As 21st-century believers, we readily acknowledge that we have never walked with the earthly Jesus, but we have walked with those who witness His resurrected life and follow in His steps. Saint Paul calls us ‘ambassadors for Christ.’ When people ask what it means to be Christian, we can, without words, show them.
But realistically, we know that none of us perfectly image Christian virtue. Mahatma Gandhi once said that he had no problem with Christian virtue though he did have a problem with Christians. We deal with the paradox every day. And every day, we are reminded through Scripture and our Traditions in the confidence we have that God sent Jesus, Who never sinned, to bear on His shoulders our sin so that we might become righteous before God.
Ash Wednesday is the time we, as believers, enter into the desert of our hearts. We will, hopefully, encounter there our imperfections and our sins; the times when we were deceived into believing we were doing the right thing, when all the time we were just choosing the easy thing. We will rely on what the Church gives us and on Holy Scripture to lift us up onto the shoulders of Jesus Who comes to ‘make all things new;’ Who comes to set us free of our burdens and create in us ‘the new man,’ who will stand as righteous before the Face of God.
Great things can happen this Lent if you are willing to break down the walls that vice builds and accept the hand of your savior Who is ready to lift you up; firmly reestablishing a relationship of purity and grace with the Father Who calls us to begin our walk into a desert where fear and temptation abound but do not conquer.
Only fear and arrogance will prevent us from seeing the truth: that Jesus conquered death and He is victorious. If we dare to see and hear and speak about how we came to believe in Him, others will follow.
The Scripture today gives us remedies to begin the healing process completed in the Sacrament of Confession: give alms, pray and fast…do these things quietly and privately so no one will see you.
Keep these three tools near you this Lent, use them to open your heart to the Word and Sacrament of Jesus. Become ‘pure of heart’ so that you may come to see God, face to face.
Be serious then, as we begin this Lenten time about what you are about to do. Be serious about your soul and in fighting the great deception of the Evil One. If you are genuine about getting to heaven, heed the words of Paul and heed them well:
‘We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. Working together…do not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: ‘In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
Exodus is a Book well worth reading this Lent. It reflects on the nature of man and how stiff-necked and arrogant we can become both as individuals and as a community if we begin to deny the effects God has on His People: “…we cried to the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry… He brought us out of Egypt; with his strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders; and bringing us into this country, he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.”
Over the past 48 years, the idea of original sin has faded from our common language. 263 – As a result, we are losing an appreciation for the fact that every human being, while created Good in the image and likeness of God, possesses a strong inclination to do evil by the continual efforts of our senses and appetites that lead our souls into sin. The body is inclined to rebel against the soul, and the soul itself to rebel against God.
This inclination to sin is an effect of original sin. Sin is a reality not only in our private life but in our communal life as well. There seems to be a growing tendency to believe that we can create our own world which others must accept as moral truth. Even the word ‘moral,’ is taking on an unconnected tone: meaning that anyone who doesn’t help make ‘my truth’ a reality is immoral.
Jesus revealed that sin is an alienation from God as well as an alienation from what is truly human. The devil understands how easily we can be deceived into believing there is no God outside ourselves. Sin is, in fact, the absence of God or the ignoring of God as Creator, as a reality of Persons, Who are separate from, yet active in, our lives, both communal and individual.
264 –There is an emphasis today on how helpless we are in controlling our lower appetites as if we never possessed a rational thought. Making decisions based solely on emotion always leads to spiritual and intellectual disaster. God gifts us free will that by His grace we may discipline ourselves to think critically and strengthen our character.
Sin is real my friends. If we ignore it, it will grow stronger. Let us for a moment turn to the old catechism for a lesson. 245 – ‘Sin is divided into the sin we inherit called original sin, and the sin we commit ourselves, called actual sin.’ 278 – Actual sin is any intentional thought, word, deed, or omission that contrary to the law of God. Omission is my conscious pretending not to know that I am disobeying a commandment of God or Precept (law) of the Church.
274 – Actual sin is subdivided into greater sins, called mortal or grave, and lesser sins, called venial.
280 – Mortal sin is a grievous offense against the law of God.281-This sin is called mortal because it deprives us of spiritual life, which is sanctifying grace, and brings everlasting death and damnation on the soul.282- To make a sin mortal, three things are necessary: the sin must be considered mortal, the person must know it is mortal and they must give full consent of the will to commit the sin.
