, a violinist, a clarinetist and a cellist), and practiced her own parts on the bass clarinet. She coordinated with a dance/choreographer major to perform a solo routine. She found two opera majors to sing the words to one song, and a videographer and an actress to produce a short film for another. She wrote the program notes for her recital, detailing how she had been inspired by the poetry of Shel Silverstein to produce music that told a story, that tried to move listeners beyond the incessantly noisy landscape of today. Finally, she asked her dad and I if we could organize a small reception following the recital, to thank all those who had helped her and give the audience a chance to talk to the performers. Of course, we agreed.
There was a full house the night of the recital, packed with some family and friends but mostly undergraduates from the university. I, like the rest of the audience, had not seen or heard any of the works before, just bits and pieces here and there as my daughter was practicing. The music began and it was simply a wonderful hour. We noticed especially that the 18 and 19-year-olds were not on their phones. They were listening intently, captivated by the dancing, drawn in by the passionate singing of the opera singers, watching the instrumentalists expertly whizzing through notes. The final piece of the evening featured a short video. Imagine my surprise as the film unfolded, reminding the viewer of our need to seek beauty in the everyday. But the last scene of the film brought tears to my eyes. There, on the big screen, was one of Auntie Choot’s cup and saucers. The shot showed a long stream of hot tea being slowly poured into the cup. The actress raised the cup to her face, closed her eyes and drew in a long breath. Then she took a sip, smiled and turned her face to the sun as the screen faded to black.
At the reception afterwards, the young audience gathered around the artists, chatting and asking them questions. I was busy handing out food and drinks when I heard a young woman exclaim “Look! The cup and saucer!” Unbeknownst to me, my husband had seen Auntie Choot’s cup and saucer sitting on the table at home and had grabbed it at the last second, thinking it would add a nice touch to the table decor at the reception. The students gathered around it, looking at it as though it was a precious, rare thing.
My mother, standing nearby, noticed and said “Auntie Choot would be so happy. Beauty was always her path to seeing God. These things were so important to her.”
My daughter wandered over. “Edie!” I said, “You used one of Auntie Choot’s teacups!”
She looked at me with surprise and said, “Of course, Mom. Don’t you know? Everything tastes better in a beautiful cup.”
And just like that, all the years of time and all the miles of distance collapsed. We knew Auntie Choot was right there with us, lending her support and encouragement, helping us to find the beautiful in the ordinary moments of everyday life, just as she always had. How much she encouraged and guided us, how frequently her prayers of intercession aided us, only God knows. But I am sure that one day, in that future where all tears are wiped away, my daughter and Auntie Choot will embrace and sit down together, to enjoy tea in beautiful teacups.
If you’ve ever given up a lot, worked really hard, and seen almost no fruit from all your efforts, then you’re in good company with St. Peter Chanel.
Born and raised in 1803 in France, St. Peter was one of eight children. He spent his early years as a shepherd, caring for the family flock, before his intelligence and serious manner were noticed by the parish priest. After spending a few years in the local school, St. Peter eventually made his way into the seminary and was ordained a priest in 1827.
Although he deeply desired to be sent abroad to the foreign lands as a missionary, his first assignment was very close to home. Chanel was given the post of parish priest at the church in Crozet, a small town in eastern France. Even though this assignment was not the opportunity he had been hoping for, it was what he needed to prepare him for his eventual missionary work in Oceania.
In the small parish of Crozet, Chanel discovered an empty church and an indifferent populace. Leaning into his natural kindness and simplicity, St. Peter approached the situation by giving special attention to the sick of the village. His care of and concern for the ill won over his parishioners, who noticed his zeal and sincerity, and this three-year assignment was considered a success. During this mission, Chanel learned that truly caring for the needs of the people and being concerned with the same things that concerned them was a very effective method of evangelization. His actions spoke much more loudly than any words.
