We can find Christ among the despised, voiceless, and forgotten of the world. We have to move beyond that which we wish to ignore and forget about: embrace the seemingly un-embraceable, love the unlovable, and dare to know what we most fear and wish to leave unknowable. — from The Last Words of Jesus
The persecution of Christians began in Alexandria during the reign of the Emperor Philip. The first victim of the pagan mob was an old man named Metrius, who was tortured and then stoned to death. The second person who refused to worship their false idols was a Christian woman named Quinta. Her words infuriated the mob and she was scourged and stoned.
While most of the Christians were fleeing the city, abandoning all their worldly possessions, an old deaconess, Apollonia, was seized. The crowds beat her, knocking out all of her teeth. Then they lit a large fire and threatened to throw her in it if she did not curse her God. She begged them to wait a moment, acting as if she was considering their requests. Instead, she jumped willingly into the flames and so suffered martyrdom.
There were many churches and altars dedicated to her. Apollonia is the patroness of dentists, and people suffering from toothache and other dental diseases often ask her intercession. She is pictured with a pair of pincers holding a tooth or with a golden tooth suspended from her necklace. St. Augustine explained her voluntary martyrdom as a special inspiration of the Holy Spirit, since no one is allowed to cause his or her own death.
The Church has quite a sense of humor! Apollonia is honored as the patron saint of dentists, but this woman who had her teeth extracted without anesthetic surely ought to be the patron of those who dread the chair. She might also be the patron of the aging, for she attained glory in her old age, standing firm before her persecutors even as her fellow Christians fled the city. However we choose to honor her, she remains a model of courage for us.
I pause for a moment and think of the love and the grace that God showers on me: I am created in the image and likeness of God; I am God's dwelling-place.
Lord grant me the grace to have freedom of the spirit. Cleanse my heart and soul so I may live joyously in your love.
I exist in a web of relationships - links to nature, people, God. I trace out these links, giving thanks for the life that flows through them. Some links are twisted or broken: I may feel regret, anger, disappointment. I pray for the gift of acceptance and forgiveness.
The Word of God**
Friday after Ash Wednesday
Reading 1 Is 58:1-9a
Thus says the Lord GOD: Cry out full-throated and unsparingly, lift up your voice like a trumpet blast; Tell my people their wickedness, and the house of Jacob their sins. They seek me day after day, and desire to know my ways, Like a nation that has done what is just and not abandoned the law of their God; They ask me to declare what is due them, pleased to gain access to God. "Why do we fast, and you do not see it? afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?"
Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers. Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw. Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high! Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
Responsorial Psalm PS 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19
R. (19b) A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.
R. A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
For I acknowledge my offense, and my sin is before me always: "Against you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight."
R. A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
For you are not pleased with sacrifices; should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it. My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
R. A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
Verse Before the Gospel See Am 5:14
Seek good and not evil so that you may live, and the Lord will be with you.
Gospel Mt 9:14-15
The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus answered them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast."
Some thoughts on today's scripture
Lord, when I sense how John's disciples viewed you, I feel relieved. John the Baptist was admirable, but you are my model, and you were seen as a man given to joy and celebration. People were high-spirited in your company, as at a wedding feast. The feast would not last forever – you had no illusions, and would not encourage illusions. But long faces do not suit your companions.
I begin to talk to Jesus about the piece of scripture I have just read. What part of it strikes a chord in me? Perhaps the words of a friend - or some story I have heard recently - will slowly rise to the surface in my consciousness. If so, does the story throw light on what the scripture passage may be trying to say to me?
I thank God for these few moments we have spent alone together and for any insights I may have been given concerning the text.
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish. (Isaiah 58:6)
In the film Mary Poppins, there is a scene in which Mary uses a measuring tape on herself. But rather than feet or inches, the tape reads, "Practically perfect in every way." It's a cute little scene, but it tells us a lot about her personality.
In today's first reading, we see God's measuring tape for fasting. The passage names eight specific things that God wants Israel to do. If the people measure up, their glory will "break forth like the dawn," and their relationship with God will deepen dramatically (Isaiah 58:8, 9). Israel never did manage to live up to these standards, however. But how did God respond?
