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Archive for the ‘Saints’ Category

A few years ago (several…more than ten….), I wrote a few back-of-the-book one page pieces on Franciscan-related saints for Steubenville’s Franciscan Way magazine. Here’s one on today’s saint, Benedict the Black. You can see that all those years ago, I looked askance at the self-fulfillment- passions-n-dreams bandwagon. It just ain’t the Gospel, folks.

 

 


 

 

In the modern world, we make much of personal initiative. The praiseworthy person, we’re told, is one who goes out there, sees what he wants, and grabs it. Our drive for action, our motivating center is supposed to  be  all about expressing   our personal vision.

Have we forgotten how to listen? For it seems to me that a really complete life isn’t about us charging through, imposing our lovely selves on a breathlessly waiting world. No, isn’t it more about watching the world, listening  to  it,  sensing  needs,  and  responding  in kind?

The saints seem to tell us  this is so, among them, St. Benedict the Black.

St. Benedict has been called “the Moor” at times, but while his parents were indeed African, they  were not, in fact, Moors (an ethnic group from western Africa). Over time,  he came to be called “the Moor” as a mistranslation of the nickname he earned during his life, “il moro santo ,”which means  “the  black saint.”

stbenedictblackBenedict’s parents converted to Christianity after they were brought from Africa to Sicily as slaves. Their owner promised to free their oldest son when he reached manhood, so on his eighteenth birthday, Benedict was released from slavery.

He took work as a day laborer,  and working in the fields one day, he was subjected to mockery from a passer- by, who insulted his race and the fact that his parents were slaves. Benedict responded  to  the  taunts,  not  out   of revenge or anger, but in the spirit of Christ who calls us to love our enemies.

Benedict’s  response  drew  the attention of a hermit named Lanzi, who was living in loose association with others nearby in the spirit of St. Francis. He told those who had spoken the harsh words, “You ridicule a poor black now; before long you will hear great things of him.” He invited Benedict to join him and his associates. Benedict listened and responded. He sold what possessions he had, gave the money to the poor, and joined the hermits.

The group of hermits moved several times over the years. When Lanzi, the group’s superior died, they elected Benedict to replace him. In 1564, however, Pope Pius IV ordered all groups of hermits to either associate themselves with an established religious order or disband. Benedict joined the Friars Minor of the Observance and became a lay brother at a friary in Palermo, where he was given the  role  of cook.

The  mid-sixteenth  century  was a time of great upheaval in the Church. The Franciscans had, of course, engaged in many reforms and realignments already over the course of the order’s 300-year life. Benedict’s convent was already part of the stricter element of the order—the Observants, and in 1578, it voted to participate in more reforms to bring it even  closer to the Franciscan ideal. Benedict was elected guardian of the convent—the one who would oversee the   reforms.

Since he could neither read nor write, and was not even a priest, Benedict was initially unhappy with his election, but in the end, bound by obedience, had no choice but to  listen and accept. He might not have seen his own gifts as particularly suited to this office, but his brothers obviously did, and their call to Benedict proved a wise one. Benedict led the reform with wisdom and prudence. He responded in the same way to the next call—to be novice master—saying yes to God’s call through the needs of his community. His reputation for holiness spread beyond the convent walls as well, as he directed his energy towards helping the poor.

At last, his administrative duties at an end, Benedict requested and was granted a return to the friary kitchen. There he spent the rest of his days, not only helping to nourish his brothers, but also sharing the love of Christ with all who came to him for help. The poor and the sick flocked to the friary kitchen, knowing that there they would meet the compassion of Jesus, working through the hands and heart of Benedict, a holy man who would listen to them speak of their needs and would always respond.

We all have our plans, it  is true. We can’t help but make them. But when we listen to God’s voice as he speaks through a world in need, we might hear hints that God has some- thing else in mind. Something even better.

 

 

 

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Today, we remember St. Francis of  Paola, an interesting saint. Here’s a good post from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert:

The immensely popular saint of Paola, Francis, born Francesco Martolilla, lived from 1416 to 1507. He was the founder of the Order of Minims (think here, “minimal” or “little” brothers) and was never ordained a priest. The name of the Order, Minims, refers to the members’ role as “the least of all the faithful,” as their founder expressed it. Humility was and is to be a hallmark of the Minims of Francis of Paola.

