Reflections on Blessed John Henry Newman’s Lenten Sermon

Sermons

According to the English Catholic priest-cardinal John Henry Newman, “Growth is the only evidence of life.” Life is then most apparent in the springtime with the bursting and budding of flowers, trees, and whistling of birds. Winter precedes this era of new life. Is it not interesting that within nature newness of life springs forth from the cold, dark, dreariness of the death of winter? Currently, we live in a time of transition—March, the chimeric month whereby it begins calmly like a lamb and ends ferociously like a lion or vice versa! I do not think it is a coincidence that the Holy Spirit guided the Early Church, and sustained the ekklesia through the ages to place Lent during the lowest point (CLIMATICALLY SPEAKING) of the calendar year!

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Lent is a time of wandering in the hope it leads to the wonderment of Easter Sunday. Blessed John Henry Newman began his Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent with this key reminder, “The season of humiliation, which precedes Easter, lasts forty days, in memory of our Lord’s long fast in the wilderness.” When you actually think about it, wintertime can be a source of humiliation as well.

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Tired from the lack of sunlight and seemingly endless shoveling you may oversleep your alarm clock and rush out the door to work. In that panic of celerity you may have slipped on a patch of ice and fell quickly on your butt— all the while your careful neighbors gaze at you! Well, this actually happened to me, except instead it happened in the busy parking lot of a grocery store! I felt quite foolish and embarrassed. Our 40 day sojourn in the “desert” is a call to unite ourselves in prayer and fasting to Christ’s ultimate humiliation—His violent death on the Cross.

Here is an excerpt from Newman’s Lenten Homily:

For what we know, Christ’s temptation is but the fulness of that which, in its degree, and according to our infirmities and corruptions, takes place in all His servants who seek Him. And if so, this surely was a strong reason for the Church’s associating our season of humiliation with Christ’s sojourn in the wilderness, that we might not be left to our own thoughts, and, as it were, “with the wild beasts,” and thereupon despond when we afflict {10} ourselves; but might feel that we are what we really are, not bondmen of Satan, and children of wrath, hopelessly groaning under our burden, confessing it, and crying out, “O wretched man!” but sinners indeed, and sinners afflicting themselves, and doing penance for sin; but withal God’s children, in whom repentance is fruitful, and who, while they abase themselves are exalted, and at the very time that they are throwing themselves at the foot of the Cross, are still Christ’s soldiers, sword in hand, fighting a generous warfare, and knowing that they have that in them, and upon them, which devils tremble at, and flee. 

Again, the holy priest guides us to focus on Lent as a time to link our personal embarrassment with Jesus’ humble time in the desert. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son Jesus. As a model and giver of hope for humanity, Jesus endured human things like hunger, thirst, and temptation. The only difference between Christ and us is that He never, ever succumbed to the wiles of the Devil. Blessed Cardinal Newman reminds us to humble ourselves before the foot of the Cross.

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May we endure the harsh realities of this wintery world through the refreshing oases of the sacraments this Lenten season. To read Blessed John Henry Newman’s entire Lenten Sermon click on this link: http://www.newmanreader.org/works/parochial/volume6/sermon1.html#note

 

 

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3 Reasons Lent 2019 is a War with Satan

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War, battles, and conflicts have occurred through the entirety of human history. From the rise and fall of the Roman Empire to the religious war of the Reformation era people do not get along. According to Guinness World Records, World War II took the most lives of any war in history!


Note: For more information please refer to the link in the resource section at the end of this post.


While the atrocities of the last century still linger, a large portion of society may not believe it is possible for our new more civilized 21st century to fall into such incivility, cruelty, or violation of human rights on the scale of the Holocaust. Philosopher George Santayana, warned ,”Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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Without knowledge of previous failing it is quite difficult to equip ourselves sufficiently for the battles that lie ahead. Today Catholics, and Christianity as a whole, around the world  celebrate Ash Wednesday— the beginning of the 40 day Lenten season. Being marked on the forehead with ashes in the shape of a cross, Christians will be reminded, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This phrase actually is a reference to Genesis 3:19. Shortly after Adam and Eve disobey God the side-effects of sin involve an earthly death. Going back to the start human history we get reminded that the Devil, the prime Adversity of both God and humanity, sought conflict and that spiritual war continues into 2019. This post will examine three specific reasons we know war with Satan is guaranteed this Lent!

