Recently in Lent 2012 Category

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I preached this homily last year, at the request of Bishop Slattery, in the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Knowing that there are many churches in which the Gospel of the Man Born Blind (Year A in the reformed lectionary) will be read today, I am offering this homily again.

Fourth Sunday of Lent A
Laetare Sunday
Station at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme


"Be glad, Jerusalem!
Hold an assembly, all you that love her:
rejoice and be glad, you that were in sadness:
that you may exult and be suckled plentifully
with the breasts of her consolations" (Is 66:10-11).

This morning the Church
opens the celebration of Holy Mass with a chant of rapturous joy.
The dark violet of her Lenten array has become a gentle rose,
the colour of the sky at dawn.
The rigorous Lenten prohibition of flowers in church
is lifted for this one day.
And the first few notes of today's Introit in Gregorian Chant
are a like a breath of spring.
The text cannot find words enough for its joy,
and the melody is even deeper in its rejoicing.

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Once heard, today's Introit is unforgettable,
and anyone who knows the music of the liturgy knows why.
It rings with the sound of Easter!
Its first few notes are identical with the last few notes
of the great first Alleluia of the Paschal Vigil.
This no mere coincidence;
it reveals the underlying unity of the mystery.
The Church cannot wait until the Paschal Vigil,
so great is her joy already.

Today, through the wide-open eyes of the man born blind,
the Church looks into the dazzling Face of Christ,
"the light of the world" (Jn 9:5),
and cannot contain her gladness.
She already sings the paschal alleluia but,
for the moment, disguises it, wraps it in another word,
a single jubilant cry: Laetare!
Joy, then, is the first distinctive note of today's Mass.


The second word of the Entrance Antiphon is Jerusalem,
and this is the second distinctive note of today's Mass.
Jerusalem is, according to the psalmist,
"the dwelling of all joy" (cf. Ps 86:7).
Why? Because the temple is there:
God's dwelling in the midst of His people,
the one place on earth
where the God of Israel promised the abiding presence
of His Name, and of His Eyes and of His Heart.
He says to David's son Solomon:
"I have sanctified this house,
which thou hast built to put My Name there for ever,
and my Eyes and My Heart shall be there always" (1 K 9:3).

Today's Mass is a way of going "up to Jerusalem" without leaving Tulsa.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, in a very real sense,
a going up to the joys of heaven,
a foretaste of the joy that lies beyond the gates of heaven
thrown open by Christ the Prince of Life.
The psalm that accompanies the Introit sings just that:
"O my joy when they said to me:
Let us go up to the house of the Lord" (Ps 121:1).
David, anointed king in the First Reading,
prizes Jerusalem "above all his joys" (cf. Ps 136:6).
To go up to Jerusalem is to go up to the highest joy.


The third distinctive note of today's Mass is Light.
I mentioned that the liturgical colour today is rose
like morning's first glimmers on the eastern horizon.
At Easter the sun will rise over us in all its brightness,
but for the moment, we are content to rejoice
in the rosy radiance of the dawn.

The heavenly Jerusalem is inseparable from today's Gospel
in which Our Lord says, "I am the light of the world" (Jn 9:5).
The New Jerusalem
that comes down out of heaven from God (cf. Apoc 21:2)
"has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it,
for the glory of God is its light,
and its lamp is the Lamb.
By its light shall the nations walk" (Apoc 21:22-24).
The same light that illumines the Jerusalem above
shines for us here and now in Mother Church,
in the proclamation of the Word,
in the sacraments given by her Bridegroom,
and, above all, in the adorable Sacrament of His Body and Blood.
"Enter His presence," she says, and be illumined" (Ps 33:6).

Week after week, we come to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,
limited by our human blindness,
sometimes stumbling along in the blindness of sin.
Those who think they see clearly are the blindest people of all,
and those who admit their blindness,
or at least their very clouded vision,
are those to whom Our Lord promises light and sight.
What takes place in Baptism?
The victory of light over darkness.
What happens when a priest pronounces the words of absolution in confession? The renewal of that victory of light over darkness.
What changes when we approach the altar
to receive the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of the Light of the World?
Darkness is put to flight.