The Minim friars profess the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as well as a fourth vow of abstinence from meat and other animal products, which includes eggs, butter, cheese and milk. In addition to friars, who are either priests or brothers, Francis of Paola also founded monasteries of contemplative nuns and a third order for people living in the world. One of the most famous members of the third order was the great French bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales. Just above the Paola sanctuary is a monastery of Minim nuns, eight in number. I was able to join them for Mass one morning during my visit to Paola.

Francis of Paola was canonized in 1519 by Pope Leo X and his feast day is April 2nd, the date of his death. Francis of Paola is patron of Calabria, as well as of boatmen, mariners and naval officers. He is much loved and venerated throughout Italy, but most especially, of course, in his birthplace of Paola.

Already a devout Catholic, in his adolescence Francis spent some time with Franciscan friars, partly in fulfillment of a vow made by his parents when he was cured of an eye ailment as a baby. After his year-long Franciscan experience, he made a pilgrimage with his parents to Assisi, passing through Rome, Loreto and a few hermitages along the way. This experience convinced Francis to become a hermit himself, which he did on his father’s estate and eventually at a small grotto on the hillside above the town of Paola next to the Isca waterfall and river that flows down to the ocean.

After several years alone in the cave by the waterfall and stream, in 1435 disciples began to come asking to share in the life Francis was living, desiring to dedicate themselves to prayer, fasting, work and contemplation, like Brother Francis of Paola. Eventually Francis and his followers founded a religious Order of hermits, at first called the Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi, but later renamed the Order of Minims. The initials of the Order of Minims are O.M.

In 1483, when sixty-five years old, and with a reputation as a holy wonder-worker, Francis was called to the court of King Louis XI of France. The king was suffering from grave illness and hoped the holy hermit of Paola could bring about a cure. Instead, Francis was able to bring about the conversion of the king to a genuine Christian life. Francis of Paola remained in France for the next twenty-four years and died at Tours, on April 2nd, 1507, when he was ninety-one years old. He was buried in France. In 1562 the tomb of Francis of Paola was vandalized by Protestant Huguenots, who burned and scattered his bones. These were recovered by Catholic faithful and the relics distributed to various churches of Saint Francis of Paolo’s Order of Minims.

Now, one of the reasons I want to write about this St. Francis today is his connection with someone else very much on my mind right now – the great composer Franz Liszt.

Liszt being on my mind because the youngest son has been working on the piece Sposalizio for months and it’s my bones at this point. 

Liszt, of course, was a fascinating character who had deep and fraught ties to his Catholic faith.

Sposalizio, in fact, was inspired by a Raphael painting of the Wedding of the Virgin. 

Late in life, Liszt attempted to center his life more intentionally on faith (very complicated), moving to Rome and even taking minor orders. You can read about his spiritual journey here, in a piece by pianist Stephen HoughAlso, there is a great deal from a biography of Liszt available on Google Books here. He wrote a piano piece inspired by a legend of St. Francis of Paola:

amy_welborn3

 

More on Liszt’s religious works here.

 

Here’s a performance of the piece:

 

And for a change of pace and a scene that I, for one, can’t take my eyes off of – here’s a Finnish organist playing a organ transcription at St. Sulpice in Paris. The work of the Console Crew is fascinating, and given the fact that in playing in that space, all the audience can hear is the music and they don’t see anything, that Yamm! (or whatever) at 6.27 is entertaining:

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Some Annunciation-related material from my books:

The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories

EPSON MFP image

The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols

EPSON MFP image

And…here’s the chapter from Mary and the Christian Life on the Annunciation. The entire book is available for free here until midnight Tuesday. 

There’s also, of course, a chapter on the Hail Mary in here:

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In case you missed it – and I hope you didn’t – one of the big events in our life in these parts was Tuesday’s St. Joseph Altar at my youngest’s school. Here’s one photo – go here for more and a Catholic school-related rant –  and to Instagram for video. 

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 — 2 —

And then two days later, what happens? Emergency lockdown, that’s what!

He said some kind of dispute erupted between one of his co-workers and their boss. The employee pulled out a gun and fired multiple times. Harris said he did not know the nature of the argument.