During his time in Crozet, St. Peter heard about a new order being formed by a group of priests. This order would be devoted to Mary, Mother of God, and in time would come to be known as the Marists, an order that is still at work in the world today. Chanel joined the Marists, who were later assigned to carry out missionary work in western Oceania, an area that includes Micronesia, Melanesia, Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa and Tonga. On December 24, 1836, Chanel set out on a nine month sea voyage with seven other Marists, headed for the other side of the world.
After making some short stops at the Canary Islands, Tahiti and Tonga, Chanel settled into the island of Futuna. He would remain on this island until his martyrdom, a little more than three years later.
On Futuna, the Marists were initially welcomed and so they began to learn the language and acclimate themselves to a very different culture and climate than what they had known. In fact, King Niuliki, the leader of Futuna Island, had only recently outlawed cannibalism. During these three years Chanel suffered from isolation and deprivation, but he chose to respond to his trying circumstances by exhibiting the same care and concern for the people of Futuna that he had shown in Cozet. Eventually, this began to succeed and some of the people were baptized.
Unfortunately, as more people listened to Chanel and came to trust him and his message, the tribal king grew increasingly jealous. When the king’s son, Meitala, asked for baptism, King Niuliki responded with hostility and violence. Replying to the king with his characteristic charity, Chantel wrote “It does not matter whether or not I am killed. The religion has taken root on the island. It will not be destroyed by my death, since it comes not from men but from God.” Nevertheless, the king ordered his son-in-law, Musumusu, to stop the baptism using any means necessary. Musumusu visited Chanel with some other island warriors and killed him. St. Peter died on April 28, 1841.
At first glance, it does not seem that all the effort and sacrifice St. Peter had undergone amounted to much at all. Yet within two years of his death, almost the entire island had converted and remains Catholic today. Even though St. Peter did not experience the fruit of his labor when he was alive, we have faith that he did see it after his death and that he continues to pray and intercede for the people of the South Pacific today.
Chanel was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1954 and is the patron saint of Oceania. The Church celebrates his feast day with an Optional Memorial on April 28.
O God, who for the spreading of your Church crowned Saint Peter Chanel with martyrdom, grant that, in these days of Paschal joy, we may so celebrate the mysteries of Christ’s Death and Resurrection as to bear worthy witness to newness of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen (the Collect for April 28, Optional Memorial of St. Peter Chanel)
On April 25 each year, we celebrate the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist. St. Mark is traditionally held to be a co-worker and companion of Peter and Paul, as well as cousin to Barnabas. He accompanied Peter on his preaching travels, writing down the sermons and parables that eventually became his Gospel. He was martyred around 68, in the city of Alexandria. His gospel is the shortest of the four, even though it was composed first.
But long before Mark journeyed around, spreading the Good News, his work was foretold. In the Book of Ezekiel, that prophet records a vision of “four living creatures… Each of the four had a human face, and on the right a face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox, and each had the face of an eagle…And the appearance of the living creatures seemed like burning coals of fire.” (Ez 1:5, 10, 14) These four creatures are usually understood as symbols of the four evangelists: the winged man, or angel, is associated with Matthew, the eagle symbolizes John, the ox is for Luke and the lion represents Mark.
These same four creatures will appear again in the book of Revelation, which says, “In the center and around the throne, there were four living creatures covered with eyes in front and in back. The first creature resembled a lion, the second was like a calf, the third had a face like that of a human being and the fourth looked like an eagle in flight.” (Rev 4:6-7)
On the Feast of St. Mark, let’s reflect a little on why the lion is a symbol for him. There are a few reasons.
First of all, the Gospel of Mark opens differently than the other gospels. There is no philosophy or infancy narrative. It gets right to the point by proclaiming straight away, through the voice of John the Baptist, the imminent arrival of the Messiah. John the Baptist is presented as a mighty voice, like a lion roaring in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight his paths!” (Mk 1:3) The time is now. A response is urgently required, just as if we were to meet a wild lion in the flesh.