Today's Communion Antiphon
reveals what Our Lord would do for each one of us:
"The Lord made clay of spittle,
and spread it on my eyes:
and I went, and washed, and recovered my sight,
and I found faith in God" (Jn 9:11).
What the antiphon describes in the words of the man born blind,
Holy Communion makes happen, here and now.
The chalice,
with its water and blood from the wound in the side of the Crucified,
is infinitely more than the mysterious pool of Siloe.
None other than Saint Thomas Aquinas
saw Holy Communion as healing from blindness.
"I come to it," he says,
"a blind man to the radiance of eternal light"
(Prayer Before Mass, Roman Missal).

Mother Church

The fourth and last distinctive note of today's Mass
is that the Holy Catholic Church is our Mother.
She is our Mother because we were born of her womb in Baptism.
She is our Mother because, as the Entrance Antiphon sings,
she "suckles us abundantly with the breasts of her consolations" (Is 66:11).
She is our Mother because she cares for us in our weaknesses,
welcomes us home after every journey,
and never fails to provide for us a table laden with good things.
She is the merciful Mother of children who do not always see clearly.
She is the Mother of children whose vision is impaired by sin.
She is the Mother of those who stumble in the darkness.
She is the Mother of those who "sit in the shadowlands" (Lk 1:79),
waiting for the first glimmers of the rising sun.
She is the Mother of those who say with Blessed John Henry Newman,
"The night is dark and I am far from home."

There are in every life moments,
hours, and even long seasons,
when we cannot trust our own seeing,
when obscurity surrounds us on all sides.
Who has not said with the psalmist at one time or another,
"Friends and neighbours gone, a world of shadows is all my company" (Ps 87:19)?
In a world of shadows a Mother waits
for all who would come home to the light.
There are candles shining in all her windows.
There is a fire in her hearth,
and a blaze of light shining through her open door.
"She has sent out her maids to call from the highest places in the town, 'Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me'" (Pr 9:3-4).

Plenteous Grace

For some, Laetare Sunday,
instead of being a day of rejoicing in the light,
may be one of weeping quietly in some dark corner,
of not seeing, not understanding, and not knowing why.
If your soul is not attuned to the jubilant notes of the Introit today,
cling to the experience of the man born blind related in the Gospel.
There is plenteous grace for all in the one as in the other.

Joy in the Heart of the Church

Laetare Sunday:
the Sunday of Joy,
the Sunday of the New Jerusalem,
the Sunday of Light,
the Sunday of Mother Church.
Holy Week will soon be upon us.
The mysteries of the Lord's Passion and Resurrection are fast approaching,
the mysteries of our joy,
the end of every sadness,
the victory of light over every darkness.
It is time to go up to Jerusalem,
time for Jerusalem to descend out of heaven to us.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is just that:
the assumption of the Church into heaven's joy,
the descent of heaven's joy into the heart of the Church.

I Sought Him

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Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

Micah 7:14-15, 18-20
Psalm 102:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Draw Near to Hear

The first line of today's Holy Gospel is the key to all the rest: "The tax collectors and the sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus" (Lk 15:1). They drew near to hear Jesus; this is the listening that changes life, and in this, tax collectors and sinners are our teachers. One cannot hear rightly while remaining at a distance.

God Seeking Man

Our Lord says, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (Jn 6:44). The Father seeks us to draw us close to the Son. In the canticle at Lauds we sang: "He sought them out in the wilderness, there in the fearful desert spaces, gave them the guidance, taught them the lessons they needed, guarded them as if they had been the apple of His eye" (Dt 32:10). God seeks us. When one consents to being found by Him, a flame of desire begins to flicker within: an inarticulate yearning to be enfolded in God's protecting love, and to be sheltered in the "shadow of His wings" (Ps 16:8).


One begins to turn one's life around when one begins to experience one's need for God painfully. So it was with the prodigal son. "Then he came to himself and said, How many hired servants there are in my father's house, who have more bread than they can eat, and here am I perishing with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee; I am not worthy now to be called thy son; treat me as one of thy hired servants" (Lk 15: 17-18).

