April 12th, 2022
Lenten Reflection 2022: Part 3 - The Stark Reality of Spy Wednesday
Holy Week has its way of focusing us on the deep mystery of Christ’s suffering, in all its aspects, in all its realistic details. And one of those harsh realities is the excruciating pain of betrayal.
The Gospel of John offers a chilling detail of the moment Judas walked out of the Last Supper. He states simply: “It was dark.” This dovetails with the frightening assertion about Judas in Matthew’s Gospel that “Satan entered his heart” the moment he took the morsel of food from Jesus’ sacred hand. These are the dynamics of betrayal, and Our Lord knew them up close and personal.
Betrayal has to be one of the most painful of human experiences. Your enemies don’t betray you; they have nothing in common with you to betray. Friends betray you – your mutual camaraderie, good will, fellowship, and your openhanded gift of self to them. Friends are the only ones who can take your gifts and treacherously throw them back in your face.
And isn’t it interesting that none of the other disciples knew who Jesus was talking about when He pronounced those unsettling words, “One of you will betray me.” Which means simply that Jesus never betrayed Judas in turn. The Lord didn’t gossip about the thief in the group. He didn’t talk Judas down behind his back to the other disciples. He didn’t foment division or betray trust. Jesus was not a betrayer. Judas was.
But Judas was more. He was an opportunistic schemer, a spy and informant who went to the hostile authorities seeking payment for his crime. We call the Wednesday of Holy Week Spy Wednesday for that reason. It is spying, not in the James Bond sense, but in the sense of plotting and scheming from the inside, disingenuously, until the right moment arrives. The Apostles were unaware that one of their number could be so callous, but there he was, finally revealed as the traitor in the midst of them.
When Judas left the gathering, he must have gone directly to the Sanhedrin to get the guard who, within a short time that night, would arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Like all schemers, he wasted no time in implementing his crime when the time was right.
And as his last act of treachery, he betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Human sinfulness doesn’t get lower than that.
And yet, Jesus endured all of this darkness with equanimity, as if He knew exactly what would happen and watched it play out before His very eyes. Despite Our Savior’s divine foreknowledge, He obeyed the Father’s Will in every detail of this drama – and He suffered.
St. Thomas Aquinas says that “the Passion of Christ completely suffices to fashion our lives.” He means that in Christ we find the remedy for every suffering we could possibly experience. In those few hours of His Passion, Jesus took upon Himself every possible form of human suffering since the beginning of time. Our Blessed Lord had them all thrust upon Him, with their full impact, in less than a day.
When the scriptures describe Him as the “lamb led to slaughter” and one “bruised for our offenses,” they are painting a picture of the greatest act of love mankind has ever known. But of all the bitterness of His agony, the betrayal of a friend must have been His greatest suffering.
If Holy Week accomplishes anything in our lives, it should be this: it invites us to acknowledge our part in the same betrayal. Our sinful betrayals of His love have a different character than the act of one who sold Him for thirty pieces of silver, but we too have dipped our hand in the dish with His. We too have walked in His company and have called Him Lord. Yet, it was because of our sins that He suffered and died.
Let us pray this week for the grace of true repentance, and if we are able to go to Confession, that we do it with sincerity of heart and experience the life-giving effects of the sacrament.
To his great loss, Judas didn’t repent of his betrayal, but later that same night, Peter repented of his. Only one of the two men became the Rock on which Christ founded His Church.
April 8th, 2022
Lenten Reflection 2022: Part 2 - Lenten Conversion Through Inner Discipline
It seems that Lent has flown by at lightning speed, and now we are at the threshold of Holy Week. But if you haven’t quite lived up to the promises you made at the beginning of our penitential season, don’t count this Lent as a loss yet. There is still time for conversion of heart.
Lenten conversion is not a superficial renewal like removing residue from an old painting or putting a coat of varnish on an antique chair. Those are renovations, not conversions! Lenten conversion is a matter of cleansing the soul, and no half-measures will do. So let’s consider what we can do right now to prepare our hearts for His coming at Easter.
The age-old spiritual disciplines of the Church – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – corresponds to the three faculties of the human soul: mind, emotions, and will. St. Augustine called these the “internal trinity” that makes us into the image and likeness of God. They are inner disciplines: prayer enlightens the mind, fasting matures our emotions, and charity strengthens the will.
Prayer purifies the mind and opens the intellect to the light of Christ’s truth so, above all, whatever way you pray best, do more of it. “Doing more” in prayer doesn’t always mean spending more time praying. Prayer is not another project on our list of things to do. It is fundamentally a simple act.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that "Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God." (2559) And this is done simply in the circumstances of our own vocations and occupations.