A good examination of conscience can found on our parish website:mdpparish.com
285 The purposeful ignoring of sin, the insufficient reflection upon the thought, word or deed, and the willful lack of full consent is an example of a soul lost to the deception of the Evil One.
The only way mortal sins can be forgiven is by confession to a priest. Venial sins or lesser sins can be forgiven by confession, the reception of Holy Communion or a good Act of Contrition.
Because mortal sins are grievous acts against the law of God, the sinner has placed him/herself outside of Communion with Christ and thus has chosen not to receive Holy Communion. It is mortal sin to receive Holy Communion while in a state of mortal sin.
Pretending that it is ‘ok’ to receive Holy Communion is willfully ignoring the Commandment of God to ‘keep holy the Lord’s Day.’
Vacations, concerts, sports practices or games are not excuses for missing Mass. There is no excuse outside of illness or a serious act of charity in a life or death situation that excuses one from worshipping God in Church on Sundays and Holy Days.
Educating children to rely on excuses to pretend that grave sins are not being committed is in itself a grievous matter for confession.
What I would like to do in these next few weeks of Lent is talk about the Vices and the Virtues to conquer them.
Make no mistake, we will be tempted even as Jesus was tempted. But, there will be lessons to be learned by our going into the desert of Lent: First, “One does not live on bread alone.”Second, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” Third, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
Take these lessons home with you this week; think about how you fulfill them in your family life. Discuss them with your children and your spouse. Pray over them with your patron saints to help you.
This Lent will not be the end of our being tempted or deceived but, if we are faithful, the devil will be frustrated and he will ‘depart for a time,’ for his powers will be laid bare and the victory of Christ over him will be revealed. The question is, do you believe!
SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT
“I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.”
These are powerful words for us who are about to enter our second week in the desert; a place of confrontation between good and evil, but where evil has no place for it is conquered already by Christ’s victory on the Cross.
Pope Gregory in 590 AD created a list of virtues that combat the seven deadly vices. Vices or Capital Sins can easily enslave us and can deceitfully entrap us in a state of sin and of spiritual laziness; condemning us to spiritual death. These deadly vices are: Pride, Anger, Gluttony, Lust, Sloth, Envy and Covetousness. Capital Sins enslave us help us lose hope.
But, there are virtues which can overcome them and free us form the chains of sin and brighten the darkness that sin brings into the world. These virtues are chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.
This week I would like to address Pride/Humility, Anger/Patience and Gluttony/Temperance.
296-Pride is an excessive love of self and our own ability; so that we would rather sinfully disobey than humble ourselves.297-Pride spawns in our souls sinful ambition, excessive vanity, presumption and hypocrisy.
Pride blinds us to sin. Satan covers pride in fear, fear that our hypocrisy will become known and we will fall and be looked upon as inferior.
What conquers pride? Humility, the Queen of all virtues. St. Augustine said, ’If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is humility. Not that there are no other precepts to give, but if humility does not precede all that we do, our efforts our meaningless.’
The reason is that one cannot have faith without being humble first. To be humble or meek is simply to see things as they truly are without any drama or exaggeration. We ought to ask, ‘What am I?’ The answer is that I am a human being who desires perfect happiness, but cannot achieve it because of my limitations. I need someone Who is above me to give me the power to achieve that goal. Until I see myself that way, which I truly am, then I cannot have faith.’
Saint John Vianney said, “Humility is to the various virtues what the chain is to a rosary. Take away the chain and the beads are scattered; remove humility, and all virtues vanish.’
How can I humble myself before God? Begin by praying on your knees, whenever you get a chance, kneel. We used to kneel to receive Holy Communion as an act of humility; and be grateful, Gratitude is the key to humility.
The next Capital Sin is Anger. 302-Anger is an excessive emotion of the mind, not righteous anger, that is excited against any person or thing, or it is an excessive desire for revenge. 303-Anger begets in our souls, impatience, hatred, irreverence, and too often the habit of cursing or potential violence either mentally or physically.
The remedy to Anger is Patience. Patience is the ability to endure difficult situations such as holding back ridicule when things aren’t going as quickly as you might expect, staying calm and still if aggravated without responding with annoyance or anger and remaining self-controlled when under stress or strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties. Patience is the level of endurance one can have before negativity. It is being single-minded in your effort not to become angry at the expense of others.
Practicing self-control is an important tool for gaining patience; deep breath, short or long prayer, and a smile on your face.