The second reason for the lion symbolism comes from the Old Testament, specifically the title the “lion of Judah.” In the book of Genesis, Jacob gives his blessing to his son, Judah, and calls him a young lion, crouching down, and proclaims that not only will the “scepter never depart from Judah,” (Gen 49:10) but that tribute and the people’s obedience will also come to him. This prophetic poem is a foreshadowing of the Messiah that Mark proclaims, Jesus, the true Lion of Judah who will be victorious over all his enemies and will be given tribute and obedience.
The gospel of Mark itself resembles an energetic lion, in that it races from event to event, hardly slowing down. It has a vivid style, energetically detailing the events of Jesus’ life, as the kingdom of God breaks into the lives of humans. Ultimately, this gospel focuses on Jesus’ steady march to the cross.
In fact, the Gospel of Mark has sometimes been called a passion narrative with a long introduction. Mark introduces Jesus as the son of God from the beginning. There is no doubt that this is the Messiah, the strong, kingly, divine Son of God who will fulfill all of the Messianic prophecies. In Mark’s Gospel we see “the paradox of the Messiah who enters into his glorious reign only through the self-abasement of the cross.” *
Perhaps C.S. Lewis conveyed something about the symbolism of the lion as well, in his Narnia books. He frequently described Aslan, the Lion king, as a good lion, just not a tame one. In describing the risen Aslan, he wrote “People … sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face, they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly.”**
Lions are strong, majestic, powerful, noble and fierce. There is simply something in their nature that commands respect and loyalty.
The winged lion has also been a symbol for many centuries of the city of Venice, due to a claim that St. Mark stopped there once and beheld an angel in the shape of a lion. Back in the U.S. there are four well-known lions that guard the city of St. Augustine, Florida, which claims to be the first place the Mass was said in the U.S. The four lions, Fiel and Firme (Faithful and Firm) and Pax and Peli (Peace and Happiness) are on either end of the Bridge of Lions. These imposing stone statues stand in front of a sign that reminds all visitors the “Lions are under video recording.” Just in case they may suddenly come to life, jump off that stone pedestal and into our lives in a very real way - in much the same way, in fact, that the Gospel of Mark tries to show us the Son of God jumps into the sad story of humanity, invigorating it, energizing it, redeeming it.
*by Mary Healy, in the April 2023 Magnificat, p. 281
** from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
“Behold, behold, the wood of the cross, on which is hung our salvation. O Come, let us adore.”
These familiar words are often intoned each year at the Good Friday service. On this somber day that we yet call ‘good,” what further words can be said? Perhaps just a few.
Looking at the cross of Christ we can say “Thank You.”
Thank you for being born as a baby, in smallness and vulnerability.
Thank you for growing into a toddler, needing to hold hands to walk.
Thank you for listening to Mary and Joseph, for your presence in the home and in the workshop.
Thank you for your courage, in speaking boldly as a young man.
Thank you for your miracles and your healings, for giving hope and help to the desperate.
Thank you for your focus, in striving to fulfill the will of the father.
Thank you for not wavering in your walk to Jerusalem, despite knowing what it would bring.
Thank you for enduring loneliness and abandonment.
Thank you for your agony.
Thank you for your death.
Thank you for your life.
Most of all, thank you for your invitation.
Thank you for inviting us to see your face in our children.
Thank you for inviting us to be patient as our toddlers grow and grasp, reach and grab.
Thank you for being present in our homes and in our work.
Thank you for giving your mother to us, and our big family of saints in heaven.
Thank you for the hope and healing you grant us, seen and unseen.
Thank you for your guidance and perseverance with us, and with our families.
Thank you for not leaving us.
Thank you for not forgetting us.
Thank you for loving us.
Is there anything else we can say, as we gaze at the cross of Christ? Perhaps these two words are appropriate - “I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry when I forgot you.
I’m sorry when I refused your invitation.
I’m sorry when I put myself ahead of my family.