Like many of the prophetic writings, this passage can be understood in a number of ways. It is both an exhortation for Israel to change and a guideline to help them encounter God on a deeper level. It can also be read in the context of history, as a revelation of God's grace. God could have turned away when Israel did not meet his standards. Instead, he broke into their world and sent Jesus, who met all of these standards and then some. He broke the yoke of sin, brought freedom from oppression, fed the hungry, freed spiritual prisoners, and clothed people with his love and righteousness.
You might feel that God sets high standards, and you're right! We are called to live up to every commandment, pursuing and growing in holiness day by day. But that's only one side of the story. The other side is that we serve a God of tremendous mercy, patience, and forgiveness. Even when we fall short, he doesn't give up. He reaches out his hand to us, no matter how far we have fallen, invading our world with his mercy, grace, and encouragement.
Is there an area where you have felt the Lord nudging you to grow, but for whatever reason, it hasn't happened? Take heart! God knows your shortcomings, and he is already reaching out his hand to help you go to the next level.
Think of one thing that you can do by next Friday to take that step. Then, tell someone about your plan. Studies show that if we tell someone about our goals, we are much more likely to accomplish them.
"Lord, help me to seek after your standards in every area of my life."
About 700 years before Christ, the Lord asked and answered the same question in today's Holy Gospel, ""Why do we fast, and you do not see it?" They asked our Lord today ""Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?" As if to say the fasting was the all in all, as if to say what we do alone makes up for things in works. It is very possible for you to proclaim the word and sing the word without a heart. Would you rather sing with your heart and "Cry out full-throated and unsparingly, lift up your voice like a trumpet blast"? Would you proclaim boldly the Word of God and "Tell my people their wickedness"? Wouldn't that be an act of mercy in this year of mercy? What happens after a while of you telling people over and over their sins? In my case, I begin repenting of mine more. So do as God commands "Tell MY people their wickedness" bring it up before their eyes, but not in a way that hurts, but in a way that loves, and if it is hard, then don't make it hard, make it easy, with His yoke, pray, and love them more than you ever thought possible. The Lord said today "Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed and lie in sackcloth and ashes?". I envision a person full of animosity, rage, and on the day asked to fast he does it, slouched over, covered in ashes, but inside, in the heart, what needs to be changed is not. The whole fasting thing doesn't work and can be pointless, if it doesn't come from the heart. They taught us at a conference last weekend with Dr. Scott Hahn, and Brant Pitre about the year of Mercy. Dr. Pitre, a theologian and bible scholar, knows quite a bit about the Jewish roots of our Catholic faith. He brought up the jubilee year of mercy that happened during the time of Leviticus. The Lord commanded 7 weeks of years which is 49 years, after that, a jubilee year of mercy shall be lived and that year everyone was to be set free, free from debt, from slavery and so forth. Sounds pretty awesome right? Didn't really happen. And it still today, doesn't really happen. People really ain't letting others go, and freeing them from their debts. And so the question is, what if we really did what God said? I'm telling you, the world would see 700 years of Heaven on earth if we lived out His every last statute, and it begins with you, and me. The Psalms pray on "A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn." This is the key thing we have to get through our little bitty human heads, God is greater than our thoughts, and God does not turn away even though we do, He can't turn away, His eyes and heart is everywhere.
In comes our Lord into our lives by way of the Holy Gospel: "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?" and the answer is no. You can not mourn when He is with you. He turns sadness to gladness. Why do you think people that convert to Christ and fall in love with Christ never turn back? Because it is impossible. That is why Catholic priests have the highest recorded job satisfaction in the world, because their job is to give. This is the Lent God wants. A giving one. Giving a break, giving love when it was not possible. Giving Him your sins so He knows how to fix things. Giving to those who do not have. Someone don't have joy? Give them some! Someone don't have food? Give them some! Someone don't have faith? Give them some! Because all good things come from above, and all we have to do is reach for some to give to them. We then become instruments of His love and mercy.
And the Lord ends today's Gospel with "The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast." What does this mean? To me, it means this: that the Lord never goes away, but is taken from us by worldly views and desires. Then we must fast from the world to be with Him again. This dying and rising is the natural setting of life. Give and take, cause and effect. And because we do things for Him, the focus is to make the body render and surrender to Him to have control, for Him to take possession of our lives, and why? So we don't have free will? Why do you even want your free will anymore? How far has it gotten you in the faith? The choices of life then should be left in His hands. This is the fasting God wants, a surrendering of faith, a surrendering for love, a surrendering and rendering to the King what is His and always has been...ever will be...