304 -Gluttony is an excessive desire for food or drink by which a person deprives himself of the use of his reason by his excessive or unconscious eating or drinking. 306-Deliberate drunkenness is always a grave sin if the person becomes completely deprived of the use of reason by it. 307- Habitual drunkenness injures the body, weakens the mind, leads its victim into many vices and exposes him to the danger of dying in a state of mortal sin. I think we underestimate the dangers of ever causal drinking if we have too much.
Temperance on the other hand is the moderation in action, thought, or feeling: restraint or habitual moderation in the indulgence of the appetites or passions. It also warns a person to be moderate in or abstinence from the use of alcoholic or food.
Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Temperance is simply a disposition of the mind which sets boundaries for the passions.” Plato wrote, “The first and best victory is to conquer self.” Aristotle wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act, but a habit”.
Saint Paul warns us that “no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrew 12:11-13
Remember the tools Jesus gave you from the beginning of Lent: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Use these well and you will overcome what burdens you. As Saint Paul says today, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body (of appetites) to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into mastery to himself.”
Jesus takes us in this Lent time by the hand. He leads up to this mountain to pray. “Master it is good for us to be here.” We come here, not alone, we come together as a parish, to worship Him Who responds to our obedience by acclaiming that we too, are His chosen ones. He looks out into this parish, into our Upper Merion community, into our Philadelphia region and says, “Listen to Him.” “Therefore, my brothers and sisters…in this way stand firm in the Lord.”
Third Sunday of Lent
For the past few weeks of Lent, I have been speaking about the Seven Capital Sins and how living the Virtues heroically can overcome them. I would like to consider what seem to be two very powerful vices. Yet we know these vices have no power over us at all because Christ conquered death on the Cross. Vice only has power over those who have allowed themselves to be deceived into believing they are powerless in overcoming them.
300- Lust is an excessive desire for the sinful pleasures forbidden by the Sixth Commandment. 301 – Lust generates in our souls a distaste for holy things, a distorted conscience, a hatred for God, and it very frequently leads to a complete loss of faith.
We have read and heard about the destruction caused by pornography and how it lessens our ability to relate as human beings with those we love. Adultery even in the mind denigrates true love which only God can give and we can share.
Jesus gave us the Beatitudes, one of which is “blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” The Old Testament is filled with the language of destruction for all those who allow their lower appetites to lead them away from purity. Today’s culture lures especially the young into this deadly sin. We have to be vigilant over ourselves and our children in this regard.
In Exodus we hear, “God said, “Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. …I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Chastity, on the other hand,is the state of purity in all three vocations in life: single, married and celibate. It is the freedom from immorality, especially of a sexual nature. This is why God tells Moses to take off his shoes, but before the presence of God, all of us are expected to be pure. “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.”
This is why the sacrament of Confession is so important, especially now that the Virtue of Chastity is being forgotten or ignored and so many temptations and deceptions are afflicting our people; single, married and celibate.
It is critical that we practice a solid examination of conscience every day and teach our young people how to do the same with humility.
A good examination of conscience can found on our parish website: mdpparish.com
Once we have gone to confession, a great sense of peace and purpose comes over us and we can truly sing with David: “Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.”
The next capital sin is Sloth and this is connected with sensuality. It proceeds from a love of pleasure, inasmuch as it inclines us to avoid having effort in the spiritual life, especially in prayer or sacramental practice. All of us have a tendency to follow the line of least resistance, which can lessen or even paralyze our single-minded devotion to Christ.
When sloth is related to the soul it is called spiritual sloth. This consists in a certain dislike for things spiritual, which tends to make us negligent in the performance of our exercises of piety (prayer, the sacraments etc.), causes us to shorten them or to omit them altogether for vain excuses. In order to understand the malice of sloth we have to remember that man was made to work. When God created Adam and Eve he placed them in the garden Eden “to cultivate and care for it” (Gen. 2:15).
Our salvation too, while not rooted in our action but on the action of Christ, does expect that we will respond to His Grace by living, sometimes even heroically the Virtues. We are not perfect but we are called to be perfecting in living out the Christian Way of life.
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ’For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So, cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ’Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”
The Virtue of Diligence can counteract the effects of Sloth and bring us to God; this is the desire to be inspired by the zeal of Divine Love. He is patient, He is kind but He will not interfere with our free will.” This passage seems to refer to being conscientious in the practice of our faith and encouraging others to do the same. If we make the effort to participate fully in the life of the Church and be firm in what the Church teaches, others may follow our example.