I’m sorry when I didn’t want you in my home or in my work.
I’m sorry when I didn’t speak of you, at the dinner table or the coffee shop.
I’m sorry when I didn’t speak to you, at bedtime or in the car.
I’m sorry when I thought I knew better than you.
I’m sorry when I didn’t see you in others.
I’m sorry for not listening to you.
I’m sorry for not believing in you.
There are two other words that we can pray today, on this good day when the Son of God gave his life for us. We can say “I forgive.”
I forgive my spouse.
I forgive my sons.
I forgive my daughters.
I forgive my mother and mother-in-law.
I forgive my father and father-in-law.
I forgive my sisters.
I forgive my brothers.
I forgive my boss.
I forgive my coworkers.
I forgive my neighbors.
I forgive our leaders.
I forgive myself.
Thank you. I’m sorry. I forgive. Six small words we can pray as we walk with the Church through Good Friday and into Holy Saturday, as we wait in joyful hope for the dawning of Easter joy.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives a lengthy discourse on how his disciples should act. In Chapter 6, he spends time explaining how disciples should give alms, how they should pray and how they should fast. These are the same three actions we focus on during Lent. Jesus ends by reminding them, and us, to focus our thoughts, words and actions on deeds that translate into the Kingdom of God.
The Three Pillars of Lent
Jesus begins by preaching about how to give alms correctly. He makes it clear that the disposition of the giver is of more importance than the actual amount given. He teaches that almsgiving should be done in a hidden way, as though only God needs to know it has happened. If alms are offered from a sincere, contrite heart, then they are acceptable to the Lord. If alms are offered as a way to promote oneself, the resulting admiration is all the reward the giver is going to get.
Jesus next moves on to teach about the appropriate way to pray. Once again, he emphasizes that this, too, should be done in a secretive way. This command is a little easier for us to understand, since we are used to thinking of prayer as a largely private, personal thing. But at the time of the gospels, it was fairly common for religious people to stand on street corners and make big displays of prayer. This was not so much to actually pray to God but was more about making a name for themselves, gaining status, and even starting to amass a following. Jesus rejects this. Prayer is about communing with God. It is not for drawing admiration and attention to oneself, away from God. Jesus often went off to pray alone, although he also prayed with others and in public.
In fact, the way Jesus prayed was so noticeable that his disciples asked him to teach them to pray. He responded by giving us the Our Father:
“This is how you are to pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one.
If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions."
After prayer, Jesus moves on to teach about fasting. He reminds his followers that they are not to look as though the world has come to an end. Once again, fasting should be a secret offering, done without fanfare, which God will notice because the “Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” (Mt 6:18)
Moths and Rust
As we approach the end of Lent 2023, we are likely already aware of the three pillars of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. But it’s worth noting what Jesus says to his disciples after giving this teaching. He says that the practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, when done with the right motive, can become more than just things that affect us and form us now. They can also have eternal ramifications. Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy.” Moth is a reference to nature. Rust is a reference to time. When Jesus names these two things - moths and rust - he is reminding his listeners that eventually the great creeping vines, grasses and winds of nature and the relentless movement of time will cover over and dismiss from memory just about everything we make and build for ourselves, especially wealth and status. And of course, he’s right. Just recall the many great empires in history - Persia, Greece, Rome - whose time has come and gone. These once mighty empires have all been relegated to a few ruined structures and history books. Even the pharaohs of Egypt, who built monumental tombs to their own glory specifically so that they would always be remembered, have faded away as time marched on.
But, teaches Jesus, some acts do not fade away, even if they are done in secret and are mostly unknown on earth. Acts like prayer, fasting and almsgiving, which the Church broadly extends and calls the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, live on. In some way, the reward for performing these works is delayed. It is waiting for us in heaven. Jesus reminds us to “Store up treasures in heaven, …for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” The currency of the Kingdom of God is not wealth and status. It is a humble, contrite heart who makes offerings to God in a hidden, secret way, not seeking his or her own glory. It is this type of heart who will wait for God to repay it, even when it is difficult, not really counting the cost but being more concerned with honoring God. In fact, it is this type of heart who will make its entrance into Jerusalem this Sunday, Palm Sunday, on its way to crucifixion.