Feeling the Pain

One experiences this painful awareness of the need for God in different ways. Loneliness, for example, can be an immense grace if it orients the heart towards God alone. Failure can serve the designs of God's mercy when it obliges one to seek Him, to call to Him out of the depths of one's brokenness. Illness can become a gift; the awareness of one's weakness can become the discovery of Christ's unfailing strength. Disappointments in human love can lead to drive one to the only Love that never deceives nor disappoints. God alone can satisfy the deepest longings of the heart.

Upon my Bed by Night

The bride of the Canticle of Canticles describes the experience of every human heart tormented by the desire for God: "Upon my bed by night, I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him but he gave no answer. I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves" (Ct 3:1-2). The nocturnal disquiet of the beloved in the Canticle is the image of restlessness in the soul. There is, within each one, an appetite more relentlessly gnawing than the appetites of the senses: the appetite for intimacy with God.

Where Art Thou?

The Word of God Himself has come down into the streets and squares of the city in search of all who search for Him, just as in the first pages of Genesis, the Father walked in paradise in the evening breeze (Gn 3:8) and called to Adam, saying, "Where art thou?" For this very reason does He abide, day and night, in the tabernacles of our churches. There too does He say, as the Father said in paradise, "Where art thou?" For He who has come in search of us, He who waits for us, is left alone. Though He searches for every man, there are few, very few, who search for Him. Though He is patient in waiting for man; there are few, very few who know how to wait in silence for Him.

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Not a Pious Pastime

Saint Benedict treats of the daily Lenten reading in Chapter 48 of the Holy Rule, "On the Daily Manual Labour." For Saint Benedict, reading is a labour, not a pious pastime. It requires a resolute application of the mind and engagement of the heart. The word received in reading becomes the word repeated and savoured. The word repeated and savoured becomes the word sent back to God as the expression of one's prayer. God responds to that prayer, born of hearing and repetition, with the grace of a quiet and loving adhesion to His indwelling presence.

From Chapter 48 of the Holy Rule
During Lent, let them apply themselves to reading from morning until the end of the third hour, and then, until the end of the tenth, labour at whatever is enjoined them. And in these days of Lent let each one receive a book from the library, and read it all through in order. These books are to be given out at the beginning of Lent.
Above all, let one or two seniors be appointed to go round the Monastery, at the hours when the brethren are engaged in reading, and see that there be no slothful brother giving himself to idleness or to foolish talk, and not applying himself to his reading, so that he is thus not only useless to himself, but a distraction to others.

Lenten Book Recommendation for 2012

Given that we are in the midst of moving, and that I am writing quickly, and in a less than optimal environment --see packing boxes and stacks of unsorted things all about me -- I will recommend but a single book this year to our Oblates and the men in vocational discernment with our monastery.

Oblates and men in discernment with us, this is my Lenten recommendation for 2012. It is available either from the publisher, New City Press, or from Amazon.

15 Days of Prayer with Saint Benedict

by Dom André Gozier
New City Press, Hyde Park, New York, 2008

I should be very happy to receive from you echoes of your response to this excellent introduction to Saint Benedict and to his "school of the service of the Lord." I bless each one of you as you set about your Lenten reading, asking Our Lord to illumine your minds and warm your hearts with the light of His Face.


Mother Mectilde de Bar preached this exhortation to her community assembled in Chapter one Ash Wednesday. A true Benedictine, she puts her finger on pride, identifying it as "the source of all our faults and even of all our misfortunes." Pride is the satanic sin par excellence because the prideful man claims for himself the sovereign lordship that belongs to God alone. The only remedy for pride is to have one's heart broken and humbled. Fortunately for us, God so arranges our lives that we are given opportunities to suffer broken hearts and to be humbled, and this over and over again, until at last we concede that God is God and we are not.

