Here is another Lenten reflection from a priest from the Institute of the Incarnate Word, IVE, which is for the week of the 4th Sunday of Lent. This is by Fr Marcelo Navarro who is based in Rome. This is a summary of St Thomas Aquinas's commentary on this Letter of the Apostle and focusses on important virtues for Lenten Season.
In those days, God delivered the commandments: 1 Ex 20:1-17. Here is another Lenten reflection from a priest from the Institute of the Incarnate Word, IVE, which is for the week of the 3rd Sunday of Lent. This is by Fr Nicholas Grace who is in Cowdenbeath, Scotland.
“I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery…I am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for wickedness but mercy…on those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Considering this text, I would like, in this article, to focus on two things in a very brief manner.
First: The Natural Law, written by God on every human heart.
Second: What are the Ten Commandments & Why they are so important.
The Natural Law, written by God on every human heart: Every member of Nature, every plant, every animal has a law which makes them tend to their goal, which makes them work.
Every human being has a law and must remain faithful to it if they are going to reach their goal if they are going to function correctly. This is called man’s Natural law.
Why is it called natural? This Law is rooted in a set of natural inclinations to specific goods. Natural inclinations toward Self-preservation, toward having and raising children, toward knowing the truth about God and living in society. It is imprinted in our hearts. It doesn’t have to be taught or learned. Like our DNA or genetic code, we also have this moral code weaved into our very being. How does it function? -This law, through our intelligence, tells us what is right for us, what is wrong for us, what is good for us & what is bad for us. When our actions conform to this law they help us fulfill our purpose in life & are thereby right & morally good. Similarly, when our actions are at variance with this law, they deter us from that purpose and are therefore wrong & immoral. Some examples: The law of our Nature tells us that… ● Nourishing our bodies is right, but overindulging to the detriment of health is wrong.
● Self-preservation is right, but selfishness is wrong.
● To love another person is good, but to love someone already seriously committed to another is not.
Now while it is easy to recognize that this knowledge comes naturally to us, we must also admit, very often, that same knowledge is rejected. In fact, the modern Western World is in a moral crisis. Institutions and governments often deny the Existence of the Natural law inscribed in every human heart. This denial has assisted in the spread of a morality not based on human nature but based on an easily manipulated social consensus. Is there a consequence? This denial means that all moral opinions become valid.
Why is that a problem? Values become distorted. Take tolerance, it has been distorted to promote a society where no one's choices are criticised because criticism might make someone feel bad.
Why is that a problem? Isn’t it best to make people feel nice? People’s feelings are easily manipulated and once manipulated evil can be called good & good can be called evil, evil vices can be presented as virtues and virtues as vices to the point where feelings totally outrank reason.
Is there a solution? We already have it!. God in his Wisdom and as a convenience, explicitly revealed the Ten Commandments, which very clearly express all those Laws already written in the heart of man, but often conveniently ignored because of the stubbornness and selfishness of man.
What are the Ten Commandments & Why are they so important? As an exercise say and name aloud each of the Ten Commandments. Then consider: If everyone in the world kept even half of them would the quality of life on our planet improve? Would human beings be working so much better?
The answer is, of course, YES, because the Commandments aren’t just Religious guidelines, they are also God’s design for work, for families, for friendships and for society as a whole. A: We can compare the Ten Commandments to the handbook for a car. A car is a complicated piece of machinery, and the maker’s handbook tells you how to take care of our car properly so that you can get the most out of it. The Ten Commandments are God’s handbook for human beings.
Why else are they so important?
Many people no longer respect God’s authority. As a result, they no longer respect authority of any kind, whether politicians, parents, Priests, teachers or employers and the secular, as well as, the Religious community suffer greatly because of this lack of respect.
We live in an age of Moral Relativism: All Morality is relative. All truth is relative. Unfortunately, the more everyone makes up his or her own truths, the less truth there will be. The Ten Commandments preserve for us the ten most important truths.
There is tremendous ignorance about God. The Commandments remind the world of his existence, manifest his plan and express his personality.