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  1. For the Bible Tells Us So:  Genesis 3 involves the Fall of humanity from original communion with God into a separated sinful state. Verse 15 specifics points out the divisive between the offspring of the Woman (prefigured to be Mary) and the serpent (symbolic of the Devil). According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 497, “After his fall, man was not abandoned by God. On the contrary, God calls him and in a mysterious way heralds the coming victory over evil and his restoration from his fall.304 This passage in Genesis is called the Protoevangelium (“first gospel”): the first announcement of the Messiah and Redeemer, of a battle between the serpent and the Woman, and of the final victory of a descendant of hers.”

While the victory over Satan is guaranteed through the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the war still continues for Christians on an individual level. Salvation history from Abraham to Moses and David to John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ. The manual on how to triumph over Satan began with the Bible and continues to be safeguarded by the Church. Next, we will examine how the Catholic Mass demonstrates the war is not over with the Enemy.

 

2. Learning from the Liturgy: While the entire Mass contains spiritual riches including the readings, homily, and reception of the Most Holy Eucharist, a simple prayer at the beginning of the liturgy, known as the collect, is something you may want to pay attention to next Sunday. The General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM) as this to say about the Collect prayer,


54. Next the Priest calls upon the people to pray and everybody, together with the Priest, observes a brief silence so that they may become aware of being in God’s presence and may call to mind their intentions. Then the Priest pronounces the prayer usually called the “Collect” and through which the character of the celebration finds

time for war.jpg

War, battles, and conflicts have occurred through the entirety of human history. From the rise and fall of the Roman Empire to the religious war of the Reformation era people do not get along. According to Guinness World Records, World War II took the most lives of any war in history!


Note: For more information please refer to the link in the resource section at the end of this post.


While the atrocities of the last century still linger, a large portion of society may not believe it is possible for our new more civilized 21st century to fall into such incivility, cruelty, or violation of human rights on the scale of the Holocaust. Philosopher George Santayana, warned ,”Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

gandalf prepare for battle.gif

Without knowledge of previous failing it is quite difficult to equip ourselves sufficiently for the battles that lie ahead. Today Catholics, and Christianity as a whole, around the world  celebrate Ash Wednesday— the beginning of the 40 day Lenten season. Being marked on the forehead with ashes in the shape of a cross, Christians will be reminded, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This phrase actually is a reference to Genesis 3:19. Shortly after Adam and Eve disobey God the side-effects of sin involve an earthly death. Going back to the start human history we get reminded that the Devil, the prime Adversity of both God and humanity, sought conflict and that spiritual war continues into 2019. This post will examine three specific reasons we know war with Satan is guaranteed this Lent!

for-the-bible-tells-me-so-htbnt-mber-blrlin-ibatae-8858900

For the Bible Tells Us So

 Genesis 3 involves the Fall of humanity from original communion with God into a separated sinful state. Verse 15 specifics points out the divisive between the offspring of the Woman (prefigured to be Mary) and the serpent (symbolic of the Devil). According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 497, “After his fall, man was not abandoned by God. On the contrary, God calls him and in a mysterious way heralds the coming victory over evil and his restoration from his fall.304 This passage in Genesis is called the Protoevangelium (“first gospel”): the first announcement of the Messiah and Redeemer, of a battle between the serpent and the Woman, and of the final victory of a descendant of hers.”

While the victory over Satan is guaranteed through the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the war still continues for Christians on an individual level. Salvation history from Abraham to Moses and David to John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ. The manual on how to triumph over Satan began with the Bible and continues to be safeguarded by the Church. Next, we will examine how the Catholic Mass demonstrates the war is not over with the Enemy.

