LENTEN REFLECTION – The Second Week- Saturday 18 March
St Cyril of Jerusalem, (315-386)
Father and Doctor of the Church
The symbolic meaning of the sacrament of baptism as sharing in Christ’s passion according to Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop of Jerusalem in the middle of the fourth century and one of the most important sources we have for how the church celebrated the sacraments during that era. In his Jerusalem Catechesis from which this excerpt comes, St. Cyril instructs new Christians in the days immediately before and after their initiation into the life of the Church at the Easter Vigil.
You were led down to the font of holy baptism just as Christ was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb which is before your eyes. Each of you was asked, “Do you believe in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?” You made the profession of faith that brings salvation, you were plunged into the water and three times you rose again. This symbolized the three days Christ spent in the tomb.
As our Saviour spent three days and three nights in the depths of the earth, so your first rising from the water represented the first day and your first immersion represented the first night. At night a man cannot see but in the day he walks in the light. So when you were immersed in the water it was like night for you and you could not see but when you rose again it was like coming into broad daylight. In the same instant you died and were born again; the saving water was both your tomb and your mother.
Solomon’s phrase in another context is very apposite here. He spoke of a time to give birth and a time to die. For you, however, it was the reverse: a time to die and a time to be born, although in fact both events took place at the same time and your birth was simultaneous with your death.
This is something amazing and unheard of! It was not we who actually died, were buried and rose again. We only did these things symbolically but we have been saved in actual fact. It is Christ who was crucified, who was buried and who rose again and all this has been attributed to us. We share in His sufferings symbolically and gain salvation in reality. What boundless love for men! Christ’s undefiled hands were pierced by the nails; he suffered the pain. I experience no pain, no anguish, yet by the share that I have in his sufferings he freely grants me salvation.
Let no one imagine that baptism consists only in the forgiveness of sins and in the grace of adoption. Our baptism is not like the baptism of John, which conferred only the forgiveness of sins. We know perfectly well that baptism, besides washing away our sins and bringing us the gift of the Holy Spirit, is a symbol of the sufferings of Christ. This is why Paul exclaims: Do you not know that when we were baptised into Christ Jesus we were, by that very action, sharing in his death? By baptism we went with him into the tomb.
These words of St. Cyril of Jerusalem on the symbolic meaning of the sacrament of baptism, a symbol of Christ’s passion, are read in the Roman Catholic liturgy’s Office of Readings on the Thursday in the Octave of Easter (Cat. 21 Mystagogica 3, 1-3 PG 33. 1087-1091) with the accompanying biblical reading of I Peter 3:1-17.
Our Morning Offering – 18 March
The Elder Brother’s Prayer
Teach me, my Lord,
to be sweet and gentle in all the events of life,
in the thoughtlessness of those I trusted,
in the unfaithfulness of those on whom I relied.
Let me put myself aside,
to think of the happiness of others,
to hide my little pains and heartaches,
so that I may be the only one to suffer from them.
Teach me to profit by the suffering
that comes across my path.
Let me so use it that it may make me
patient, not irritable.
That it may make me broad in my forgiveness,
not narrow, haughty and overbearing.
May no one be less good
for having come within my influence.
No one less pure, less true, less kind,
less noble for having been a fellow traveler
in our journey toward Eternal Life.
As I go my rounds from one distraction to another,
let me whisper from time to time,
a word of love to Thee.
May my life be lived in the supernatural,
full of power for good,
and strong in its purpose of sanctity.
LENTEN REFLECTION – The Second Week- Friday 17 March
On the Memorial of St Patrick, there can be few better reflections than the complete Prayer/Hymn of the Breastplate. St. Patrick came to Ireland and showed all of them the way to the truth of God. He preached the Good News of God to them and called them to repent their past sins and wickedness. St. Patrick taught them the truth about God, including what is now famous as his symbol of the Holy Trinity, the three-leaf clover. He taught them how God is a perfect and loving union of three Divine Persons, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as inseparable as the three-leaf clover’s parts from each other.
And God Who is perfect in Love, and Who is indeed Love, wants to share that love with all of us His people. That is exactly why He has given us His commandments, His laws and ways and Jesus His Son to be our salvation from the darkness, by bringing us into the light of His new world and life filled with love and grace, no longer with greed, evil, wickedness, ego and all other human ambitions and vileness.