“I just tried to get out of the way because a bullet ain’t got no names,’’ he said. “The dude shot three or four times.”

He said his boss was struck in the back. Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service radio traffic indicated he was shot in the mouth as well, but that has not been confirmed. The victim was alert and conscious when he was transported to the hospital. Harris took his boss his cell phone and his boss told him he was going to be OK.

“It didn’t have to escalate to this,” Harris said.

A businessman was on the top of the parking deck when the shooting happened. He said he heard multiple shots, and then called 911.

The Birmingham Police Departments K9 Unit was brought to the scene to try to track down the suspect. The cleared the area, but South Precinct Capt. Ron Sellers said they have good identity on the suspect. “The suspect knows who he is. He knows he shot someone. It’s best you come froward and tell your story,” Sellers said.

A nearby school – Saint Rose Academy – was briefly put on lockdown while police searched for the suspect.

A bullet ain’t got no names. 

How true is that!!

— 3 —

It was scary for a couple of minutes here – I got a text from the school saying URGENT LOOK AT YOUR EMAIL SCHOOL IN EMERGENCY LOCKDOWN…

email? Email? Email?

Well, itdidn’t come and it didn’t come and I was starting to worry a little and was almost ready to call the school when the email finally came through.

My son said it was, indeed, a little scary. They were all outside, then were hustled inside to an area behind the stage. The maintenance man was formerly in law enforcement and an officer came on the property as well, but the staff handled everything very well, as far as I can tell, and all was back to normal by dismissal.

–4–

In other local Catholic news – check out our Cathedral’s Facebook page for images of lovely refurbished floors and new pews. 

Also yesterday – on the traditional feast of St. Benedict – the transitus of St. Benedict, the local Benedictine Abbey – St. Bernard’s up in Cullman (if you’ve driven on I-65, you’ve seen the billboards for Ave Maria Grotto – and perhaps you’ve visited. If you haven’t, do – it’s well worth the stop) – oh, sorry – anyway, the abbey welcomed three postulants!

–5 —

Speaking of St. Benedict, here are some pages from The Loyola Kids Book of Saints on him:Benedict4

He’s in under “Saints are people who teach us new ways to pray.” Here are some excerpts – click on images to get a fuller view.

BenedictI

 

Finally – I’ve posted this before, but in case you have missed it, this is a fantastic video from the Benedictines at St. Bernard’s Abbey, located about 45 minutes north of Birmingham. It’s wonderful, not just because of the way in which the monastic vocation is explained, but because those words really apply to all of us as we discern God’s will – every moment of every day.

 

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Yesterday (Thursday) was also World Downs Syndrome Day. Here are a couple of related videos:

 

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For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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This is going to be very random. Sorry in advance. We’ve had a busy week, and my brain is just quite fractured. Piano Season is gearing up, braces were taken off, people are coming home with news about trips they are planning and the fact that yes, they are going to prom after all, it’s Lent, friends are coming into town….

 

Links from all over, a clear indication of the cacophony that defines “My Brain.”

— 2 —

Given longstanding Christian opposition to universalism, how has it gained so many adherents in recent times?

The change was a long time coming. As I show in my book, from the time of Origen onward there were individual Christian thinkers who held to some version of Origenist universalism. In Orthodox Christianity, however, universalism was never affirmed as an official or public teaching of the church. One might call it instead a tolerated private opinion. I found that Orthodox attitudes toward Origen through the centuries were double-sided and ambivalent (as my own attitude is), acknowledging Origen’s undoubted contributions to Christian theology and spirituality but finding fault with his speculative excesses. Western esotericists, who were outside of traditional churches or hovering about its fringes, maintained a robust universalism from around 1700 up to the mid-1900s.

Yet until that point, few official church teachers in Protestant Germany, Britain, or North America publicly affirmed universal salvation—even though privately some may have been universalists. Something changed in the 1950s, and I believe it was Barth’s affirmation of universal election that allowed universalism to come out of the shadows. From the 1950s through the 1970s, universalism was most closely associated with modernist Protestantism. Prior to Vatican II, one finds some private musings on the possibility of salvation for all among certain Catholic intellectuals, even though no official Catholic spokespersons affirm universalism.

