LET IT aLL sTART hERE
For Catholics who care...
Our pastor's sermon this morning was so inspirational and instructional I felt compelled to postpone my own Ash Wednesday reflection in order to share it with all who are trying to turn toward God. Have a blessed Lenten Season!
Homily Ash Wednesday 2015
Joel 2:12-18; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
Prayer, fasting and alms giving ... important disciplines in the Christian life carried over from our Jewish heritage. I encourage you to do something from each category this Lenten season, with the idea that you’ll carry it over into your everyday lives, as seasons come and seasons go.
If you weren’t able to make it to Mass last weekend, check out my homily on the website. I talk about barriers that get in the way of our cleanness of life in body or mind, heart or soul, and that Lent is a great time to begin fasting from those barriers.
I also talk about how prayer is essential in first identifying the barriers between us and God, and also in ensuring success through the process of tearing them down, and keeping them out of the way. We also have these little black books at the doors to help you recreate, renew, or strengthen your daily life of prayer.
Giving alms is most often thought of as making donations to help those in need, and we have the rice bowls at the doors as a way of doing that. But you can also give other things besides money. In the spirit of the New Evangelization, I suggest that once a week, you give your faith away to someone in need.
A less intimidating way to do that might be to visit the blog I’ve mentioned a few times before: www.letitallstarthere.com. There've been some wonderful things written there lately that have inspired some wonderful faith sharing among strangers and friends. Commit to contributing part of your own faith story once a week for Lent.
Whatever you do for these 40 days, do it in the spirit desired by the Lord, described by the Prophet Joel. Make sure your heart is really in it! If these practices are nothing more than added burdens in your life, that you complain about until Easter Sunday, they are meaningless, if not outright offensive to God.
“Rend your hearts, not your garments.” Back in the day, the practice of rending garments meant to tear your clothing as a sign of intense emotion – anger, grief or despair. God wants the sign to be genuinely meaningful ... he wants our hearts to be torn open, with contrition for sins, and with burning desire for reconciliation.
You probably know your heart is a muscle. When you exert other muscles in your body with high resistance training like lifting weights, you get sore the next day or two, because the exercise actually causes micro-tears in your muscle tissue ... your muscles bleed, and that hurts.
But with rest and nutrition, the healing of that tissue makes the muscles grow and get stronger. Hence, the phrase: no pain, no gain. Now, think about Lent and the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and alms giving, as spiritual exercise for your heart.
Embrace the challenge, the difficulty, the sacrifice of these penitential practices, and allow them to rend your heart ... feel the pain of tearing your heart away from your own wants, needs, and desires, so that it might focus on something other than itself.
Make the struggle a deliberate offering of self-gift, and do so joyfully, that your heart might grow ... both in capacity and strength ... to love God fully, as he first loved you, and to love your neighbors as yourself.
My grandmother's name was Mercedes. She was called Mercy, which in English, means compassion and love. Her sister, Providence, was my favorite person in the whole world. She was called Titi Provi. Titi is Spanish for auntie. Providence, literally means foresight, but is generally used to denote God's preserving and governing of all things. It is being in the protective care of God.
I spent weekends in the "protective care" of these two women. They were two colorful and exotic flowers who had arrived in America in the 1930's, after being plucked from "paradise" and released into the ocean…like an orchid and hibiscus that had floated across from the enchanted Isle of Puerto Rico.
There was never a time that I was unaware of the significance of their names; and, because of them, there was never a time when I did not understand that God's mercy and providence were at work in my young life. These female relatives were obvious reminders to me of His presence. As I write this, even today, I can recall sifting flour for my Grandma Mercy as she made empanadas: I kept one eye on the flour snowing down into the aluminum bowl and one eye on this mystical figure whom I somehow knew was connected to God. Had He sent her on an earthly mission to provide endless compassion and love to all of us? Even then, I realized that mercy was a concept integral to an understanding of God's dealings with the likes of me. And so my childhood was much different than that of my young friends. It is no wonder I am God-centric. And it is no wonder I am fascinated with all things God-related. Mercy and Providence introduced me to the supernatural nature of Catholicism. They taught me how to befriend a Saint.
Titi Provi's small Bronx apartment was cluttered with old lady stuff and religious relics. There were crosses twisted from palm fronds, yellowing Mass cards, icons with mournful faces, dusty crucifixes, half-empty bottles of Holy Water, broken and mended strands of Rosaries. But what made her home unique was a hidden room in the basement that housed representatives from The Communion of Saints! It was there that Providence brought me; later it was there that I found refuge. It was there that I was taught about reverence, trust and the prayers of petition. This is where my grandmother and aunt, my mother and her sisters knelt in silence and thanksgiving.
From the bottom of the cellar stairs I could see the secret room glowing. That last step allowed me to float safely in the darkness; it was like a raft on which I sat to watch the vertical shadows dance and move about in the light cast by the dozens of votive candles placed in front of the statues. As a child, I was only rarely to enter the room. I was allowed to trail behind Titi Provi as a helper of sorts, carrying a box of candles or a pitcher full of water. The florescent ceiling lamp would be turned on briefly for “house- keeping” chores and, as quick as a breath, extinguished so that no one, neither Saint nor penitent mouse would be disturbed. I can remember holding my breath as I entered the room and moving quickly about on my tip-toes so as not to leave a wake or any sign of my unholy visit.
My most powerful childhood memory is that of The Room of Saints; that hallowed place where I had, once in the middle of night, been taken for comfort and healing after a terrible family argument had disrupted my sense of well being. There was a myriad of flowers offered to Saints and the tables looked like floats in a parade. The room was filled with the sweet perfume of roses and gardenias, and I thought: How beautiful this room is, how like a chapel…neat and orderly, how peaceful. And how very different is this place where the Saints live compared to my own home. I had wondered, as only a child can wonder, if I could live there safe and quiet, and eternally loved and accepted by these plaster figures, familiar as friends. Even then I knew that God had sent them to do what they could for me.
Several families at Sacred Heart Parish have donated vestments for our pastor's use at Mass in honor of a family member or friend. They are quite lovely, each in their unique way. I have written this poem as a prelude for a future blog that will explain what your priest is wearing and why it is significant to our Catholic faith.
Who will care for the monk?
The one gone blind and lame
into the pattern of red brocade
worn like armor on the chest.
Who will release his claw--
gnarled flesh & horn nail
from the needle plated in gold?
Who will kiss & open his fingers?
Who will recognize his poverty,
his penitence, his posture?
Who will remember the murmur of:
O clemens, o pia, o dulcis… Virgo Maria
rising in his throat? Rising up and out
flutter against the garden wall.
I will and he will reward me:
Sew me into the labyrinth of his design
to wander safely there
to live inside the white space,
pure as parchment,
plain as paraffin,
as my soul can only hope to be
it is tempered of desire,
soothed of despair
and no longer terrified.
And what of the monk when he is
finished and his needle
and silk thread forgotten?
Perhaps he will join me there.
By: Evelyn Augusto