The battle for purity ultimately is fought deep in the recesses of the human heart. Our hearts were made to love, but since the Fall, they have been tainted by a desire to use others. Chastity is so much bigger than simply saying no to certain sexual actions we may commit in the body. In the end, chastity is a matter of the heart. — from Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love
Born of a noble family in northern Italy, Conrad as a young man married Euphrosyne, daughter of a nobleman.
One day while hunting he ordered attendants to set fire to some brush in order to flush out the game. The fire spread to nearby fields and to a large forest. Conrad fled. An innocent peasant was imprisoned, tortured to confess and condemned to death. Conrad confessed his guilt, saved the man's life and paid for the damaged property.
Soon after this event, Conrad and his wife agreed to separate: she to a Poor Clare monastery and he to a group of hermits following the Third Order Rule. His reputation for holiness, however, spread quickly. Since his many visitors destroyed his solitude, Conrad went to a more remote spot in Sicily where he lived 36 years as a hermit, praying for himself and for the rest of the world.
Prayer and penance were his answer to the temptations that beset him. Conrad died kneeling before a crucifix. He was canonized in 1625.
Francis of Assisi was drawn both to contemplation and to a life of preaching; periods of intense prayer nourished his preaching. Some of his early followers, however, felt called to a life of greater contemplation, and he accepted that. Though Conrad of Piacenza is not the norm in the Church, he and other contemplatives remind us of the greatness of God and of the joys of heaven.
Pope Paul VI's 1969 Instruction on the Contemplative Life includes this passage: "To withdraw into the desert is for Christians tantamount to associating themselves more intimately with Christ's passion, and it enables them, in a very special way, to share in the paschal mystery and in the passage of Our Lord from this world to the heavenly homeland" (#1).
As I begin this prayer, God is here. Around me, in my sensations, in my thoughts and deep within me. I pause for a moment, and become aware of God's life-giving presence.
"In these days, God taught me as a schoolteacher teaches a pupil" (Saint Ignatius). I remind myself that there are things God has to teach me yet, and ask for the grace to hear them and let them change me.
In the presence of my loving Creator, I look honestly at my feelings over the last day, the highs, the lows and the level ground. Can I see where the Lord has been present?
The Word of God
Friday of the First Week of Lent
Reading 1 Ez 18:21-28
Thus says the Lord GOD: If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him; he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced. Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord GOD. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?
And if the virtuous man turns from the path of virtue to do evil, the same kind of abominable things that the wicked man does, can he do this and still live? None of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered, because he has broken faith and committed sin; because of this, he shall die. You say, "The LORD's way is not fair!" Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
Responsorial Psalm PS 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-7a, 7bc-8
R. (3) If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; LORD, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication.
R. If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?
If you, O LORD, mark iniquities, LORD, who can stand? But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered.
R. If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?
I trust in the LORD; my soul trusts in his word. My soul waits for the LORD more than sentinels wait for the dawn. Let Israel wait for the LORD.
R. If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?
For with the LORD is kindness and with him is plenteous redemption; And he will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.
R. If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?
Verse Before the Gospel Ez 18:31
Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the Lord, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.
Gospel Mt 5:20-26
Jesus said to his disciples: "I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.
"You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny."
Some thoughts on today's scripture
▪ You are speaking to my heart here, Lord. I cannot be reconciled to you unless I am reconciled to my neighbour. Forgiveness requires contrition and atonement. If I have stolen, I cannot ask God's forgiveness unless I have given back what I stole. If I feel a barrier in talking to you, Lord, it may be because I have not tackled the barrier between me and my neighbour.
▪ Lord, you are pushing my conscience inwards. I will be judged not just by what I have done in the external forum, but by the voluntary movements of my heart. God sees the heart, and sees how far I go along with feelings of hatred, lust or pride. In other words, I should be of one piece, responding more to God's gaze than to other people's.
Dear Jesus, I can open up my heart to you. I can tell you everything that troubles me. I know you care about all the concerns in my life. Teach me to live in the knowledge that you who care for me today, will care for me tomorrow and all the days of my life. Conclusion
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.
Whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. (Matthew 5:22)
As the crowd listened to Jesus speak these words, their hearts must have sunk. Who among them had never had an angry thought against someone or held someone in contempt or thought them a fool? What's worse, those who prided themselves on keeping the commandments were facing a deeper challenge: how could they ever become holy if the standards were set so high?
The answer was standing before them in the person of Jesus.
Throughout the Old Testament, we read stories about how self-absorption, hatred, and jealousy have destroyed the peace and unity of God's people. For instance, long before Cain killed Abel, jealousy had already taken hold of his heart (Genesis 4:6-7). Or think about how King David's lust and arrogance led to adultery, deception, and murder
(2 Samuel 11:1-27).
But everything is different now. Jesus has come and made it possible for us to uproot the inner causes of strife and division. He has come to teach us a love that has no room for anger, contempt, or envy. Through him, we can become patient, kind, and long-suffering; we can learn to place the needs of other people above our own (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). In short, Jesus has come to help us love each other as deeply as he loves us (John 13:34).
Living out this teaching is perhaps the greatest challenge we face, but the answer is far simpler than we often imagine. As with so many other things, the key lies in our relationship with God. Knowing his love, experiencing it in our hearts, can help us put away the selfishness that is at the root of all sin and division.
So go ahead and enjoy God's love today. Look up at the sky, and see his beauty and majesty. Look into your heart, and find his presence and intimacy. Look at your family, and find his joy and compassion. Best of all, look at the cross, and see his commitment to you. In all these ways, and so many more, your Father wants to convince you of his love. Let that love soften your heart and melt away any self-centeredness or divisive thoughts you may have.
"Lord, heal all the wounds made by harsh or angry words. Show me your love today so that I can be a true friend in good times and in bad."
"I can forgive, but not forget, is just another way to say: I will not forgive. When I make a commitment to forgive another person, ask the Lord to heal them, from the impact that they did in their life. Forgive, forget and start anew...There appeared on CNN an interview with a Rwandan woman. She was sitting on one end of the table drinking tea, the interviewer in the middle, that introduces her as a woman, that among the war between the Hutus and the Tutsis, had murdered her five sons. On the other end of the table was a man, perhaps a husband or brother. But the interviewer reveals that this man had killed her five sons. The following is an anecdote of real forgiveness...A man that she had forgiven and that she goes every Friday to drink tea at his house. The educated interviewer from CNN tells the Rwandan that she does not understand how she can forgive him. She answers: 'My sons have died and I have to think beyond that. Not to forgive this man would be to relive their death, because it would perpetuate the crime.' She explains, 'The crime committed is an unbearable barbarism, but it is not inhumane because a human did it, that now feels a tremendous pain. It is a pain I should accept.'...Seeing this I thought: this extraordinary woman...she is a simple woman, a peasant, that understands where the truth is. As the saying goes "Learn to let go, and let God take care of His business". The first Holy Scripture said "If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed...he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced. " It's this turning though that is the kicker. What we have nowadays are millions of Catholics, fasting, giving up sweets or beer or whatever, but they won't give up their sins. They will continue to have sinful thoughts and a tongue that can't be stopped. They will continue to lie. Lie in bed unmarried by the Church. Lie about their turning away from sins, lie about their promises. Such strong words right? And I've noticed every time I use the word "Lie" someone will unsubscribe from this email list. But the truth must be said. We are liars if we say we promise to turn away from sin and do not do it. It is just about impossible to do everything Jesus asks in the Holy Gospel, to surpass the scribes and pharisees that new everything and followed the laws they set out about God, and the Lord wants us to do that but much more? How in the world are we supposed to do everything God is asking? This morning, I played the scriptures from USCCB on the way to school. I told the kids "God wants us to do what He asks, and not be goofy, doing the wrong things so that we can live with Him forever, because when we die, we will live with Him as we lived on earth, or not with Him, in a sad place where we are no longer with God". This is why we pray in the Lord's prayer "on earth as it is in Heaven". Be merciful O Lord, we need it! We prayed the Psalms "If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?" this is a tremendous and sobering declaration. If the Lord were to take account of all your sin, not a soul could stand in Heaven. And so, today's Holy Readings are not a condemnation, but an invitation to Mercy. The Lord is asking that we turn to Him and away from sin. Is that too much to ask for? The unmarried couples, all they need is love, REAL LOVE...God in their marriage. Who will show them Love? What real Love is? Will it be you, or someone else? Who will help sinners find their way to Heaven? Will it be me? I'm a nobody, but I'm somebody when God works through me, because Christ lives in me. The reason Padre Pio, St. Pio, had bleeding hands, stigmata, was because Christ was oozing out of him, Christ was living in him. And Padre Pio, St. Pio, could be found where? Among the sick, in the hospital. Not the hospital he had constructed, but mostly the hospital for sinners...the Catholic Church, inside the confessional, hours on end healing and healing and healing. You see, the Lord doesn't count sins, for sins are self imposed and on to one another. For this, we need Mercy, forgiveness, and it begins with one another and then in culmination, the Holy Church. Jesus our Lord speaks today " I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment" looking down on others is Raqa in my feeble understanding, and calling others the fool and such names will hold you accountable. I remember for many years I held this little grudge on this guy in high school. We were driving down main street and a car honks at me, apparently I had veered into his lane unknowingly, and this older guy from school looked at me driving passed me shaking his head and I could read his lips as he said to me you're "*$^#@ stupid". I don't know why it struck me so hard. I didn't really know the guy, he didn't really know me, but just the look of disgust and hatred almost made me want to hate him back and perhaps unknowingly I now did. Until a few months ago, looking back, I decided to pray about it and to forgive him, no harm done. I've yet to ever let him know, for I never see him. And all these years I've been taking the Eucharist, Jesus. Shouldn't HE be the one asking ME for forgiveness for hurting my innocent feelings, for it was an honest mistake? Nope. My disgust was given back to him, I hadn't forgiven him on the fly. And so I too would look on him with disdain and hatred. Returning a punch in the gut for another. And it happens more often than not, well at least for me. I've even blurted to my wife "I am a mirror, what you dish at me I'll dish it back!" And so suddenly, calling someone the fool, pointing the finger points the rest back at one self. And so it begins with our self. Our turning away from sin, it's not about everyone else's sin right now, right now it's about a conversion from right here, right inside this little heart. Lent is a time for growing. Making the heart grow. My ego, my esteem, my self worth has to go flying out the window, less of me and more of Him. I told the kids on the way to school "if you see others being goofy (not doing as the Lord says) we have to show them the way". But telling them is not showing them. Showing them means love. I have the guts to tell people they are living in sin, but I don't have the right guts (the heart) to show them how to love God the right way. And so, I am in a period of conversion, a metanoia, a complete turnaround of life.
Perhaps if I do completely turn, there will be a tremendous celebration in Heaven, for a sinner realized the truth and turned to the light and became a child of light. This morning (sorry I'm just about done), at work, the trucking manager said "these Commercial Licensed drivers think they are professionals just because they got issued a license...they don't think they need evaluations, they don't think they need anyone to tell them anything, and they don't even really know how to drive or take care of their stuff!". And so it is with us baptized Christians. We believe we got it in, we believe we are so good, we believe nobody can tell us anything, and we believe the world should cater to our needs. So wrong. Where is the humility that leads to saints? Where is the humility that leads to Love?
Lord, forgive us our iniquities, we really need you...like REALLY REALLY Need you! Please, I know we pray "be with us" but you are already with us, it is us that are not with You. Look at our hearts that are trying and help us. Help me know you. Help me love you. Help me help you. Help me because I don't want to be me. Help us Lord, help us love one another to You. Help us Lord, as you know, being in love calls for pain Help us Lord, because although on a Friday you died in pain, we are riddled with an onslaught of indifference to You. Help us know you but forget all the knowing, help us love you. Please Lord, help me break away from me, so the center of my life is You My Love, My Sacred Heart, My cherished Lover of souls, our lover and life giver, You are all deserving because you created our hearts for love.
Now, I pray, we pour ourselves out and pour You in our souls....