The next step in the process occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, as Catholics discussed “the unchurched” and evangelicals debated “the unevangelized.” A book from the Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope?, initiated a turn toward “hopeful universalism” among Catholics, leading into more overt affirmations of universalism later on. Similarly, the tentative suggestions by the British evangelical John Stott regarding conditionalism or annihilationism triggered intra-evangelical debates over the final scope of salvation.

—3–

I Inherited a Failed Sunday School: Here’s How it Flourished

3. Don’t be afraid of teaching doctrine that you or your students don’t fully understand.

Just as we sometimes neglect to teach children how and why to worship, our pedagogical focus is often limited to teaching them morals and sentimentality without sufficient engagement with doctrine or dogma. Dorothy Sayers presciently critiqued the rejection of doctrine in her 1947 essay “Creed or Chaos,” and her argument is even more relevant 70 years later. “‘No creed but Christ’ has been a popular slogan for so long that we are apt to accept it, without inquiring whether religion without theology has any meaning,” she wrote. “And however unpopular I may make myself, I shall and will affirm that the reason why the Churches are discredited today is not that they are too bigoted about theology, but that they have run away from theology.”

When I first began to teach Sunday school at our small church, I found that I succeeded most when I aimed over the children’s apparent intellectual level, not under. For example, one of the most successful lessons we ever had was provided by a Bible scholar from our congregation who came in to teach the kids about Bible translation. The children loved exploring something new and were excited to learn how to write Hebrew words. For the same reason, the classes I taught on theological doctrines tended to go much better than I imagined. The students had something new to think about, and learning more about Christian doctrine helped them to connect with lessons and stories they had been taught in other classes and contexts.

–4–

From First Things – a really good article on “Memorization and Repentance.”  A must read for, well, all of us – but in particular anyone involved in parish ministry and formation:

We may be tempted to think that digitization makes memorization redundant. The truth is, rather, that digitization yields distraction. I can select whatever I want from online storage at any time. The possibilities are endless, and so the order, steadiness, and peacefulness to which Hugh alludes consistently escape us.

The distraction of our information age fails at character formation. What’s in cyberspace cannot shape our characters, only what is in the mind. (To be sure, data and images often move from cyberspace to our mind, at which point they do shape our character for good or ill.) Having information at our fingertips is not the same as having stored it in our mind. This is why both classical and medieval authors were deeply concerned with memorization. Traditional practices such as lectio divina are grounded in the recognition that distraction must be countered by memorization and meditation. (The two were virtually synonymous in the Middle Ages.) Medieval monks devised all sorts of ways to facilitate Scripture memorization because they recognized that it offers the boundaries and confines within which the moral life can flourish.

Memorization is a Lenten practice, reshaping our memories to be like God’s. When our memories are reshaped and reordered according to the immutable faithfulness of God in Christ, we re-appropriate God’s character—his steadfast love, his mercy, his compassion.  Repentance, therefore, is a turning back to the virtues of God as we see them in Christ.  Being united to him, we are united to the very character of God, for it is in the God-man that God’s virtue and human virtue meet. The hypostatic union is the locus of our repentance: In Christ human memory is re-figured to the memory of God.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since I read it:

Having information at our fingertips is not the same as having stored it in our mind.

–5 —

This, in turn, led me to a very interesting blog with which I am going to be spending some time. That of independent scholar L.M. Sacasas, who writes about technology. This was the first post I happened upon, probably because I was looking for material related to this passage from Eliot’s Four Quartets:

Neither plenitude nor vacancy.  Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before time and after.

Sacasas concludes his brief commentary:

The assumption seems to be, “No worries, we’ve always been mediocre and always will be.”  This may be true, but it is a symptom of some kind of cultural anemia that we now embrace this line of thinking in defense of our gadgets and our toys.  The question is not whether we have in the past made any better use of our time, the question is whether our tools and our social climate in general are more or less conducive to the pursuit of some kind of excellence, however halting the pursuit.  Johnson noted a certain guilt that Eliot experienced when he perceived himself to have failed to use his time well.  It is perhaps the general absence of such guilt in the Wireless Age that is most telling of our present ills.