As we near the end of our Lenten journey, let’s pray with the prophet Joel and “rend our hearts, not our garments, and return to the Lord.” (Joel 2:13)
We all know that Christmas occurs every year on December 25. If you scoot nine months back in time from Christmas, you land on March 25, the Annunciation of the Lord. Although we hear this Scripture passage around Christmas, it actually takes place on March 25, nine months before Jesus’ birth, marking the day of his conception.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that:
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:27-33)
The words the angel Gabriel speaks to Mary certainly hold a great deal of promise and expectation. The angel tells her that this baby will be great in stature and significance. He will be the son of the Most High, an almost unthinkable proposition. He will be given the throne of King David, the mighty ruler who reigned over the golden days of Israelite history. But that's not all. This child will rule forever, and his kingdom will have no end. He will not even be conceived in the normal way. Instead, Mary learns that “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
We know who this child is. It is Jesus the Christ. We know that he was sent from God to save the world, and that he came willingly, even eagerly, despite the hardships that he would undergo.
The words of the angel don’t mention anything about suffering, or grief or abandonment. They certainly don’t talk about humiliation and crucifixion. That part of the story is played out later. At his annunciation, the focus is all on the great victory that will come about, the kingdom of God in place forever, because Jesus is willing to leave heaven and pitch his tent among us, living as a man.
We also know, we, who are making our way through the 40-day Lenten journey, that the suffering and death was necessary in order for Jesus to obtain the glory originally spoken of by Gabriel. This is not simply more glory for himself, but glory that he would share with us, something new that we could participate in. Father A.M. Wachsmann, a German Catholic priest who was imprisoned for resisting the Nazis, wrote that “the Passion is the means by which we are mercifully led from intellectual perception to feeling Christ as a reality. A painful and yet a sweet way.”
The Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord is a good day to take stock of our Lenten Journey. We can recall the great promises given to Mary by Gabriel. We can remind ourselves of the hope and joy of Christ’s birth, and also know these promises were not fulfilled until the Passion had been completed. Can we look at the sufferings and trials in our lives in the same way that Jesus viewed his trials? Can we also offer our suffering, in union with his, for victory in this world and the next? After all, this was how Jesus triumphed over sin of every type, and even over death. Surely, we all have plenty of opportunities to imitate him.
The Collect for Mass on March 25 can guide our prayer:
O God, who willed that your Word should take on the reality of human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, grant, we pray, that we, who confess our Redeemer to be God and man, may merit to become partakers even in his divine nature. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
St. Patrick is remembered for many things, but perhaps most of all for his legendary use of the shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity.
As a way of honoring this impressive saint, as well as reflecting on the Trinity, make and hang this wreath in your Prayer Space on St. Patrick's Day.
I used three separate shamrocks that were hooked together, and each shamrock displays symbols of either God the Father, Jesus the Son or the Holy Spirit. The top shamrock symbolizes God the Father and has angel wings, signifying the court of heavenly angels who are constantly worshipping and praising God. There are also two gold pieces next to the wings, symbols of the gifts, material and spiritual, that fall to us from the hand of God.
The middle shamrock represents Jesus the Son and displays a golden cross of glory, symbolizing the cross of Christ, upon which Jesus offered his self-sacrifice, atoning for our sins and also restoring our relationship to God. The cross is surrounded by earthly elements, such as the leaves and another shamrock at the base. This reminds us of Jesus' earthly journey, and how he remains with us physically still today in the Eucharist.