St. Patrick’s Breastplate (also known as The Deer Cry-see the reason below)
St. Patrick of Ireland, 387-460 AD
(translation by Cecil Frances Alexander)
This Celtic hymn, which dates from the late seventh or early eighth century, is ascribed to St. Patrick. It reflects many of the themes found in Patrick’s thought. It is believed that Patrick wrote this hymn as a breastplate of faith for the protection of body and soul against all forms of evil – devils, vice and the evil which humans perpetrate against one another. Legend has it that the High King of Tara, Loeguire, on Holy Saturday 433 AD, resolved to ambush and kill Patrick and his monks to prevent them from spreading the Christian faith in his kingdom. As Patrick and his followers approached singing this hymn, the king and his men saw only a herd of wild deer and let them pass by. This hymn is both a prayer and statement of faith to be recited for protection, arming oneself for spiritual battle, leading us all to reflect upon the power of God in our lives, the strength of His protection and the way we are go on towards our heavenly home.
I bind unto myself today
the strong name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me forever,
by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
his baptism in the Jordan River;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spiced tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet “Well done” in judgment hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,
and purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven,
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.
[Against the demon snares of sin,
the vice that gives temptation force,
the natural lusts that war within,
the hostile men that mar my course;
of few or many, far or nigh,
in every place, and in all hours
against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.
Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
against false words of heresy,
against the knowledge that defiles
against the heart’s idolatry,
against the wizard’s evil craft,
against the death-wound and the burning
the choking wave and poisoned shaft,
protect me, Christ, till thy returning.]
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the name,
the strong name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three,
of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation:
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
LENTEN REFLECTION – The Second Week of Lent – Thursday 16 MARCH (Today’s Gospel Luke 16:19-31)
The Holy Father’s reflection on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Lk 16:19-31)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).
Lent is a favourable season for deepening our spiritual life through the means of sanctification offered us by the Church: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. At the basis of everything is the word of God, which during this season we are invited to hear and ponder more deeply. I would now like to consider the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Lk 16:19-31). Let us find inspiration in this meaningful story, for it provides a key to understanding what we need to do in order to attain true happiness and eternal life. It exhorts us to sincere conversion.
1. The other person is a gift
The parable begins by presenting its two main characters. The poor man is described in greater detail: he is wretched and lacks the strength even to stand. Lying before the door of the rich man, he fed on the crumbs falling from his table. His body is full of sores and dogs come to lick his wounds (cf. vv. 20-21). The picture is one of great misery; it portrays a man disgraced and pitiful.
The scene is even more dramatic if we consider that the poor man is called Lazarus: a name full of promise, which literally means God helps. This character is not anonymous. His features are clearly delineated and he appears as an individual with his own story. While practically invisible to the rich man, we see and know him as someone familiar. He becomes a face and as such, a gift, a priceless treasure, a human being whom God loves and cares for, despite his concrete condition as an outcast (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).
Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value. Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance but a summons to conversion and to change. The parable first invites us to open the doors of our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether it be our neighbour or an anonymous pauper. Lent is a favourable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ. Each of us meets people like this every day. Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable. But in order to do this, we have to take seriously what the Gospel tells us about the rich man.
2. Sin blinds us
The parable is unsparing in its description of the contradictions associated with the rich man (cf. v. 19). Unlike poor Lazarus, he does not have a name; he is simply called “a rich man”. His opulence was seen in his extravagant and expensive robes. Purple cloth was even more precious than silver and gold, and was thus reserved to divinities (cf. Jer 10:9) and kings (cf. Jg 8:26), while fine linen gave one an almost sacred character. The man was clearly ostentatious about his wealth and in the habit of displaying it daily: “He feasted sumptuously every day” (v. 19). In him we can catch a dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: love of money, vanity and pride (cf. Homily, 20 September 2013).
The Apostle Paul tells us that “the love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6:10). It is the main cause of corruption and a source of envy, strife and suspicion. Money can come to dominate us, even to the point of becoming a tyrannical idol (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 55). Instead of being an instrument at our service for doing good and showing solidarity towards others, money can chain us and the entire world to a selfish logic that leaves no room for love and hinders peace.
The parable then shows that the rich man’s greed makes him vain. His personality finds expression in appearances, in showing others what he can do. But his appearance masks an interior emptiness. His life is a prisoner to outward appearances, to the most superficial and fleeting aspects of existence (cf. ibid., 62).
The lowest rung of this moral degradation is pride. The rich man dresses like a king and acts like a god, forgetting that he is merely mortal. For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego. Those around them do not come into their line of sight. The result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness. The rich man does not see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at his door.
Looking at this character, we can understand why the Gospel so bluntly condemns the love of money: “No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money” (Mt 6:24).
