Tag Archives: Lent

HOLY LENT: Re-Arranging the Priority of Our Affections

ashThe first task of Lent is to re-arrange the priority of our affections. Far from an exercise in religious sentiment, this task is a bold one. It requires rigorous honesty and perhaps an uncomfortable confrontation with yourself. To do it you need to sit down and make a list of the people and things you love. Write them out on paper. Make it as complete as possible by asking questions of yourself such as: To what or to whom am I most devoted? To what or to whom do I find myself giving the best portions of my time, my attention and my energy? Now rank the items on your list in order of priority, not as they somehow “should” be, but as they actually are. Be thoroughly honest about the ranking. Now insert Jesus into your list (if He is not already listed). Don’t be embarrassed if you forgot Him. Embarrassment is not our objective. Do not piously place Jesus at the top of your list if, in all honesty, He does not really fall there. It is very important to this exercise that you place Jesus in the rank of priority of your affections where He actually lies. Now look at the names of the people and the things that you have on your list above Jesus. Say to yourself: “I love these more than Christ.” It may be hard in the saying, but say it none-the-less. The saying of it makes it “objective” and brings you to a confrontation with yourself. Now ask yourself: “How blind have I become in my affection for these people, activities or things?” “How deaf have I become?” How mute have I become?” “In the name of ‘love,’ how much of their character or behavior do I simply not let myself see?” “How much, in the name of ‘love,’ do I simply not let myself hear.” “How many times, out of fear of alienating their affection, have I remained mute and not said what needed to be said, not challenged when a challenge was called for?” Press your self-reflection further. Ask yourself: “At what point, in the name of ‘love’, do I no longer see anything of what they really are, or hear anything that they really say, or have anything at all really to say to them?” “At what point in all this does ‘love’ become nothing more than an emotional co-dependency?” These questions should give you good reason and urgent motivation to return to you list, pull Jesus out from somewhere in the middle of the pack of your affections and place Him at the top of the list — not just on paper, but in your heart. Jesus Christ is a light unto loving and a light unto living. He said: “I am the Light of the World. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness; no, he shall possess the light of life.” (Jn 8:12) In His light, you get your eyes, your ears and your voice back. In His light, you see what you are supposed to see and hear what you are supposed to hear. In His light, you find your voice again. In Him, you find not only the light but the courage to speak when you are supposed to speak, challenge when a challenge is called for, forgive when it is time to forgive, and support in ways that are genuinely up lifting. From Jesus you learn the compatibility of truth and com-passion. He will teach you to be both persevering and faithful in love. Jesus is a light unto real love. The light He sheds in His teaching and his life makes the real thing possible: a love that gives life, a love that forms character, a love that has a future. So Jesus is now written in at the top of your list, but have you really restored Him to first place in your affections? How can you tell? Let me ask you one last question: Can you say the following to each person, activity or thing on your list of affections (be it spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, children, parent, friend, job, career, profession, employer, hobby, etc.)? I love you… But I must tell you: I love Jesus Christ more than I love you. Because unless I love Jesus more, I will love you less and less each day. If you can say this to every object of your affection, then truly Jesus is in the first priority of your affections — truly you have your feet on the solid ground of reality, truly you “love” them, and truly you are moving along the path to life (Lk 10:41-42).

“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:11

A Word That Reforms

FOF_poster_smFather James Chelich
Lent 2008

For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful…

So shall my WORD be that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11

The “WORD that goes forth”

The WORD that goes forth was the Divine Word, the Word that God spoke when He created the heavens and the earth (see Genesis 1:1-2:4). The Word said: “Let there be light,” and there was light. The Word achieved the end for which it was sent.

The WORD that goes forth is also Jesus. He is the Divine Word that went forth, in person, from the Eternal Father. He became flesh and dwelt among us (see John 1:1-3, 14). He achieved the end for which He was sent: to embrace us in unreserved love,
to redeem our lives and to bring us power (grace) in the hope of healing our world.

The WORD that goes forth is also all that God says in the Scriptures (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is the Truth that sets us free (see John 8:31-32). It moves by its own Divine power to achieve the end for which it was sent: the healing and regeneration of our minds, hearts, and bodies, and the reform of our relationships with each other and with all things in the world around us (see Isaiah 55:10-11).

But there is a will that stands in the path of this WORD. This is our own, human will. Our will can bar the WORD from entering into us. We must allow the WORD to enter into us and work within us and in our relationships.