Today’s blog entry is very thought provoking and brings together many threads waving about in my own head:

Taylor notes again the “blowing off steam” hypothesis. If you don’t find a way to relieve the pressure within the relative safety of semi-sanctioned ritual, then you will get more serious, uncontrolled, and violent eruptions. But Taylor also notes an alternative or possibly complementary hypothesis present in Turner’s work: “that the code relentlessly applied would drain us of all energy; that the code needs to recapture some of the untamed force of the contrary principle.”

Coming back, then, to my intuited analogy, it goes something like this:  carnival is to the ordinary demands of piety in medieval society as, in contemporary society, the back stage is to the front stage relative to identity work.

It’s not a perfect analogy. Indeed, I confess that I may be stretching a bit to make it work. It really only focuses on one aspect of the backstage experience as Goffman theorized it:  the backstage as a space to let one’s guard down, to relieve the pressures of a constantly calibrated performance before an ill-defined virtual audience, to blow off some steam.

Nonetheless, I think there’s something useful in the approach. The main idea that emerged for me was this:  in our contemporary, digitally augmented society the mounting pressure we experience is not the pressure of conforming to the rigid demands of piety and moral probity, rather it is the pressure of unremitting impression management, identity work, and self-consciousness. Moreover, there is no carnival. Or, better, what presents itself as a carnival experience is, in reality, just another version of the disciplinary experience.

Consider the following.

First, the early internet, Web 1.0, was a rather different place. In fact, a case could be made for the early internet being itself the carnivalesque experience, the backstage where, under the cloak of anonymity, you got to play a variety of roles, try on different identities, and otherwise step out of the front stage persona (“on the internet nobody knows you are a dog,” Sherry Turkle’s Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, etc.). As our internet experience, especially post-Facebook, became more explicitly tied to our “IRL” identity, then the dynamic flipped. Now we could no longer experience “life on screen” as anti-structure, as backstage, as a place of release. Online identity and offline identity became too hopelessly entangled. Confusion about this entanglement during the period of transition accounts for all manner of embarrassing and damaging gaffs and missteps. The end result is that the mainstream experience of the internet became an expansive, always on front stage. A corollary of this development is the impulse to carve out some new online backstage experience, as with fake Instagram accounts or through the use of ephemeral-by-design communication of the sort that Snapchat pioneered.

Indeed, this may be a way of framing the history of the internet:  as a progression, or regression, from the promise of a liberating experience of anti-structure to the imposition of a unprecedentedly expansive and invasive instrument of structure. Many of our debates about the internet seem to be usefully illuminated by the resulting tension. Perhaps we might put it this way, the internet becomes an instrument of structure on a massive scale precisely by operating in the guise of an anti-structure. We are lured, as it were, by the promise of liberation and empowerment only to discover that we have been ensnared in a programmable web of discipline and control.

–6-

My son continues to post about movies:

Apocalypse Now

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

The Last Movie

This might be the worst movie I’ve ever seen.

–7–

St. Patrick’s Day is coming:

From The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

How do you teach a classroom that’s as big as a whole country? How do you teach a whole country about God?

St. Patrick’s classroom was the whole country of Ireland and his lesson was the good news of Jesus Christ. How in the world did he do it? Well, it was only possible because he depended totally on God.

….

God gave Patrick the courage to speak, even when Patrick was in danger of being hurt by pagan priests who didn’t want to lose their power over the people.

Patrick’s most famous prayer shows us how close he was to God. It’s called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” A breastplate is the piece of armor that protects a soldier’s heart from harm.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left.

I also  have a chapter on the beautiful Lorica prayer – or St. Patrick’s Breastplate in The Words We Pray. You can dip into it here and buy the book here. It’s one of my favorites of those I’ve written.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Reprint from past years, but still timely. 

A most interesting sermon from Blessed John Henry Newman on the First Sunday of Lent – which has always featured the Temptation in the Desert as its Gospel.

