Monday, March 10, 2014

1st Sunday of Lent, Year A: Do Good, Avoid Evil

At first glance we may ask, “What good could possibly come from Jesus’ actions today? He fasted for forty days and forty nights but then he was hungry. And why must we hear about Satan tempting him? It is so unpleasant for us to imagine. But, out of his great humility, Jesus submitted himself to these things to illuminate one of the most basic aspects of human life, one with which we are all painfully aware: the temptation to sin. He doesn’t just exhort us to do good and avoid evil from an ivory tower, unfamiliar with how difficult this can be. He enters this crucible himself, to show us how to pass the test. Only if we are willing to share in his suffering with him through Lent will we be able to share in his glory through Easter.

Every year at this time, the Church instructs us to pray more, to fast on certain days, to give up meat on others, to be more charitable in our support of the Church, and so forth. But equally important is the renewed commitment to avoid sin in our lives. It is a topic we don’t like to talk much about, but we must double our efforts to conquer the temptations to sin, which now more than ever assail us from every side because our sights are set on the Cross and the salvation that it brings. The devil hates to see us with our eyes fixed on the Cross and we can be sure he too will be doubling his efforts in order to turn us away from it. Indeed his temptations are quite horrible.

Let us not despair over being tempted, tempted to eat too much food, to spend too much money, to waste too much time, to love too little; no one is alone in these, and no one is immune from them. Even Jesus the Son of God, was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Mark’s Gospel says that “the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness.” The Holy Spirit threw him right into the middle of temptation so that he could begin, in earnest, his life’s mission and so that we could one day see The Way through and out of temptation.

In our case, God allows us to be tempted out of compassion for us, so that we might grow in faith. God learns nothing by the trials he allows us to face. He is not sitting up in heaven waiting to see the results. But we certainly learn something, of the level of our commitment, our progress in the spiritual life, where our true affections lie, the nature of our desires, and the depth of our love for God and our brothers and sisters. Every temptation poses the question, “Am I for God or against Him? Will I say ‘Yes’ to Him or ‘No’?” Every Yes exercises our faith and makes it stronger. Every single choice for God rather than ourselves steeps us deeper in virtue and his gifts and burns away our affections for sin.[1]
 
Even though we are constantly tempted by the devil, by other people, by unfortunate circumstances in life that are outside of ourselves, God’s will is never thwarted by these occasions. Rather, he wills that every temptation be an occasion for grace. And with every temptation God always provides the way out, but we must have the courage to take it rather than rely on ourselves or give in. And we must build ourselves up with spiritual tools so that we will be able to choose the way out. We often choose sin time and time again, unable to bear the trial, because we come to the occasion crippled by our not being spiritually prepared.

My advice to you today would be that when you are tempted to sin, no matter what it is, great or small, turn the devil on his head! You can foil the devil, just like Jesus did in the desert. After every time Satan tempted our Lord he always replied with Scripture, the Word of God. Even when Satan tried to manipulate Scripture and quote it himself, to fool Jesus, Jesus quoted it right back at him, accurately and truthfully. The devil didn’t have a chance in the face of the Truth and he was forced to leave. Any time the devil’s temptation becomes an occasion for prayer or Scripture his knees are chopped out right from under him.

In the end, it is often not really about the object of the temptation at all. It is never about infidelity, or food, or alcohol or whatever, it is about something much deeper. What we often really want is simply intimacy, intimacy with God and the ones we love. What we really want is just to give and receive love. What we really want is to belong or to be happy, especially to be happy. But sometimes it is the case that we have chosen wrongly so many times that we forget how to properly satisfy these deepest desires (which are good and true). This Satisfaction is only Our Lord, Jesus Christ who never abandons us, especially in our times of greatest need. He truly can fulfill us, infinitely better than any act of lust, overeating, or overdrinking can.

This Lent, enter the desert with our Lord bravely, yet trusting that “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you” and “With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Enter Lent bravely and courageously, because you are humble and reliant on him. Enter Lent believing that this year, with His help, we can overcome our temptations, we can do better, we can be purified. Through our prayer, acts of charity, and penances, we will sacrifice and suffer with Him so that we can, even in this life, experience a share in his victory and his glory.

[1] Cf. Scott Hahn, Understanding “Our Father: Biblical Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, p. 56, 58, 60.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ash Wednesday–Don’t Just Offer Something Up, Offer Something For

This morning, as we enter into the Season of Lent, Jesus sets the tone for the attitude that we should have. He says, “when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” meaning, do not be self-satisfied our puffed up about what you do this Lent. Profound humility is the way to enter into and proceed through the Lenten Season.