How It Works

First, it is always a WORD from the Scriptures (found somewhere in the Bible).
Second, it is best if it is a WORD that calls us to change and to reform, either in
our personal lives or in the way we interact with our world. For the season of Lent
I identified a Word of Reform for each week (see the last page of this pamphlet).
If possible, you should begin your work with this Word of Reform when you come
to Sunday Mass.

The first week of Lent the Word of Reform is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians:

Put to death whatever in your nature is rooted in earth:
fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desires,
and that lust which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5

Pay attention to it carefully. Ask yourself if this Word of Reform applies to you.
If it does, admit it to God in your heart (The Penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass
is a good time to do this).

This Word of Reform may be addressing something in you and in your life that is deeply rooted and will be difficult to dislodge from your thoughts, words, actions, attitudes and habits. You will need help. Ask for it! Ask Jesus to sprinkle His blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins, on the Word of Reform and the places where it applies to your life. Ask that his blood dislodge these sins from your soul and the fabric of your life (During Mass, just after the consecration of the Body and Blood of Jesus, is a good time to do this.)

Now take the Word of Reform home with you. Sit down with it in private. Ask yourself where or with whom during your day you would be afraid or embarrassed
to read this Word of Reform out loud. On a sheet of paper write down these times
and places, and the names of these people. The Word has identified where the problem lies, and perhaps with whom. Now you know where you need to get to work.

Indeed, God’s Word is living and effective,
sharper than any two-edged sword.
It penetrates and divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow;
it judges the reflections and thoughts of the heart. Nothing is concealed…
All likes bare and exposed… Hebrews 3:12-13

Write out the Word of Reform on a little card and put it on your bathroom mirror,
where you will see it as you prepare yourself in the morning. Every morning, look
at it and read it. Then put the card in your pocket and carry it with you into your day.

Anytime during the day, when you are about to be in those places or situations, or with those people you identified on your list, manage to get a brief moment by yourself. Take out the card and read the Word of Reform. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you either avoid the situation or, if this is not possible, to obey the Word of Reform in the situation or encounter you are about to have.

At the end of each day place the card back on the mirror in the bathroom. Pause, and read the Word of Reform again. Think back over the day. Thank God for the situations in which you succeeded in avoiding these sins. Ask forgiveness for the situations in which you failed. Remind yourself that the Word of Reform will prevail! It will accomplish the end for which it was sent if you keep striving.

Humbly welcome the Word that has taken root in you,
with its power to save you. Act on this Word.
If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves.
James 1:21b-22

Five Words the Reform for Lent

First Week of Lent:

Put to death whatever in your nature is rooted in earth:
fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desires,
and that lust which is idolatry.
Colossians 3:5

Second Week of Lent:

Put aside all the anger and quick temper,
the malice, the insults, and the foul language.
Colossaians 3:8
If you are angry, let it be without sin.
The sun must not go down on your wrath…
Ephesians 4:26-27

Third Week of Lent:

Stop lying to one another. Col. 3:9a
Let everyone speak the truth to his neighbor,
for we are members of one another.
Ephesians 4:25

Fourth Week of Lent:

Bear with one another, forgive whatever grievances
you have against one another.
Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.
Colossians 3:13

Fifth Week of Lent:

How can God’s love survive in a person who has enough
of this world’s goods yet closes his heart to his brother
when he sees him in need? Let us love in deed and in truth
and not merely talk about it.
1 John 3:17-18

Palm Sunday:

Clothe each other with heartfelt mercy, with kindness,
humility, meekness, and patience.
Colossians 3:12-14
Follow the way of love, even as Christ has loved you.
Ephesians 5:2

LENT: Its Biblical Inspiration and Personal Meaning

Father James Chelich, 1999

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“Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights…” Matthew 4:1-2 “Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit…” Jesus did not wander into the desert. He is being led, not by a dark or malevolent force but by the the Holy Spirit — the Lord and Giver of Life. Jesus embraces the desert experience peacefully, purposefully, deliberately. This takes place immediately after his baptism. You could say that it flows out of his baptism. You receive the impression that where Jesus is being led and what is about to happen has a purpose. It is as if something needs to take place, something that will effect the direction and course of his life.

“…to be tempted…”

Long ago Saint Anthony, the first and greatest of the Desert Fathers of the Church, said: “Without temptations we cannot be saved.” What he meant was that temptations confront us with choices. They are points along our journey through life where we must choose between good and evil, right and wrong; between that which gives life and that which deals death to the body, soul and spirit. By making these choices we mold our character and set a direction for the next leg of our human journey.