In this sermon, Newman speaks of the consequences of fasting – quite honestly, as it happens. For, he acknowledges, we are often assured of the good fruit of fasting. But as he notes, it was his fasting that exposed Jesus to the possibility of temptation. So it is with us. That is – it’s not all roses:

THE season of humiliation, which precedes Easter, lasts for forty days, in memory of our Lord’s long fast in the wilderness. Accordingly on this day, the first Sunday in Lent, we read the Gospel which gives an account of it; and in the Collect we pray Him, who for our sakes fasted forty days and forty nights, to bless our abstinence to the good of our souls and bodies.

We fast by way of penitence, and in order to subdue the flesh. Our Saviour had no need of fasting for either purpose. His fasting was unlike ours, as in its intensity, so in its object. And yet when we begin to fast, His pattern is set before us; and we continue the time of fasting till, in number of days, we have equalled His.


temptation of Christ
There is a reason for this;—in truth, we must do nothing except with Him in our eye. As He it is, through whom alone we have the power to do any good {2} thing, so unless we do it for Him it is not good. From Him our obedience comes, towards Him it must look. He says, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” [John xv. 5.] No work is good without grace and without love.

(Source)

….

Next I observe, that our Saviour’s fast was but introductory to His temptation. He went into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil, but before He was tempted He fasted. Nor, as is worth notice, was this a mere preparation for the conflict, but it was the cause of the conflict in good measure. Instead of its simply arming Him against temptation, it is plain, that in the first instance, His retirement and abstinence exposed Him to it. {6} Fasting was the primary occasion of it. “When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterwards an hungered;” and then the tempter came, bidding Him turn the stones into bread. Satan made use of His fast against Himself.

And this is singularly the case with Christians now, who endeavour to imitate Him; and it is well they should know it, for else they will be discouraged when they practise abstinences. It is commonly said, that fasting is intended to make us better Christians, to sober us, and to bring us more entirely at Christ’s feet in faith and humility. This is true, viewing matters on the whole. On the whole, and at last, this effect will be produced, but it is not at all certain that it will follow at once. On the contrary, such mortifications have at the time very various effects on different persons, and are to be observed, not from their visible benefits, but from faith in the Word of God. Some men, indeed, are subdued by fasting and brought at once nearer to God; but others find it, however slight, scarcely more than an occasion of temptation. For instance, it is sometimes even made an objection to fasting, as if it were a reason for not practising it, that it makes a man irritable and ill-tempered. I confess it often may do this. Again, what very often follows from it is, a feebleness which deprives him of his command over his bodily acts, feelings, and expressions. Thus it makes him seem, for instance, to be out of temper when he is not; I mean, because his tongue, his lips, nay his brain, are not in his power. He does not use the words he wishes to use, nor the accent and tone. He seems sharp {7} when he is not; and the consciousness of this, and the reaction of that consciousness upon his mind, is a temptation, and actually makes him irritable, particularly if people misunderstand him, and think him what he is not. Again, weakness of body may deprive him of self-command in other ways; perhaps, he cannot help smiling or laughing, when he ought to be serious, which is evidently a most distressing and humbling trial; or when wrong thoughts present themselves, his mind cannot throw them off, any more than if it were some dead thing, and not spirit; but they then make an impression on him which he is not able to resist. Or again, weakness of body often hinders him from fixing his mind on his prayers, instead of making him pray more fervently; or again, weakness of body is often attended with languor and listlessness, and strongly tempts a man to sloth.

Therefore let us be, my brethren, “not ignorant of their devices;” and as knowing them, let us watch, fast, and pray, let us keep close under the wings of the Almighty, that He may be our shield and buckler. Let us pray Him to make known to us His will,—to teach us our faults,—to take from us whatever may offend Him,—and to lead us in the way everlasting. And during this sacred season, let us look upon ourselves as on the Mount with Him—within the veil—hid with Him—not out of Him, or apart from Him, in whose presence alone is life, but with and in Him—learning of His Law with Moses, of His attributes with Elijah, of His counsels with Daniel—learning to repent, learning to confess and to amend—learning His love and His fear—unlearning ourselves, and growing up unto Him who is our Head.

Here is another Newman sermon on the First Sunday of Lent. In this one he tackles a different issue: the relative laxity of “modern” fasting practices.

It is quite predictable that at the beginning of every Lent, the claimed laxity of Catholic fasting and abstaining is decried – I’ve seen it all around Facebook this year, and I’ve done it, I’ve thought it, too.  We’re weak in comparison to past generations, Latin Rite Catholics are amateurs when compared to Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox.