Learning from the Liturgy

While the entire Mass contains spiritual riches including the readings, homily, and reception of the Most Holy Eucharist, a simple prayer at the beginning of the liturgy, known as the collect, is something you may want to pay attention to next Sunday. The General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM) as this to say about the Collect prayer,


54. Next the Priest calls upon the people to pray and everybody, together with the Priest, observes a brief silence so that they may become aware of being in God’s presence and may call to mind their intentions. Then the Priest pronounces the prayer usually called the “Collect” and through which the character of the celebration finds expression. By an ancient tradition of the Church, the Collect prayer is usually addressed to God the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit,[56] and is concluded with a Trinitarian ending, or longer ending, in the following manner:

• If the prayer is directed to the Father: Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever;

• If it is directed to the Father, but the Son is mentioned at the end: Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever;

• If it is directed to the Son: Who live and reign with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

The people, joining in this petition, make the prayer their own by means of the acclamation Amen.

At Mass only a single Collect is ever said.


Read the following Collect from today’s Ash Wednesday Liturgy and pay attention to the theme of war/conflict with evil:

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. 

I highlighted key words and phrases that stood out to me as the priest recited the Collect. Those of you steeped in video-game culture will recognize the term campaign. Defined as a “series of military operations intended to achieve a particular objective, confined to a particular area, or involving a specified type of fighting” to here Lent referred to as a campaign is intriguing. Prior to this year, I never truly would think of fasting as a WEAPON against spiritual evil! I have always known the benefits of fasting for growing in the spiritual life, however, hear phrases such as “may be armed with weapons of self-restraint” really takes the spiritual battle and makes it more tangible and digestible to understand.

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Advice from Saintly Soldiers

 Along with Sacred Scripture and the Mass, the saints throughout history support the notion that Lent is a time of war with the Devil. According to St. Philip Neri, “There is nothing the devil fears so much, or so much tries to hinder, as prayer.” Prayer is listed as the first of the trifecta of weapons to overcome evil during Lent. St. Alphonsus De Ligouri also spoke of the how gluttony (the inverse of fasting) acts as a doorway to other sins, “He that gratifies the taste will readily indulge the other senses; for, having lost the spirit of recollection, he will easily commit faults, by indecent words and by unbecoming gestures. But the greatest evil of intemperance, is that it exposes chastity to great danger.”

St. Teresa of Avila had this  to say about fasting, “Our human nature often asks for more than what it needs, and sometimes the devil helps so as to cause fear about the practice of penance and fasting…My health has been much better since I have ceased to look after my ease and comforts.” For the sake of brevity, I will stop here. As you can see though the saints in unison with the Bible and Sacred Tradition reiterate the importance of fasting and prayer to battle the Evil One! Be careful to not boast of your Lenten sacrifices as Jesus warned in today’s Gospel. Instead, ask the Holy Spirit for the virtue of humility as you don the spiritual armament of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in the War on Satan this Lent!  

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Resources/Related Links:

http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/highest-death-toll-from-wars/

https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/06/07/satan-past-present-and-future/

http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/the-mass/general-instruction-of-the-roman-missal/girm-chapter-2.cfm

https://thesimplecatholic.blog/2019/02/28/say-yes-to-the-no-practicing-self-denial

 

 

Say YES to the NO—Practicing Self-Denial

The Italian mystic St. Paul of the Cross boldly said, “Be as eager to break your own will as the thirsty stag is to drink of the refreshing waters.” I emphasized the phrase break your own will as that imaginary stood out as quite audacious. To break the will seems such a violent thing to do to yourself.  After researching a bit on this saint, I learned that Paul was the founder of the Passionists a religious order dedicated to a penitential life in solitude and poverty. Since, Paul of the Cross lived in isolation from the world do his words hold any meaning for a regular, ‘normal’ people who hold down jobs, have a family? Should not “super-holiness” be reserved for priests and nuns?

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According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2013, “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”65 All are called to holiness: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We are coming up on the perfect season to increase our holiness— Lent! The Lenten season is modeled after Jesus’ 40 day time in the wilderness. Because Jesus is God, he was able to stave off the allures of the Devil. His witness showed that both praying and fasting disable the weaponry of the Evil One. The practice of self-denial is absolutely essential in growing in virtue! Saying YES to God through prayer allows us to say NO to those unhealthy pleasures of the world—through the practice of fasting.