Today I am struck by the words of the final blessing that I will offer at the end of Mass; I hope that you will listen for it. It says, “Pour out your spirit of compunction, O God, on those who bow before your majesty, and by your mercy may they merit the rewards you promise to those who do penance.” That word “compunction” isn’t a word we hear very often. It has the same root as “puncture” and so praying that God will pour out on us a spirit of compunction probably means that we are praying for our inflated egos to be punctured so that we can be purified and disciplined for ongoing conversion. Lent is the great spiritual equalizer; no matter who we are, we are all together in need of the purification that this season brings. We are all together in need of practices that subdue our passions and impulses, practices that tell our bodies to take a step down so our souls can take a step forward. St. Leo the Great said, “Appropriate fasting and almsgiving, together called works of mercy, are praiseworthy and pious actions; in times of inequality of wealth and possessions, the souls of all the faithful may be one and equal in their desire for good.”

I think this “desire for good” that St. Leo says brings us all together during Lent is what it is all about. It sounds like Jesus in our Gospel is discouraging giving alms, praying publicly, or fasting while putting on ashes. But what he is trying to discourage is doing these things with impure motives, with an intention to be recognized rather than with a desire for good. We must certainly give alms during Lent, give gifts to the poor, or to those we love – but not in order to “win the praise of others.”

We must certainly pray publicly – Lent is filled with public prayer like the Stations of the Cross which can serve to motivate others to pray. But we must not do them simply “so that others may see them.” We must certainly fast during Lent and wear ashes today as so many of you have come to do, but not simply so that we “may appear to others to be fasting.” We must do these things only out of a desire for good. That good is our own ongoing conversion and the salvation of the poor and those we love.

This desire for good helps us to see that our Lenten prayers, almsgiving, and fasting aren’t only about us. Often Lent can become a very self-centered season – but then that just serves to inflate our egos, which, we remember, need to be punctured. When you pray, when you offer something up or do acts of charity, when you fast, do these not only to advance your own salvation, but the salvation of others as well. Don’t just offer something up, offer something for.

We are the members of the mystical Body of Christ with Christ as our head. He offered the ultimate sacrifice, His own Body and Blood, for us out of a desire for good, the spiritual good of our salvation. Because we are His members we too can offer sacrifice for the spiritual good of others. And we offer sacrifices, gifts, good things, to God in Lent, not sins. For example, if you want to purify yourself of laziness, pray “Lord, I will offer up to you not laziness but five minutes each day of Scripture reading for the good of my grandmother who is sick.” Or if you want to purify yourself of lust, pray “Lord, I will offer up to you not lustful actions but reading one article each day from the Catechism for my friend who I know is struggling with this.” Or if you want to purify yourself of gossip, pray “Lord, I will offer up to you not gossip but saying one nice thing about someone each day for the salvation of my son who has left the Church.”

Don’t just offer up sins, offer gifts for those you love. The very act works for good in us too. Instead of simply not doing some sin or excess in your life, start doing the opposing virtue. Let a desire for good motivate your Lenten practices. Being the Mystical Body of Christ makes this possible and gives us hope that if we share in His sacrifice then we will one day share in His glory.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Why Does Fr. Hardesty Do That?! Part III: Whispers

Question: What is Fr. Hardesty whispering at various times of the Mass?

Answer: Most of the prayers of the Mass are said in a loud voice and in dialogue with the congregation. Some though are said privately, between the priest and God. The rubric in the missal used to indicate that these prayers are said “silently,” so most priests pray them interiorly. But if prayers that makeup the content of the Mass are simply said interiorly, how could we verify that they were said at all? When the translation of the Missal was recently revised, this rubric was corrected to indicate that the private prayers are said “quietly” (not “silently”) or in a “low voice". This better conveys that they should at least be whispered.

For your edification, here are the private prayers of the Ordinary Form of the Mass:
Before the Deacon proclaims the Gospel, the priest blesses him saying:
“May the Lord be in your heart and on your lips, that you may proclaim his Gospel worthily and well, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”
If the priest proclaims the Gospel himself, he bows before the altar and says:
“Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel”
After proclaiming the Gospel, the priest or the deacon says the following:
“Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away”
After offering the paten the priest or deacon pours a little water into the chalice and says:
“By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity”
After offering the chalice the priest bows profoundly and says:
“With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and my our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God”
Then while washing his hands the priest says:
“Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”
The priest beaks off a small piece from the Host and drops it into the chalice saying:
“May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it”
The priest prepares himself for Communion saying one of two options:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your Death gave life to the world, free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood, from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.” OR
“May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgment and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy.”
Before consuming the Host the priest says:
“May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life”
And before consuming the Precious Blood he says:
“May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life”
Finally, during the purification of the chalice and paten, the priest or deacon says:
“What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.”

