Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Lord, you are merciful to all, and hate nothing you have created. You overlook the sins of men to bring them repentance. You are the Lord of all. (Wisdom 11: 24-25.27)

Lord, protect us in our struggle against evil. As we begin the discipline of Lent, make this season holy by our self-denial.

Seven Founders of the Order of Servites (13th century)

Can you imagine seven prominent men of Boston or Denver banding together, leaving their homes and professions, and going into solitude for a life directly given to God? That is what happened in the cultured and prosperous city of Florence in the middle of the thirteenth century. The city was torn with political strife as well as the heresy of the Cathari, who believed that physical reality was inherently evil. Morals were low and religion seemed meaningless. In 1240 seven noblemen of Florence mutually decided to withdraw from the city to a solitary place for prayer and direct service of God. Their initial difficulty was providing for their dependents, since two were still married and two were widowers. Their aim was to lead a life of penance and prayer, but they soon found themselves disturbed by constant visitors from Florence. They next withdrew to the deserted slopes of Monte Senario. In 1244, under the direction of St. Peter of Verona, O.P., this small group adopted a religious habit similar to the Dominican habit, choosing to live under the Rule of St. Augustine and adopting the name of the Servants of Mary. The new Order took a form more like that of the mendicant friars than that of the older monastic Orders.
Members of the community came to the United States from Austria in 1852 and settled in New York and later in Philadelphia. The two American provinces developed from the foundation made by Father Austin Morini in 1870 in Wisconsin. Community members combined monastic life and active ministry. In the monastery, they led a life of prayer, work and silence while in the active apostolate they engaged in parochial work, teaching, preaching and other ministerial activities.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (6.1-6. 16-18)

Jesus said, "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

Call to Holiness
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Religious myth is defined in different ways. In general a ‘religious myth’ is a religious story (of, say, the origins) and the ‘story’ could well be historically true. More commonly it is a story which in some respects is historically and scientifically true, while in others it is, we might say, allegorical. For long periods of history and in various societies, religious myths were the fruit of the religious mind and imagination, and had little or nothing in them of hard fact. The concern driving and creating the myth was not for scientific fact and strict history but for meaning and significance. Most of the myths of the Australian Aboriginal Dreaming, for instance, are of this latter order. One of the markers differentiating an age or stage of this latter kind of religious myth from one in which the concern is for objective fact, is the discovery and insistence on physical laws. The course of events is seen to be dependent not primarily on the intervention and action of the various gods or higher spirits (say, the god of the sea or of war) but on physical laws. These laws are objective, they are capable of being investigated, and they determine the course of the world. A disastrous tidal wave is not due to the irritation of the god Neptune, but to laws of crustal movements and wave propagation in the sea. The fact of objective physical laws is a cornerstone of Western culture. I mention the rise of the appreciation of physical laws as an introduction to another kind of law which, though objective, is often not appreciated in modern culture - and even rejected. I refer to the natural moral law. What supports the modern insistence on physical law and historical fact is that it is empirically verifiable. The modern assumption is that it is only what is empirically verifiable that is factual. But what is empirically verifiable about “goodness”? It is empirically verifiable if “goodness” is reduced to the “useful.” If the law stating that you must be good and not evil is a statement of what will be advantageous for your happiness, then this law is deemed verifiable and therefore acceptable.

This is one reason — though not the only one — why the notion of a natural moral law is viewed with suspicion. But of course the evidence for the natural moral law is everywhere. Whether or not there is legislation to support it, all know that you must not murder. You must not lie or steal. The whole world regards Hitler and Stalin with moral disdain. These two ogres, and others besides, should not have done what they did. The natural moral law is objective and absolute, though not physical. Nor does it ultimately consist in personal advantage. It is absolute, whether or not it is of advantage. The fundamental natural law is that man must do what is good and avoid what is evil. If a man does this he will be good himself — and this he must strive to be. It is a natural law — not a natural physical law, but a natural law of the moral order. While in his heart man senses that his happiness depends on his being good, this law commanding goodness cannot be reduced to a judgment of what ultimately will serve his happiness. Further, within this natural moral law that the mind and heart of man promulgates, there is a summons. It is the summons to be as good as possible and to avoid evil as much as possible. Man is naturally called — commanded, we might say — to be good and holy. Indeed, this is the fundamental law that man is aware of, even more so than the physical laws that govern his life and his world. He is commanded from his depths to be good, and he desires from his depths to be good. He has a natural aspiration to holiness and this natural law is confirmed by God himself who in his revelation commands holiness. Be holy, he said, for I am holy — and this is done by observing his commandments. But how is this to be done, because man observes within himself yet another law fighting against the natural moral law commanding goodness? It is a law of self-seeking that drags him along into sin, and which prompts him to reject, deny and be suspicious of the higher law within him that summons him to be good by doing what is good.

At the start of Lent, the Church reminds us that Christ has made holiness possible for us, and that “now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation” (II Corinthians 6:2). Lent is a time of special grace and opportunity, and we must seize the chance. It is the chance to grow in what we most need, in what we most want, and in what is most required of us: goodness. God is active in our lives leading us to sanctity, but we must do our part. The Church identifies three areas of struggle and effort: prayer, penance, and practical charity, and our Lord comments on each in our Gospel passage today (Matthew 6: 1-6.16-18). The danger will be that we will not get down to it, but leave it all for another day. Thus life will pass and our yearnings will come to nothing.

No comments:

Post a Comment