The best prayer is the kind that takes a little time out of the business of life to ask God for what we need and imbue our lives with a divine perspective. Praying in your real-time circumstances of your life is a very personal and sincere act, and the Lord promises us that “your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Mt 6:6).
Don’t neglect this practice during Lent—in fact, do more than the minimum the Church requires because it’s good for the soul! The discipline of fasting is valuable because it reorders the disordered emotions and appetites of our inner life.
Fasting literally makes us more spiritual men and women because when our stomachs complain that we are not feeding them, we are reminded that God is feeding us with His grace and mercy. And, as St. Teresa of Avila used to say to the nuns of her order, eating less or missing a meal never hurt anyone.
While it’s good to “symbolically fast” from negative behaviors as a form of self-restraint, don’t let yourself drift too far from the practice of actually depriving yourself of food every now and then. Humans are a body/soul unity, and physical fasting has a powerful spiritual effect on the soul.
The Lord Himself fasted. He knew that deprivation of food was hard on the body. It’s supposed to be. But don’t worry: “Your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you” (Mt 6:16-18).
We mature spiritually by making sacrifices for higher goods and purposes. Charity is not just giving material gifts to others, it is a matter of training the will to sacrifice our own attachments for the sake of others. Almsgiving/charity trains us to think and act generously as a way of life and to get away from an obsessive concern about our own needs.
The truly magnanimous souls of our Church were those saints who practiced prayer, fasting and charity to heroic degrees. That’s why they’re saints. We’re not, but we’re striving to be, and the discipline of Lent helps us grow in spiritual strength.
Ultimately, the spiritual life is the inner life, and strong souls like the saints are champions at prayer, fasting, and charity. Nothing is better than a program of inner conversion like this. It is the inner discipline that makes us whole and prepares us for the feast of the Resurrection to come.
March 4, 2022
Lenten Reflection 2022: Part 1 - Don't Waste Lent (Have a Plan)
As I was receiving the blessing and distribution of ashes earlier this week on Ash Wednesday, I felt compelled to offer some thoughts for your Lenten Journey with a weekly reflection.
Lent is a time of reckoning – a spiritual reckoning before God. In a sense, the Season of Lent is a sort of a trial run each year which prepares us for meeting our Maker and having to give an account for our life in the flesh. That’s a holy and salutary thing for us to do, and our Church provides us this immense grace-filled season for that reason.
That’s why it’s good to have a plan for it and to make a firm intention at the beginning not to waste this phenomenally rich season of grace. How will we derive maximum benefit from this season of preparation?
First, begin with the end in mind. Remember for what we prepare, or rather, for Whom. The biblical forty days’ journey reminds us of Christ’s own forty days in the desert and prepares us for His Death and Resurrection at the end, the high holy days of the only week in the year we call “Holy”.
We can surely spend a little time in a "desert" of self-renunciation, fasting, and prayer to get our souls ready to enter into the Paschal Mystery at the end of Lent.
Acts of self-denial are not ends in themselves; they are means to the end of becoming more spiritual men and women.
Second, stay simple. Namely, don't load yourself down with too many spiritual exercises or intentions that may discourage you by running too quickly into the desert. I am all for heroism in religious practices, but we have to be humble about the power of the flesh to undermine our best efforts and also realistic about our limitations.
This is why the Church gives us minimal and, quite frankly, relatively easy penitential practices in Lent: required fasting is only on two days (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.) These won't kill anyone – guaranteed! Abstinence from meat is only on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent (a modest inconvenience for any active person.) You can always go above and beyond these duties, of course, but first make sure you and your loved ones practice the minimal requirements diligently.
Finally, go for strong spiritual impact. This means that you should identify and practice faithfully just one really magnificent spiritual goal for your personal conversion this Lent. I say conversion and not "personal improvement" so that no one will interpret Lenten discipline as a chance to lose weight or quit smoking! We must go deeper than that.
What Lent demands of us is to look into our slothful and petty nature and challenge it with the full prophetic force of the Gospel. Jesus described John the Baptist as one who "took the Kingdom by storm." This is what a focused spiritual goal means: identifying an area of your life that you have not surrendered to God – and taking it by storm.
Is there a primary vice you struggle with (no one is without one)? Time to root it out. Or, evaluate your practice of the theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. Are you lacking in any one of these? Take it by storm this Lent! Or, look honestly at how you live the cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude. Go all-out to develop the virtue you need most. Have a plan.
A single, firm intention to convert your heart is worth more than a thousand acts of well-intentioned piety that bring no interior change.
Those who resolve to walk through Lent with these intentions will not waste Lent. In fact, they will reap the benefit of deep conformity to Christ when we finally arrive at the High Holy Days of our blessed Faith.