Finally, The Commandments are extremely important, but they are not everything. For this reason, I would like to conclude this article with a story which might illustrate my point. It is a missionary story which concerns the Taliabo people of Indonesia. “Many years ago, two families from New Tribes Mission, moved in with the Taliabo to live with them and learn their language. They began teaching the Scriptures, working their way forward to Christ and the Gospel. However, soon after the missionaries taught the people the Ten Commandments, a group of men visited them at their hut.
We are in big trouble with God. God’s law tells us not to kill, but we have killed other men. God’s law tells us not to steal, but we have stolen. We have broken God’s commandments, but we did not know that God commanded these things. From now on, we will keep God’s Commandments.
A couple of weeks later they returned to the missionaries’ hut. We are in really big trouble with God. Now we know God’s Commandments, but we still break them”.
I wanted the story to underline to those reading this article that, although God has written his law in our hearts we cannot keep it. Even though God has revealed his law through his prophets, we cannot keep it. The Taliabo people, just like the people of Israel, broke almost every Commandment immediately after receiving them.
The point is that Knowledge of the law is not enough. Knowing what is right does not confer power to do what is right, as Socrates incorrectly supposed. That is why, we have doctors who smoke, financial advisors who are in debt, and marriage counselors who are divorced!
The Ten Commandments do not remedy our sins; rather they reveal them and underline our need for a Saviour who can forgive them. That Saviour is Jesus Christ.
This Lent let us make a great effort to, not only, live by following the Ten Commandments but also seek Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, when we will probably fail in our best efforts to keep the Commandments.
'When we give up sin, properly speaking, we’re not making a sacrifice.'
In anticipation of the Second Sunday in Lent, here is another Lenten reflection from a priest from the Institute of the Incarnate Word, IVE, and we are delighted that they have taken the time to do so. This focuses on the nature of sacrifice and is by Fr. Nathaniel Dreyer from their seminary, the Venerable Fulton Sheen Seminary, close to Washington DC.
In common with all that I see in the charism of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, Fr Nathaniel stresses the great joy that is on offer through the Faith. Even in sacrifice, the rewards are greater. This is what attracted me to Catholicism originally - I was lucky I think to be guided to the Church, over 25 years ago now, by someone who was himself a joyful man and was adamant that we can have a happy life in the here and now through Christ.
I have chosen the art to accompany this meditation. In the passage below there is a reference to St Ephrem the Syrian's commentary, in which he asserts that Abraham reacted with joy when he saw the ram caught in the bush, because he anticipated that this was the Lamb of God and understood, perhaps albeit dimly, what was to come. The last painting below makes this explicit by showing not a lamb or ram, but Christ on the cross in the scene with Abraham. What is intriguing is that the painter is Chagall, who was Jewish.
Fr Nathaniel writes:
The account of God’s call to Abraham and the near-sacrifice of Isaac cannot fail to rattle us, especially in this time of Lent, when we’re reminded more frequently God calls us to sacrifice. There are three things that really call our attention about the whole scene: first, that initial call from God and Abraham’s response, second, the way God describes Isaac, and, third, the reward that Abraham receives for his willingness to sacrifice. In turn, we can apply each of these to our lives, and consider how we respond to the sacrifices that God asks of us.
That initial call from God and Abraham’s response is the first thing that sticks out. “God put Abraham to the test,” we’re told, “and said to him: ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am!’ he replied.” Then God gives instructions on how Isaac is to be sacrificed. First, notice Abraham’s prompt reply: to the sound of his name, a personal call uttered only once, Abraham replies, “Here I am!” Contrast this to Adam and Eve, after the fall, when they hid out of shame, and God had to ask, “Where are you?” although He already knew they were far from Him because of sin. On the contrary, the one who really wants to do God’s will is prompt to reply, and that exclamation, “Here I am!” expresses a willingness to do anything, to go anywhere, and to give up anything. If we are to have truly generous hearts, we can’t set limits on what we will do for God; we can’t tell Him, “This far, but no farther.” We must trust in God; when He calls, and we see clearly what it is He asks of us, we should neither doubt nor hesitate. It’s interesting that God speaks to Abraham in the beginning, but the rest of the interactions that Abraham has with God are done through an angel; God speaks once, and then Abraham must walk the lonely road to the mountain by faith.