From Pride to Contrition
Pride is the source of all our faults and even of all our misfortunes. So as to destroy it, today the Holy Church reminds us that we are but dust and ashes. Without doubt we will receive from this holy ceremony wonderful effects for our souls, if we bring to it the necessary dispositions and believe that it is God who is saying to us that are but dust and ashes, an abominable nullity of sin; that by pride we have raised ourselves up and put ourselves on the very throne of God; that we have made His graces useless and ourselves, with our sins, abominable in His presence. All of this must make us enter into a disposition of true penitence, which really consists in having a contrite and humbled heart.

Again, being a true Benedictine, Mother Mectilde does not go in for major corporal penances and exploits of asceticism. In most souls such things do little more than foment spiritual pride and rash judgment of others. Far better to ask God to break and humble one's heart.

Useless Penitential Exploits
Even if they may contribute something, fasting, disciplines, and instruments of penance do not really make us penitent. It very often happens that in practicing these things without the requisite dispositions they are worth nothing to us. It is necessary then to present a heart that is truly contrite and humbled to God.

Here Mother Mectilde has one of her astonishing insights into the Eucharistic Christ. In this world, the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is His desert. He is the Divine Solitary of the tabernacle. Of course, Our Lord does not suffer a material solitude because under the form of the Sacred Species He is locked in the tabernacle. He suffers rather the solitude of the Lamb charged with the weight of the sins of the world, the solitude of the Expiatory Victim who enters more deeply into the abyss of evil than any other man in history, and who, out of the horror of that abyss, shows the Father His Face: the Face of Obedient Love, the Face of the New Adam. Mother Mectilde would have her Benedictines join Christ there, in the frightful solitude of His priestly mediation. She calls them to a double identification: first, identification with sinners, and second, identification with the sinless Lamb.

Christ in the Desert of the Most Holy Sacrament
We must flee from creatures, withdraw into solitude, and keep a profound silence, and, through these things, enter into the dispositions of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not necessary that we should go looking for Him in the deserts of Palestine, where once He withdrew and fasted for forty days. He is solitary in the desert of the Most Holy Sacrament: there He has taken upon Himself the sins of all men, becoming (for our sakes) the penitent of the Eternal Father.

All sin is serious. The sins of consecrated souls, even if, objectively, the matter may be of a lesser gravity, lacerate the Heart of Jesus, which remains, even in glory, divinely, exquisitely sensitive to the coldness, indifference, and cheap betrayals of those whom He has chosen to live in intimacy with Him.

Call to Reparation
Whatever do you think He suffers in this divine Sacrament? My friends, if God granted me the capacity to explain His sufferings, I would show you that He suffers not only from the crimes of sinners, but also that the very smallest imperfection of souls consecrated to Him wounds His Heart. Consider what our obligation is: we must make reparation for so many outrages and become victims (hosties) immolated for all the sins of men.

Humility, says Mother Mectilde, is the remedy for everything. For everything. Humility goes hand in hand with contrition, and both are found in identification and in communion with the Lamb of God who, in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, remains the pure Victim, the holy Victim, the spotless Victim. Some people, misunderstanding the notion of victimhood, think that it is a rare and unusual grace conceded to a few privileged souls. Such is not the teaching of the Church in the Sacred Liturgy. Any one who participates in Holy Mass fully, consciously, and actually, and receives Holy Communion, becomes by that very fact a victim soul. This is, in fact, the object of the Secret of the Votive Mass of Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest: "O Lord, may Jesus Christ, our Mediator render these offerings acceptable to Thee, and may He present us with Himself as victims agreeable to Thee."

The Dispositions of Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament
Humility is the remedy for everything and, to my mind, one who has a true contrition will never fall again into sin. This is among God's rarest and greatest gifts. It is true that we feel a fleeting sorrow, but to have a true contrition it is needful to give oneself profoundly to Jesus Christ and enter into His dispositions in the Most Holy Sacrament, where are contained wonders capable of occupying our whole life. It is shameful that we live days and hours without being entirely absorbed by it.

Mother Mectilde de Bar
Conference for Ash Wednesday

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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March 2012: Monthly Archives