“…by the devil…”

The devil wants see us fall. But more than he wants to see us fall, he wants to see us distance ourselves from God. He would like to see us seal ourselves off completely. His real objective is distance, isolation and death to relationship: with God, with others and with the world around us. The Devil focuses first and foremost on our relationship with God. From our relationship with God we gain the wisdom and strength we need for life-giving relationship with everyone and everything else. Because our relationships with God, with others and with the world around us are organically linked, death to our relationship with God inevitably brings down life-giving relationship with others and with the world around us. Our isolation then becomes complete. This by the way is Hell, the very Hell in which Satan himself is confined. Its isolation is its ultimate torment. There is, however, a curious twist in all this. Every temptation the devil places before us is also an opportunity to root ourselves more deeply in virtue. Actually, every temptation the devil sets before us is a big gamble on his part. In can backfire in either of two ways. First, if the temptation results in our choosing the good, we have placed ourselves more firmly in relationship with God than ever before and molded our character more completely in God’s likeness. Second, if the temptation results in our falling into sin but then, upon coming to our senses, sees us repent and flee into the hands of God, it has only served to drive us into a more trusting relationship with God. Out of repentance we come to God not victorious in virtue but humbled and teachable, ready to yield ourselves more completely to God’s wisdom and strength. Temptation is a risky game for Satan to play. He can win, but he can also lose big, and leave us more devoted to God, resolved to do what is right and alert to what’s up and what’s at stake than ever before.

Our Moral Compass

The Holy Spirit did not lead Jesus into the desert to see if he would fall. It was to allow him to make choices. By making these choices Jesus sets his moral compass as a human being. Jesus was truly human and truly God. As a human being like us he had to face temptations and make choices. These set the moral compass of his humanity. As God, Jesus only had to set the moral compass of his humanity once and it stayed on a true orientation. We are human and not God. We face temptations and make choices. These choices set the moral compass for our humanity. But with the passage of time and the press of the many things that clamor for our attention, our moral compass easily drifts off a true orientation to the good. Our moral compass needs to be reoriented regularly. The ancient Catholic Church recognized this and very early in its history was inspired by the Holy Spirit to reproduce the movement of Jesus into the desert by setting aside a time each year when we would, as individuals and as a Christian community, invite the Holy Spirit to lead us into the desert of our own hearts. We call this time, “Lent”. It is a time for choices.

“…He fasted forty days and forty nights…”

The number forty has a particular significance in the Bible. It rained for forty days and forty nights when the great flood brought an end to a sinful human order and cleared the way for a fresh start for human life. (Genesis 6:5 to 9:17) Moses stayed on the mountain in the desert of Sinai for forty days and forty nights with out food or drink before he received the Commandments from God (Genesis 24:12-18). The Israelites wandered in the desert of Sinai for forty years until an unbelieving generation passed away and a new and faithful one was ready to enter the promised land (Numbers 14;1-35) Forty is a number connected with change and renewal. Fasting is a practice connected with instilling a more complete reliance on God. Where do we turn with all the hungers of our body, soul and spirit?

“Not on bread alone is man to live, but on every utterance that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 Holy Lent

Each year the Holy Spirit leads us into the desert of our hearts, and for forty days God calls us to examine our words, actions and attitudes, and make fresh choices about them. The objective is not only the recognition of our sins but more importantly the choices we are willing to make in the face of them. These choices reorient the the moral compass of our humanity pointing us back in the direction of what is true, good and life-giving. Lent is a movement and a work of the Holy Spirit. It was for Jesus two thousand years ago and it is for us today.
“All of us, gazing on the Lord’s glory, with unveiled faces, are being transformed from glory to glory into His very image by the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

Ash Wednesday A Proud Day for Brave People

by Father James Chelich – 1995

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Ash Wednesday is one of my proudest moments as a Catholic. The whole experience in word and symbol is a challenge to the way things are usually done in the world and, sadly, so very often even in religion.

In our parish we burn the palms right in the Church, in the plain view of all. The palms from last year are placed in the burning laver in the center of the assembly. The priest strikes a match and touches it to the palms and they flash up in a burst of flame. A billow of acrid smoke fills the Church. If anything says, “the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23) this certainly does. The palms burn down by the time the priest finishes the blessing over them. After all, it doesn’t take long to burn down a world. The smoldering ashes are doused with a generous sprinkling of holy water and the assembly comes forward, as it does in a hundred thousand places around the world.