Regarding the second, God gives a very beautiful description of Isaac to Abraham: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love.” It would’ve been enough to say simply “Isaac,” but God emphasizes that Isaac is an “only son” and “beloved.” In other words, God emphasizes the difficulty of the sacrifice. He’s not asking for just any old sacrifice; He’s asking for something that hurts, something that is more precious to Abraham than anything else he has or possesses. He’s asking Abraham to sacrifice the child of the promise, the one he had waited so long for. When we give up sin, properly speaking, we’re not making a sacrifice; there is nothing sacrificial in ceasing to steal, or to lie, or to gossip. Rather, the word sacrifice comes from the Latin sacra, holy or sacred, and facere, to make.
When we make a sacrifice, we are taking something that is good, something we could have without sin, and offering it to God, taking a good thing and making it even better by giving it to the Almighty. Opportunities abound every day for making sacrifices: it might be as small as sacrificing my time in order to be with the sick or the elderly, or even simply to be patient with relatives or coworkers who annoy me; it might be sacrificing a snack or an outing and using that money for charity. However, it could also be something as great as sacrificing my dreams, my hopes, and what I want (or what I think I want) in order to give myself completely to God, be it in a vocation to religious life or priesthood, or to a spouse and family in marriage.
We shouldn’t think that God doesn’t know how hard it is, or how difficult it is to sacrifice. God knows, and He knows better than we do. In Matthew’s Gospel (19:27-30) Peter, speaking for the Apostles and, for all those who leave things to follow Christ, asks about the reward for those who give up everything, even the little they had: “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” Notice the list of things that Jesus mentions giving up: “Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.”
This passage follows right after the rich young man had gone away sad because he had many material possessions, and it’s quite probable that Peter had his material goods in mind: his fishing boat, his house, and so on. The word Peter uses just means, “everything.” Yet, Jesus replies a specific list of things, the majority of which aren’t simply material goods, but, we could say, more spiritual. The list starts with material goods, namely, houses, then more spiritual ones, family members, and ends, oddly, with the Greek ἀγροὺς, meaning “fields” or “lands,” which would seem to be simply material. Yet, it’s important to remember that fields in the Bible aren’t simply physical places: they are part of a family’s inheritance and future, and fields are not only the place where things are planted and grown, but also where cattle can be raised, battles fought, and the dead buried. In other words, fields are full of potential, full of future possibilities and dreams. In our lives we surrender all that to Jesus, and it’s as though Jesus responds by saying, “I know exactly what you have given up for my sake, even more than you know”; indeed, He’s the only one who really knows. The God who tells us through Isaiah, “See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name” (Is 49:16), and in the Psalm that “our tears are stored in His flask, recorded in His book?” (cf. Ps 56:9), will not let anything we give up be forgotten. He takes all of that, and opens to us a hundred more possibilities as He takes our futures into His hands: as He said through the prophet Jeremiah: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (29:11).
Regarding the third, Abraham receives a great reward for his willingness to surrender everything to God. The book of Genesis presents us with a long list of rewards, but one, perhaps even greater reward, is missing. This reward is mentioned by Christ Himself in John’s Gospel (8:56): “Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.” Saint Ephrem comments that Abraham rejoiced when he saw the lamb caught in the bush, because he saw in it the future Lamb of God, who was to take away the sins of the world. In that moment, he caught a glimpse of the salvation that was to come, a time when yet another only-Begotten, Beloved Son would head to the summit of a mountain, but this time, that Son wouldn’t escape sacrifice. The rewards from God far outweigh the sacrifices we make for Him, because in them we can catch a glimpse of the reward that is to come. God is not outdone in generosity, and, although the sacrifice might be difficult, God always gives His grace, and “with dawn comes rejoicing.” Lest we forget, the evening of Abraham’s rejoicing probably started out as the worst morning of his life, as he led Isaac out into the middle of nowhere to kill him.