Well, critics have been saying the same thing for about four hundred years, it seems. The Middle Ages was Peak Fast for Latin Rite Catholics and it’s been downhill ever since, they’ve been saying for centuries.

But is it really?

Newman makes the same observation – about the decline in physical demands – but has a different take:

I suppose it has struck many persons as very remarkable, that in the latter times the strictness and severity in religion of former ages has been so much relaxed. There has been a gradual abandonment of painful duties which were formerly inforced upon all. Time was when all persons, to speak generally, abstained from flesh through the whole of Lent. There have been dispensations on this point again and again, and this very year there is a fresh one. What is the meaning of this? What are we to gather from it? This is a question worth considering. Various answers may be given, but I shall confine myself to one of them.

I answer that fasting is only one branch of a large and momentous duty, the subdual of ourselves to Christ. We must surrender to Him all we have, all we are. We must keep nothing back. We must present to Him as captive prisoners with whom He may do what He will, our soul and body, our reason, our judgement, our affections, {64} our imagination, our tastes, our appetite. The great thing is to subdue ourselves; but as to the particular form in which the great precept of self-conquest and self-surrender is to be expressed, that depends on the person himself, and on the time or place. What is good for one age or person, is not good for another.

Even in our Blessed Lord’s case the Tempter began by addressing himself to His bodily wants. He had fasted forty days, and afterwards was hungered. So the devil tempted Him to eat. But when He did not consent, then he went on to more subtle temptations. He tempted Him to spiritual pride, and he tempted Him by ambition for power. Many a man would shrink from intemperance, {68} of being proud of his spiritual attainments; that is, he would confess such things were wrong, but he would not see that he was guilty of them.

Next I observe that a civilized age is more exposed to subtle sins than a rude age. Why? For this simple reason, because it is more fertile in excuses and evasions. It can defend error, and hence can blind the eyes of those who have not very careful consciences. It can make error plausible, it can make vice look like virtue. It dignifies sin by fine names; it calls avarice proper care of one’s family, or industry, it calls pride independence, it calls ambition greatness of mind; resentment it calls proper spirit and sense of honour, and so on.

Such is this age, and hence our self-denial must be very different from what was necessary for a rude age. Barbarians lately converted, or warlike multitudes, of fierce spirit and robust power—nothing can tame them better than fasting. But we are very different. Whether from the natural course of centuries or from our mode of living, from the largeness of our towns or other causes, so it is that our powers are weak and we cannot bear what our ancestors did. Then again what numbers there are who anyhow must have dispensation, whether because their labour is so hard, or because they never have enough, and cannot be called on to stint themselves in Lent. These are reasons for the rule of fasting not being so strict as once it was. And let me now say, that the rule which the Church now gives us, though indulgent, yet is strict too. It tries a man. One meal a day is trial to most people, even though on some days meat is allowed. It is sufficient, with our weak frames, to be a mortification of sensuality. It serves that end for which all fasting was instituted. On the other hand its being so light as it is, so much lighter than it was in former times, is a suggestion to us that there are other sins and weaknesses to mortify in us besides gluttony and drunkenness. It is a suggestion to us, while we strive to be pure and undefiled in our bodies, to be on our guard lest we are unclean and sinful in our intellects, in our affections, in our wills.

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And then more from With Mother Church: The Christ Life Series in Religion, a vintage 7th grade Catholic textbook:

Lent

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Lent

 

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I pulled a bit from the sermon for this post. 

Original here. 

Image result for medieval jesus parable wedding

 

( 1 ) By the help of the merciful Lord our God, the temptations of the world, the snares of the Devil, the suffering of the world, the enticement of the flesh, the surging waves of troubled times, and all corporal and spiritual adversities are to be overcome by almsgiving, fasting, and prayer. These practices ought to glow throughout the entire life of a Christian, but especially as the Paschal solemnity approaches which stirs up our minds by its yearly return, renewing in them the salutary memory that our Lord, the only-begotten Son of God, showed mercy to us and fasted and prayed for us. As a matter of fact, eleemosyna in Greek signifies mercy in Latin.