“The wages of sin is death…”

Romans 6:23a

“The wages of sin is death!” Sin has consequences and the consequences of sin is death, death in a hundred different forms but death none-the-less: broken hearts, the loss of innocence, physical suffering, violence, the surrender of personal integrity, destitution, war and famine. “The wages of sin is death!” On Ash Wednesday Catholics face this unlovely truth squarely and acknowledge what others vest a great deal of time and money in denying: that the death is real, that it is all around us, and that it is the consequence of sin. Whose sin?

The pungent, acrid smoke rolls across the church. We are obliged to smell and even taste the truth. It is very much “in our face”. You cannot fail to hear the question being asked in all this: Who is responsible? The question that paralyzes millions of our fellow citizens, as well as whole institutions of our government and society rings loud in our ears: Who is responsible? All too often in our personal lives the answer is: No one is responsible! It is almost an axiom in our institutions of government: No one is responsible!

I Am Responsible

In a Catholic Church on Ash Wednesday person after person comes forward to accept a sign in ashes that says: I am responsible! I am responsible before God, before my fellow human beings and before my own conscience for the death at work in my life and our world. I am responsible! Catholics, this is our finest hour! It is for this, if for nothing else (though there is much else), that the world wants to see the moral authority of our ancient faith and Church broken.

Do you remember the story of Jesus’ encounter with the mob that goes out to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Jesus, aware of all that would happen to him, stepped
forward and said to them, ‘Who is it you want?’
‘Jesus the Nazorean,’ they replied. ‘I am he,’ he answered…
Jesus put the question to them again, ‘Who is it you want?’ ‘Jesus the Nazorean,’ they replied. ‘I have told you, I am he,’ Jesus said. John 18:4-8

The little journey we Catholics take, by the millions, up the aisle on Ash Wednesday and the little cross in ashes we accept on our foreheads has the same effect on our fellow human beings, our society, our very culture. Jesus asked, who do you want to crucify? And when they replied he said,

I am he. On Ash Wednesday we ask the forbidden question:

Who is responsible? Whose sins are responsible? And we reply, I am. My sins are responsible. The effect is stunning on the moral stupor that weaves itself over our personal lives, our relationships and the social institutions in which we participate. We disturb an uneasy peace. We contradict the insane assumption that no one is responsible. We blow away the cherished illusion that what I say and do doesn’t affect anyone but me. We break the unholy social contract that reads: If you don’t hold me accountable for our culture of death, I won’t hold you accountable.

I Am Available

What about God? We do all of this in Church. We raise the specter of the death at work around us not just for one another, but before God. We confront ourselves with the truth that sin is the cause of this death, but we name this truth before God. I believe that God asks His own question on Ash Wednesday. While we name and confront ourselves with the truth that, “the wages of sin is death,” and ask the forbidden question, “Who is responsible?”, God asks the question on the other side of the coin: “Where can the healing begin?”

This casts a whole new light on our Ash Wednesday journey down the aisle. It is not an exercise in guilt, as some accuse, but an exercise in freedom and hope. In response to the question of responsibility we put to ourselves, the sign in ashes on our forehead says to us and to all: “I am responsible. My sins are responsible.” But the sign also says something in response to God’s question. It says: “Begin with me. Let your healing begin here in my heart and with my words, actions and attitude.” Ash Wednesday neither makes us a scapegoat for the world’s sins, nor seals us in a new bondage to guilt. Ash Wednesday makes us a beginning point.

Catholics, for this one day, wear your mark in ashes proudly. That mark is a word of hope for more people that you suspect. It says to everyone: “Here is a woman or man brave enough to face the death that surround us, brave enough to ask forbidden questions, brave enough to be responsible, a woman or man brave enough to place them-selves before God and us all as a beginning point for life.”

“…the gift of God is eternal life

in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 6:23b

God not only asks His own question on Ash Wednesday, God has something more to say. Marked with ashes, we celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass. In the Mass God says: “I will meet you in the ashes.” At the consecration God says: “This is my body broken for you…this is the cup of my blood poured out for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins.” God is saying, “I will meet you in the ashes of the consequences of your sins. You will not have to find Me, I will find you.” The profession of faith we make immediately afterward is this: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” God has no intention of hanging around in the ashes God is intent on resurrection and life. He meets us in the ashes of the consequences of our sins. He recognizes us by the mark of the cross in ashes on our forehead. He engages us in our acceptance of responsibility and joins us to Himself in His own flesh and blood. Together we rise from the ashes. “Through Him, with Him, and in Him” we rise from the ashes: from sin to virtue, from death to life. Christ died to meet us in the ashes, Christ rose to lead us out of the ashes, and hopefully to draw some part of the fabric of wounded humanity with us.

“The wages of sin is death,

but the gift of God is eternal life

in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 6:23