3. The Word is a gift
The Gospel of the rich man and Lazarus helps us to make a good preparation for the approach of Easter. The liturgy of Ash Wednesday invites us to an experience quite similar to that of the rich man. When the priest imposes the ashes on our heads, he repeats the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. As it turned out, the rich man and the poor man both died and the greater part of the parable takes place in the afterlife. The two characters suddenly discover that “we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim 6:7).
We too see what happens in the afterlife. There the rich man speaks at length with Abraham, whom he calls “father” (Lk 16:24.27), as a sign that he belongs to God’s people. This detail makes his life appear all the more contradictory, for until this moment there had been no mention of his relation to God. In fact, there was no place for God in his life. His only god was himself.
The rich man recognizes Lazarus only amid the torments of the afterlife. He wants the poor man to alleviate his suffering with a drop of water. What he asks of Lazarus is similar to what he could have done but never did. Abraham tells him: “During your life you had your fill of good things, just as Lazarus had his fill of bad. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony” (v. 25). In the afterlife, a kind of fairness is restored and life’s evils are balanced by good.
The parable goes on to offer a message for all Christians. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, who are still alive. But Abraham answers: “They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them” (v. 29). Countering the rich man’s objections, he adds: “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead” (v. 31).
The rich man’s real problem thus comes to the fore. At the root of all his ills was the failure to heed God’s word. As a result, he no longer loved God and grew to despise his neighbour. The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God. When we close our heart to the gift of God’s word, we end up closing our heart to the gift of our brothers and sisters.
Dear friends, Lent is the favourable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbour. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need. I encourage all the faithful to express this spiritual renewal also by sharing in the Lenten Campaigns promoted by many Church organizations in different parts of the world and thus to favour the culture of encounter in our one human family. Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter.
Our Morning Offering – 16 March
PRAYER of St JEAN de BREBEUF SJ (1593-149)
“Jesus, my Lord and Saviour,
what can I give You in return
for all the favours you have first conferred on me?
I will take from Your hand the cup of Your sufferings
and call on Your name.
I vow before Your eternal Father and the Holy Spirit,
before Your most holy Mother
and her most chaste spouse,
before the angels, apostles and martyrs,
before my blessed fathers –
Saint Ignatius and Saint Francis Xavier–
in truth, I vow to You, Jesus my Saviour,
that as far as I have the strength,
I will never fail to accept the grace of martyrdom,
if someday You in Your infinite mercy should offer it to me,
Your most unworthy servant…
My beloved Jesus,
here and now I offer my body and blood and life.
May I die only for You, if You will grant me this grace,
since You willingly died for me.
Let me so live that You may grant me
the gift of such a happy death.
In this way, my God and Saviour,
I will take from Your hand the cup of Your sufferings
and call on Your name: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”
LENTEN REFLECTION – The Second Week of Lent – Wednesday 15 MARCH
Christ Calls Us Deeper Still.
Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman
Called on from grace to grace
All through our life Christ is calling us. He called us first in Baptism; but afterwards also; whether we obey His voice or not, He graciously calls us still. If we fall from our Baptism, He calls us to repent; if we are striving to fulfil our calling, He calls us on from grace to grace and from holiness to holiness, while life is given us.
Abraham was called from his home, Peter from his nets, Matthew from his office, Elisha from his farm, Nathanael from his retreat; we are all in course of calling, on and on, from one thing to another, having no resting-place but mounting towards our eternal rest and obeying one command only to have another put upon us. He calls us again and again, in order to justify us again and again—and again and again and more and more, to sanctify and glorify us.
Christ calls us right now
It were well if we understood this; but we are slow to master the great truth, that Christ is, as it were, walking among us and by His hand, or eye, or voice, bidding us follow Him. We do not understand that His call is a thing which takes place now. We think it took place in the Apostles’ days; but we do not believe in it, we do not look out for it in our own case. We have not eyes to see the Lord; far different from the beloved Apostle, who knew Christ even when the rest of the disciples knew Him not. When He stood on the shore after His resurrection and bade them cast the net into the sea, “that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord” (John 21:7).
Do you accept Christ’s’ call?
There is nothing miraculous or extraordinary in His dealings with us. He works through our natural faculties and circumstances of life. Still what happens to us in providence is in all essential respects what His voice was to those whom He addressed when on earth: whether He commands by a visible presence, or by a voice, or by our consciences, it matters not, so that we feel it to be a command. If it is a command, it may be obeyed or disobeyed; it may be accepted as Samuel or St. Paul accepted it, or put aside after the manner of the young man who had great possessions.