For us, then, we need to be prepared to give everything we have to God. Perhaps, as in the case of Abraham, it will be enough simply to offer it, even though our hearts might break. He might simply ask that we purify our attachment to things, and then leave them to us, with our hearts set on Him alone. Perhaps, though, God will ask that we do indeed surrender it to Him, sacrificing it to Him and His adorable will. What God wants is always what is truly best for us, and we must be convinced of this with the certainty of faith.
If we really want to be saints, then we must be willing to sacrifice everything for Him. What good does anything in this life do, if I’m not willing to give it to God. We can ask ourselves: what is God asking me to sacrifice to Him? What is it that He asks me to give to Him, or to Him through others? Where is my heart set? Where is my treasure? What holds me back from giving everything to God? Through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, let us ask for the grace to have minds ready for sacrifice, and wills ready to leave everything to follow Christ.
Lent: A Pathway Between Two Gardens
From a priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word
We are now in the first week of Lent. In order to aid our passage through this important liturgical season, we offer weekly meditations. Each is written by a priest from the Institute of the Incarnate Word, IVE, and we are delighted that they have taken the time to do so. The first focuses on some general thoughts for Lent and is by Fr Brian Dinkel, Pastor of Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara, CA. He writes:
With due reason, the archetypal setting for the Lenten season is the desert. The arid desolate land that purges us from the attachment to the comfortable life of sin, which goes no further than self-satisfaction. What about Gardens? As much as our senses and inclination to comfort may need some desert time for detachment, so too might our intellect and will need some time spent in the Gardens for conversion. Let us explain.
The Old Testament line that inaugurates Lent for most is: “Remember you are dust and unto dust, you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) These words are spoken in a Garden, Eden. In this Garden, through an act of disobedience, Adam and Eve turned from God. This is followed by what Bl.John Henry Newman wittingly describes as “The original excuse.” (Cf., Bl. John Henry Newman, Oxford University Sermons, Sermon 8) First Adam points to Eve saying, “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree,” and then Eve places the onus on the serpent, saying, “the snake tricked me, so I ate it.” (Genesis 3,12-13) In another other Garden, Gethsemane, we witness a supreme act of obedience to the Father.
Jesus speaks to His Father with child-like simplicity: “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless, not My will, but Thine, be done.” (Mt 26,42) In this Garden, however, He makes Himself the excuse for everyone else. The Garden of Eden is where life is springing forth on all sides, but selfishness leads to death. In Gethsemane, death is all-encompassing, but in this garden, selflessness leads to life.
His soul was sad to the point of death. He felt within His soul a sadness that was deep enough to cause the feeling of death. The Greek adjective περίλυπος (perilypos: from peri‐ around + lypé sorrow, grief) means properly, around‐sorrowful, that is, sorrowful all around, encompassed with sorrow; i.e. exceedingly sorrowful. (Cf., Mt 26,38) Therefore, the Jesus Christ, as St. Paul describes it, became sin, “for our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin.” (2 Cor 5,21) The moral sufferings of Jesus were without comparison; they were tremendous; they were of greater suffering than the very nails that pierced His hands and His feet. It was so intense that He sweat blood. After all of this agony, He calls us into communion with Him this day. He gives us the blessing to be with Him, to receive Him, to be in communion with Him.
We have to look at, take ownership of, and reject what we have done. We must also acknowledge and cherish what He did, for me, in order for my heart to begin to change. One needs to see the darkness and evil of sin, that it is mine alone, and that Jesus – the Innocent Lamb – has taken it upon Himself to free me from them. As Pope St. John Paul taught, “Sin is an integral part of the truth about the human person. To recognize oneself as a sinner is the first and essential step in returning to the healing love of God.”
I need to see this, I need to look at this, in order for there to be real, lasting change; otherwise, I never see myself honestly, nor do I give the great price that Jesus paid for me an honest consideration. Our faith, religion, is more than pursuing happiness or self-realization – it is friendship and love. He took on a terrible amount of filth for me and He continues to call me like a loving friend who says: “forget about it – I don’t condemn you, I absolve you and forgive you, but go and sin no more.”