Every new convert or re-convert to the Catholic Church is a blow to the Devil. If we become like the fig tree, which produces no fruit, then what is the point of our profession of the Creed at Mass today? If we take no action on what we have seen and heard from the Mountain of the Lord, there will be no reaction from others who may be seeking a Way to happiness and peace.
It is wholesome to make the effort to be a good and committed Catholic and an example to those who have lost their way. In the Harry Potter series, Albus Dumbledore said, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”
Heaven is not attained by doing what is easy, my friends, but by doing what is right. Begin with confession: “Repent, says the Lord; the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”And then you will be able to say with all your heart: “He pardons all my iniquities, heals all my ills, He redeems my life from destruction, crowns me with kindness and compassion.”
FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT
For the past few weeks of Lent, I have been speaking about the Seven Capital Sins and how living the Virtues heroically can overcome them. It seems that in our society pleasure is becoming almost an idol. Commercials and social media filled with ideas about how one can make life more pleasurable. Somehow, I do not think that Jesus, looking down from the Cross, was thinking about how to make our lives more pleasurable.
Today, I want to reflect with you on the sins of covetousness and envy with their remedy which are charity and kindness.
Pleasure is the fleeting gratification over things or persons. The Greek god of pleasure was called Narcissus.He was considered the most beautiful human being in the world. He loved no one till he saw his own reflection in water and fell in love with that; finally, he wasted away, died, and was turned into the flower of like name.
Pleasure is fleeting. ‘How I feel,’ is not the end of reasonable decision making.
The Capital Sin of Covetousness is related to material things, which is portrayed this morning in the story of the Prodigal Son. The Son wants his material inheritance now, so he can enjoy it. And he does enjoy it until he becomes destitute. In his obsessed desire to obtain pleasure he squandered everything he had.
The son becomes filled with regret and shame: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.” Every sin no matter how small or how private, is a sin against the self and against the community. Our parish becomes lesser in its effectiveness burdened by the sinfulness of its members.
298 - Covetousness is an excessive or inordinate desire for worldly things, especially those that belong to someone else. It can be described as a ‘craving for possessions.’ 299 – Covetousness provokes in our souls, unkindness, dishonesty, deceit and a lack of charity.
This particular sin is most deceitful in that we can easily channel our craving into gossip, backstabbing and even plotting to do damage or harm to another person.
We can defeat covetousness with Charity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines “charity” as “the virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God”.
Anyone can perform ‘community service,’ for the sake of those in need. But Christ calls us higher. As Catholics, we do not perform ‘random act of kindness,’ because our acts are never random. Our acts are deliberate acts of Charity. I love those who are poorer, or who are lost because in them I see the face of Jesus. The kindness I give is the kindness I first received from Jesus Whom I love above all things.
Saint Catherine of Siena wrote: “Charity is the sweet and holy bond which links the soul with its Creator: it binds God with man and man with God.”
The next Capital Sin is Envy. 309 - Envy is a feeling of sadness at another’s person’s good fortune and joy if evil comes upon him. When we are envious of someone we feel offended by the good of another person as if we would benefit by the other person’s suffering. 310 – The effect of envy on the soul can be devastating because in the soul is created a severe lack of charity for human persons and produces a spirit of meanness and a willingness to lessen the dignity of a person with petty criticisms and slander. Envy robs the victim of their dignity as a child of God.
Kindness on the other hand, is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit; the quality of understanding, sympathy and concern for those in trouble or need. It is shown in courtesy of speech, generosity of conduct, and forgiveness of injuries sustained.
Saint Francis De Sales wrote, “You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working, and just so, you learn to love by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves.”
Of all the vices, we have reflected on this Lent 308 – the three that would cause most evil in the world, I think, are drunkenness, dishonesty and impurity. We should make every effort to avoid them by making an added effort to defend ourselves against them by living out the virtuous life heroically.
David sang in the psalm today, “I sought the LORD, and he delivered me from all my fears. Look to him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame.
There is great hope this Laetare Sunday, that we have made it this far in our Lenten practices and are realizing what it means to be Christ in the world. “Whoever is in Christ, is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold new things have come. So, we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Come to your senses, then, and see that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. Why die in your hunger for real happiness when you can get up and go to the Father and ask to be reconciled with Him. Get up! Go to Confession and allow the Father to embrace you and say, “this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’