Moreover, what mercy could be greater, so far as we poor wretches are concerned, than that which drew the Creator of the heavens down from heaven, clothed the Maker of the earth with earthly vesture, made Him, who in eternity remains equal to His Father, equal to us in mortality, and imposed on the Lord of the universe the form of a servant, so that He, our Bread, might hunger; that He, our Fulfillment, might thirst; that He, our Strength, might be weakened; that He, our Health, might be injured; that He, our Life, might die?

And all this [He did] to satisfy our hunger, to moisten our dryness, to soothe our infirmity, to wipe out our iniquity, to enkindle our charity. What greater mercy could there be than that the Creator be created, the Ruler be served, the Redeemer be sold, the Exalted be humbled and the Reviver be killed? In regard to almsgiving, we are commanded to give bread to the hungry,  but He first gave Himself over to cruel enemies for us so that He might give Himself as food to us when we were hungry. We are commanded to receive the stranger; for our sake He ‘came unto his own and his own received him not.’ (John 1:11)

In a word, let our soul bless Him who becomes a propitiation for all its iniquities, who heals all its diseases, who redeems its life from corruption, who crowns it in mercy and pity, who satisfies its desires in blessings.  Let us give alms the more generously and the more frequently in proportion as the day draws nearer on which the supreme almsgiving accomplished for us is celebrated. Fasting without mercy is worthless to him who fasts.

(2) Let us fast, humbling our souls as the day draws near on which the Teacher of humility humbled Himself becoming obedient even to death on a cross.  Let us imitate His cross, fastening to it our passions subdued by the nails of abstinence. Let us chastise our body, subjecting it to obedience, and, lest we slip into illicit pleasures through our undisciplined flesh, let us in taming it sometimes withdraw licit pleasures. Self-indulgence and drunkenness ought to be shunned on other days; throughout this season, however, even legitimate eating is to be checked. Adultery and fornication must always be abhorred and avoided, but on these days special restraint must be practised even by married persons. The flesh, which has been accustomed to restraint in regard to its own satisfaction, will readily submit to you when there is question of clinging to another’s goods. Of course, care must be taken to avoid merely changing instead of lessening pleasures.

For you may observe that certain persons seek out rare liquors in place of their ordinary wine; that they, with much greater relish, counterbalance by the juice of other fruits what they lose by denying themselves the juice of grapes; that, in place of meat, they procure food of manifold variety and appeal; that they store up, as opportune for this season, delights which they would be ashamed to indulge in at other times. In this way, the observance of Lent becomes, not the curbing of old passions, but an opportunity for new pleasures. Take measures in advance, my brethren, with as much diligence as possible, to prevent these attitudes from creeping upon you. Let frugality be joined to fasting. As surfeiting the stomach is to be censured, so stimulants of the appetite must be eliminated. It is not that certain kinds of food are to be detested, but that bodily pleasure is to be checked. Esau was censured, not for having desired a fat calf or plump birds, but for having coveted a dish of pottage. And holy King David repented of having excessively desired water.  Hence, not by delicacies obtained with much labor and at great expense, but by the cheaper food found within reach, is the body to be refreshed, or, rather, sustained in its fasting.

(3) During these days of Lent our prayer is lifted up to God, supported by pious almsdeeds and by tempered fasting. With justification one seeks mercy from God when he does not deny it to his fellow man and when the pure intention of the petitioner’s heart is not disturbed by phantom clouds of carnal desires. Let prayer be chaste, lest, perhaps, we crave not what charity but what cupidity seeks; let us not call down any evil upon our enemies; let us not rage passionately in prayer against those whom we cannot harm by actual injury or revenge. Surely, just as we are rendered fit for praying by almsdeeds and fasting, so our prayer itself gives alms when it is directed and poured forth not only for friends but for enemies as well and when it refrains from anger, hatred, and harmful vices. For, if we fast from food, how  much more does prayer recoil from poisons? Finally, while we are refreshed by taking food at regular and suitable times, let us never distract our prayer by such feasts. Rather let it endure perpetual fasts because there is a food proper to prayer which it is commanded to take without ceasing. Therefore, let it always fast from hatred and feast upon love.

 

Original and more Augustine Lenten homilies

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