In Jesus and Mary,

Fr. Hardesty

7th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year A: We Must Heal the Anger and Division in Our Hearts and in Our Families.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Confession is For the Courageous

GENERAL AUDIENCE: CONFESSION IS FOR THE COURAGEOUS

Vatican City, 19 February 2014 (VIS) – The Holy Father dedicated his catechesis at this Wednesday's general audience to the Sacrament of penance. After touring St. Peter's Square in an open car, greeting the thousands of faithful who applauded as he passed, the Pope explained that “the forgiveness of our sins is not something we can offer to ourselves; it is not the result of our efforts, but rather a gift from the Holy Spirit, which fills us from the wellspring of mercy and grace that surges endlessly from the open heart of Christ, crucified and risen again. … It reminds us that it is only by allowing ourselves to be reconciled through the Lord Jesus with the Father and with our brothers that we may truly be at peace”.

Pope Francis explained that the celebration of this Sacrament has transformed from its previously public nature to the private and reserved form of Confession. However, “this should not lead to the loss of the ecclesiastical matrix, which constitutes its living context. Indeed, the Christian community is the place in which the presence of the Spirit is felt, which renews hearts in God's love and brings all brothers together as one, in Jesus Christ”. He continued, “For this reason, it is not enough to ask for the Lord's forgiveness in our own minds and hearts, but rather it is also necessary to humbly and trustfully confess our sins to a minister of the Church”.

The Bishop of Rome emphasised that the priest does not only represent God, but rather the community as a whole, and that anyone who seeks to confess only to God should remember that our sins are also committed against our brothers and against the Church, which is why it is necessary to ask forgiveness from them too, and to be ashamed for what we have done. “Shame can be good”, he affirmed; “It is good for us to have a certain amount of shame, because to be ashamed can be healthy. When someone has no shame, in my country we describe them as “sin verguenza”, shameless. Shame can be good as it can make us humble, and the priest receives this confession with love and tenderness, and forgives in the name of God. Also from a human point of view, to unburden oneself, it is good to speak with a brother and to tell the priest those things which lie so heavily upon our hearts. And one feels unburdened before God, with the Church, and with a brother. Do not be afraid of Confession!”

The Pontiff went on to ask those present when they last confessed, and strongly urged them not to overlook Confession. “If a long time has passed, do not waste another day, go, the priest will be good. It is Jesus who is there, and Jesus is better than a priest, Jesus will receive you, he will receive you with love. Be courageous and go to Confession! … Every time we confess, God embraces us, God celebrates! Let us go ahead on this path. May God bless you!”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why Does Fr. Hardesty Do That?! Part II: Purifying the Vessels

Question: "Why does Fr. Hardesty take so long to do the dishes after Communion?"

Answer: Well if it was just a matter of doing dishes, they would probably stack up on the credence table (that table beside the servers) until Martha Spalding (my saintly Housekeeper/Cook) came over and washed them! But it’s about more than “doing the dishes,” it’s about purifying sacred vessels. The chalices and ciboria are sacred vessels in that they have been blessed and are intended only for a sacred use. Saying that they are “purified” is not meant to imply that they have been sullied but that they are prepared again for sacred use, for the next Mass. After Mass the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC’s) wash them gently with soap and water in the sacristy to ensure they are sanitary. The EMHC’s cannot purify them at the same time that they wash them because only a Priest, Deacon, or Instituted Acolyte (a seminarian) is allowed to purify the vessels.

Purification also has ritualistic and devotional connotations. So then it’s not about being slow and mechanical but being reverent and careful. St. Thomas Aquinas taught us that, after the consecration, without being scrupulous, what looks like a bread crumb to the naked eye is still the Body of Christ and what looks like a drop of wine is still the Blood of Christ. Therefore I try to be very reverent with how I collect, consume, and/or repose any remaining particles of Hosts or drops of Precious Blood that remain after the distribution of Communion, lest any are lost. I try to go as fast as I can and to be as careful as I can at the same time. Please pray for the Ordination of Rick Fagan to the Permanent Diaconate and pray for him to be assigned to Holy Trinity and Holy Rosary so that he can help expedite the process! It really only takes about 3 minutes to go from the last communicant to the Post-Communion prayer.

I purify the vessels at the altar because our credence table is a little too small to fit everything and because, in the Missal, there is a private prayer between the priest and God that is said during this: "What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity."

Finally, the time after Communion is a beautiful time to speak intimately with the Lord who loves us and is living in us through the Eucharist we have just received. It is a time for praying to the Lord as a friend, thanking him, telling him about our day, asking for his help, etc. If you are praying during this time, then I won’t even be noticed. Enjoy those precious moments of silence that are so hard to find once we step outside of the Church!

In Jesus and Mary,

Fr. Hardesty