The final shamrock is for the Holy Spirit. The musical instruments and note point to the action of the Holy Spirit, the breath of God who enlightens us and helps us to speak. Just as it is impossible to play any instrument without breath, so also it is impossible for us to follow the path of Christ without the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The smaller shamrock at the top reminds us that although we cannot see the Holy Spirit directly, we know the Spirit's presence through the gifts and fruits, which we certainly can see, just as we can see when there is a lack of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.
The three green and white bows in between and at the bottom of the shamrocks remind us that the Trinity is 3 persons, yet one God. The various flowers of white, green and yellow offer our praise and glory to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
You can find instructions to make this wreath on the St. Patrick's Day Trinity Wreath page.
I’ve always struggled with the story of Martha and Mary. The usual interpretations of this story in Scripture have never quite satisfied. I understand that Jesus is inviting Mary into a closer relationship with him when he acknowledges her place, sitting at her feet. This, in and of itself, was radical, as typically only men were permitted to assume the posture of a disciple by sitting at the feet of their rabbi, and Jesus extends this privilege to Mary. This is a great honor for Mary, but it makes the contrast between her and Martha even more noticeable.
If Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his word, learning from him and growing in her relationship with him, then who is going to take care of all the people in the house? It’s unlikely Jesus and his followers are going to help. Perhaps there were some other women who were in the group. Maybe they could lend a hand. But then again, that means they, like Martha, are tasked with the kitchen duties and miss out on visiting with Jesus.
Martha herself seems a bit resentful that she is doing all the work. In fact, scripture states she was “burdened with much serving.” Martha says to Jesus “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” But Jesus merely replies. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42)
Is Jesus inviting Martha to join her sister and listen to him, to sit at his feet? Are the needs of hospitality, a tremendously important aspect of ancient Judaism, simply to be postponed or even ignored? Scripture doesn’t say. And how are we to apply this teaching of the Lord in the midst of our own responsibilities and busy days? I was pondering the story of Martha and Mary recently, as it seems especially appropriate now, during the 40 Day Lenten journey. I took another look at this Scripture, hoping to find some inspiration.
The Return of the 72
The Martha and Mary story is described in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10, verses 38 to 42. But earlier in that same chapter 10, in verses 17 to 20, Luke describes the “return of the 72”, when the disciples that Jesus had sent out, two by two, to preach his word and prepare his way, return triumphantly to report on their missions. Scripture says the disciples were rejoicing, saying that “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” (Luke 10:17) Jesus responds to this good news by saying “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.” The footnote given to Jesus’ statement reminds us that as the kingdom of God is being established, the evil spirits in power on earth are being overthrown. The “dominion of Satan over humanity is at an end.” Jesus, solely through the power of his word, is vanquishing our common enemies. It is soon after this conversation with the 72 that Jesus enters the home of Martha and Mary. He finds Martha struggling with one enemy in particular, the spirit of Acedia.
Often referred to as Sloth, the vice of Acedia is one of the Big Seven Vices, along with Pride, Gluttony, Wrath and the rest. Although we sometimes refer to Acedia as Sloth or laziness, that description is not quite correct. Acedia is not about sleeping in or not doing the dishes. It is often called the “noon-day devil,” because it shows up at the hot noon hour when the sun is high in the sky, tempting us towards restlessness, distraction, boredom and lack of attention. It makes the spiritual things seem unreal, unimportant and even unwanted. It manifests in either despair, depression and feeling overwhelmed, on the one hand, or being a workaholic, staying busy performing an endless number of tasks, on the other.
Jesus names both of these conditions in Martha. He tells her that she is “worried and anxious,” one of the signs of acedia, and we know she is also engaged in a hundred tasks around the house, a symptom of the other side of acedia. Jesus speaks his word to her, “There is need of only one thing.” Jesus doesn’t tell Martha to stop doing everything. He says she just needs to do one thing, to listen to him, to seek the kingdom he has come to inaugurate. He gives her his word to overcome Acedia.