Our hearts must change. Ash will probably not do it, but maybe God—so meek and humble who came down from heaven, clothed Himself in our sins and poured forth blood from every pore of His body—will.
Here, in this Garden, Jesus places the sins of all human beings upon His shoulders. Thinking of the circumstances, the number, the malice, the ugliness, my own sins, . . . sins of a culture, of a society, of governments, our uncontrollable pride that in the name of liberty we unhinge ourselves from subjection and when faced with our ruin we place the blame on God who did not intervene or we reject Him altogether. He who knew no sin, placed upon himself all of this.
He can take away from these awful things something good – His Passion is our Redemption. He wanted to give us the sacraments. Therefore, no matter how bad our sins may be, or have been, God’s love is Greater – out of love for us He clothed Himself in this suffering. 2. Love – the love of God for each and every one of the members of His Mystical Body. Jesus saw all of His disciples, those who would follow Him, He also saw all of our infidelities. How we place our affections on material things, the insults that we make towards one another, the divisions, the hatred, the calumny, . . . He saw the lukewarmness and indifference of His friends.
He saw all of this, the martyrs of all times, the sufferings of the members of His body. He suffered these as if it were His own body. These were His members. The innocent ones who were forgotten or abused, thrown away by a society. For this reason, we know that Jesus suffered when we suffer. And this produces a profound suffering in His person. The Father in His infinite Love sent an angel to console Him, as His friends could not stay awake and watch one hour with Him.
Paintings are by Bosch, Goya, and Tiepolo respectively.
From: The Rule of St Benedict, Chapter 49 ‘The Observance of Lent’ ‘We urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times. This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge in evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self denial’ A small group from Thomas More College of Liberal Arts went for an evening Lenten retreat at the Benedictine Abbey in Still River, Massachusetts. As in our last visit (link here) we arrived for Vespers at 6pm, and then were the guests of the community for dinner. After dinner we had a talk from one of the brothers of the community and after individual reading or prayer we went to Compline before returning home. Just as before, it was a great experience for all of us.
To begin his talk the brother of the community who took care of us (most graciously too I might add) read the short chapter from the Rule of St Benedict on Lent. He told he was going to talk about a form of meditation called ‘compunction of the heart’. Before he described it he asked us who had heard of this. No hands went up. I have read the rule a number of times and so must have read the phrase each time, but it had never registered with me that it might be technique that I could practice. I must have just skipped over the words.
Here is my recollection and understanding of what he told us (any confusion present is likely mine, not his!): each time we go through the sacrament of reconciliation, the process of repentance, confession and forgiveness of sins moves us closer to God. The desire for reconciliation can be motivated both positively and negatively. The negative is the desire to be closer to God driven by a fear of the consequences of our sin and a need to escape the discontent of our guilt; and the positive is a genuine desire to be closer to God again for his own sake by healing the wound of separation. While the positive is better than the negative, either is better than none at all.
When we practice compunction of the heart, we recall our sins of the past and relive that motivation to be close to God but separated from the sin that caused it. We must be clear that sin has been confessed and forgiven, and so we are not to re- confess. However the recollection of that motivation to be with God and the desire to be Him can be used to spur us on to closer to him now.
We can do this anywhere – it is something that works well in snatched moments in a busy day.
Since this was our introduction to the idea, we were encouraged to read about it and find out more. We were warned also that if we tried it we should be sure that is was leading us to God. If it was a reliving of the sins of the past that was us to self-pity, we should probably stop and seek guidance. Also, he said, this is a something that is suited to a busy lay life because we really can do this anywhere. It works well for instance if we dwell on these thought for just a few snatched moments in a busy day.
So the next time I join the line for the supermarket checkout, who knows, perhaps some of those in front of me, apparently daydreaming while they wait are in fact practicing compunction of the heart.
Images: Ribera, (Spanish, 17th century) the Penitent St Peter; and the Penitent St Mary Magdalen
Below, people in a line for the bank teller, possible practising compunction of the heart.
And, below, relics of saints practising compunction of the heart.