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I struggle mightily with the pressures of the world, and those self-imposed. Anger, resentment, and impatience come as a result of succumbing to the things of this world instead of first saying YES to God and praying. Self-reflection and renewing a practice for saying YES to pray helps begin a habit of saying NO to the temptations of impatience, pride, greed, envy, power-control, etc. St. Francis de Sales affirms the message of Paul of the Cross, the Catechism and Christ by stating, “The more one mortifies his natural inclinations, the more he renders himself capable of receiving divine inspirations and of progressing in virtue.” Be fast to practice fasting. If you struggle at first remember to say YES to God (pray!) in order to say NO to yourself.

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3 Easy Steps to Grow in Holiness

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Christianity in the 21st seems to get more difficult as each day passes. Unfavorable Supreme Court decisions, hostile media reporting, and hypocrisy within the Catholic Church on the sexual abuse scandal makes the desire to follow the teachings of Christ quite tough. Jesus even promised that the way to Heaven would not be easy. In Matthew 19:24 he declared, “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” On average, camels grow to the shoulder height of 6 feet high and the length of about 9-10 feet. Typically, the khaki-colored creatures weigh well over 1,000 pounds. The eye of a needle is quite small, just slightly greater than the width of the thread that goes through it. Certainly, Jesus’ example was only hyperbolic when it comes to entering Heaven! Right?!

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The late Catholic nun Mother Angelica quipped, “Holiness of life is not the privilege of a chosen few – it is the obligation, the call, and the will of God for every Christian.” Holy individuals make it appear easy to live the holy life. However, when we try it ourselves it is quite different. Not to downplay that difficult road toward Heaven, because it truly is difficult, I have learned that in some ways holiness need not be as cumbersome as we may make it to be. I wish to share three tried and true steps to grow in holiness.

1. Pray Daily: You don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!” you can be sure you have already begun.’ 10
St. Josemaria Escriva. Praying is plainly described as talking with God. Relationship involves dialogue: speaking and listening. Prayer involves a two-way conversation. If you are unsure what to say to God, maybe begin your prayer simply in silence–waiting for God start. Some people feel more comfortable petitioning God for help. That is also a great way to start prayer. Just be sure to allow time and be open to God’s reply as well.

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2. Learn from Scriptures and Saintly Writings: Another easy step to increase holiness is to open up a Bible or read a spiritual work by a saint. The key to this step is not the length of time, but instead the frequency and consistency by which you acquaint yourself with spiritual writings. Schedules are busy with work and family obligations taking up a large chunk of the day.

Begin with small and reasonable goals with how much time to spend on spiritual reading. Maybe your daily routine allows for an hour, maybe it only allows for a few minutes. Start will just reading for 5 minutes a day. You will be surprised how much your week will improve with insight from those holy men and women!

3. Small Sacrifices: The third thing to incorporate into a daily routine is sacrifice. True love involves giving yourself for the other. It involves sacrifice and reduction of selfish tendencies. Authentic change and orienting your life towards holiness will not happen overnight. In fact, it will take time and likely a lot of time. Be prepared to grow in holiness for the rest of your life!

Because of the long term commitment, I say let’s start small with manageable tiny sacrifices. It may simply involve refraining from a sarcastic comment when your spouse, friend, or neighbor annoy you. St. Josemaria Escriva, “Don’t say, ‘That person bothers me.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.'” That would be a small, but still sacrificial moment. Once you have the daily routine of sacrifice for your loved ones day pat then you may focus on larger sacrifices.

Signpost pointing to A better life

Starting, or perhaps restarting, your spiritual journey need not be impossible. Developing a daily habit of prayer, frequent spiritual reading, and looking for the good of the other [and the Ultimate Other] through small sacrifices will help your increase your virtue and transform your life.


“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” –Matthew 11:28-30

“So be holy  just as your heavenly Father is be holy.” –Matthew 5:48