Now that we are close to halfway through Lent, maybe our original fervor of walking with Jesus is wearing off. Maybe we don't feel those spiritual goals are all that necessary or attainable anymore. Are we trying to do too much - or could we be struggling with Acedia?
The virtue that overcomes Acedia is Diligence; remaining focused, calm, careful and persistent while believing that the work we do is meaningful and will be fruitful, especially spiritual work. Moving out of Acedia into Diligence requires discernment, prayer and effort. It takes prudence to know "what is necessary" and what we can put to the side. I find this approach helpful, a way to navigate out of the belief that 1. I have to do everything or 2. What I do doesn’t make any difference anyway. As I journey through Lent this year, I’m going to pay more attention to any feelings prompting me to either give up or add an undue number of Lenten practices or other activities and remember that only one thing is actually required. Especially if I happen to feel this way in the noon-day hour.
We are well on our way into the 40 Day journey of Lent. The hearts, hugs and kisses of St. Valentine’s Day have been put away, the ashes from Ash Wednesday have disappeared, Rice Bowls are in the narthex, and our churches are dressed in purple. Lent is indeed here.
The 3 pillars of Lent - prayer, fasting and almsgiving - could also be called the 3 Pillars of Love. In fact, each of the 3 pillars of Lent are invitations to grow in and participate more fully with Love. As St.Thérèse of Lisieux said, “Do not imagine that Love can be found without suffering, for we carry with us our human nature; and yet, what a source of merit it is!” It is these 3 pillars that present us with concrete ways to enter into Jesus' own path to the cross, by overcoming ourselves.
The first pillar, Prayer, unites us to Love, aka God. St.Thérèse reminds us that prayer doesn’t have to be complicated, just consistent. “For me,” she writes, “Prayer is a burst from my heart, it is a simple glance thrown towards heaven, a cry of thanksgiving and love in times of trial as well as in times of joy. Prayer is something noble, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites it to God.”
Prayer draws us into the life of God. If God is present, then Love is present. If Love is present, God is present. “To abide in love is to abide in God.” (1 John 4:8) To abide means to follow, to be a disciple. There is simply no way to abide in love without prayer, which puts us in close and constant contact with Love. Abiding in love, remaining in God and acting in accord with his will, is beyond our ability without prayer.
Fasting, the 2nd pillar, is a direct result of prayer. Although fasting is typically associated with refraining from food or drink, a deeper understanding of fasting is that it is a position of self-restraint, self-discipline, of reminding ourselves of our need for God. Fasting can be practiced with the body, in eating only certain foods or not eating other foods, but it also calls us to the deeper level of spiritual and emotional fasting. Fasting physically prepares us to fast in other ways, such as from behaviors and emotions that destroy and are not life-giving, that are not part of God. It calls us away from self-worship through inviting us to refrain. When we can fast, we can also see the needs of others. We become other-focused, one of the traits of true love.
The 3rd pillar, almsgiving, calls us to remember that all we have is a gift. Love calls us to use our gifts in the service of others, especially material goods. We learn to distinguish between needs and wants, and to remember those who are vulnerable. Sharing what God has given us with those who need it is an imitation, on a lower level, of what God does for us. Just as there is no lack or deficiency in God, but he gives us everything out of his own abundant life, so, too, we are called to imitate his generosity by sharing what we have ourselves. Another Doctor of the Church, St. Catherine of Siena, taught that God does not give every gift to anyone, because he wanted people to have to depend on each other. Our generosity to others is a small imitation of the total generosity Jesus will offer on Good Friday when he holds nothing back from us, not even his own life.
The 3 pillars of Lent teach us that True Love is healing, life-giving, self-giving and other-focused. It's certainly a challenge for us to give or even abide in this type of Love, which is why participating in prayer, fasting and almsgiving can act as a roadmap to find and realign ourselves with True Love. Let’s carry the words of St.Thérèse with us this Lent: “I know of one means only by which to attain to perfection: LOVE. Let us love, since our hearts are made for nothing else.”
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