Friday, February 27, 2015

Don't Know Much About St. Aelred...

..but I do know that one of my top ten favorite readings from the  Office of Readings was written by him. In case you didn't do this hour today, just get a look at this. I can't even edit it down to "highlights" since every single sentence is so powerful:

The perfection of brotherly love lies in the love of one’s enemies. We can find no greater inspiration for this than grateful remembrance of the wonderful patience of Christ. He who is more fair than all the sons of men offered his fair face to be spat upon by sinful men; he allowed those eyes that rule the universe to be blindfolded by wicked men; he bared his back to the scourges; he submitted that head which strikes terror in principalities and powers to the sharpness of the thorns; he gave himself up to be mocked and reviled, and at the end endured the cross, the nails, the lance, the gall, the vinegar, remaining always gentle, meek and full of peace.

In short, he was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb before the shearers he kept silent, and did not open his mouth.

Who could listen to that wonderful prayer, so full of warmth, of love, of unshakeable serenity—Father, forgive them—and hesitate to embrace his enemies with overflowing love? Father, he says, forgive them. Is any gentleness, any love, lacking in this prayer?

Yet he put into it something more. It was not enough to pray for them: he wanted also to make excuses for them. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. They are great sinners, yes, but they have little judgment; therefore, Father, forgive them. They are nailing me to the cross, but they do not know who it is that they are nailing to the cross: if they had known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; therefore, Father, forgive them. They think it is a lawbreaker, an impostor claiming to be God, a seducer of the people. I have hidden my face from them, and they do not recognise my glory; therefore, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

If someone wishes to love himself he must not allow himself to be corrupted by indulging his sinful nature. If he wishes to resist the promptings of his sinful nature he must enlarge the whole horizon of his love to contemplate the loving gentleness of the humanity of the Lord. Further, if he wishes to savor the joy of brotherly love with greater perfection and delight, he must extend even to his enemies the embrace of true love.

But if he wishes to prevent this fire of divine love from growing cold because of injuries received, let him keep the eyes of his soul always fixed on the serene patience of his beloved Lord and Savior.
How is lent going for all of you? I've been busy with the birth of a grandson,the 18th birthday of my youngest child, and a legal guardianship hearing for said child since he is mentally disabled. So I fear I"m only just barely aware of lent at this point. I did settle on some good spiritual reading: This lovely book of passages curated from the letters of St. Francis deSales, and in addition to that, this commentary on the parables of Jesus by the incomparable Fr. George Rutler.  Both are from the excellent Sophia Institute Press.  

If you have any Liturgy of the Hours questions for me, fire away. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Time to Be Peculiar! Lauds and Vespers for Ash Wednesday

Morning and Evening prayer (lauds and vespers) for Ash Wednesday form a kind of synopsis of What Lent is about and what to remember as we progress through these 40 days of penance before Easter.

To begin with, there are two options for the psalter of Ash Wednesday: Wednesday week IV or Friday Week III. I always go with Friday III: it is so obviously appropriate for this day,with the penitential  Psalm 51--A pure heart create for me O God, put a steadfast spirit within me--and its lamentation from Jeremiah's canticle. On the other hand, if you or your groups decides to go with Wednesday IV, you get that very stout antiphon: My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready. A great battle cry for lent, isn't it?

Moving ahead to the reading of morning prayer:
You are a people sacred to the Lord,your God; he has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people  peculiarly his own.  
 Focus on the word "peculiar". It has two meanings, illustrated by the following sentences:
1.Those Catholic are a little...peculiar,don't you think?
2. It's a species of fish  peculiar to the Great  Lakes.
In the reading, God is telling us we are peculiar in the second sense: uniquely belonging to him. Set apart. But in responding to God's invitation to be his children, we will sooner or later find ourselves appearing "peculiar"  to other people. If non-catholic  co-workers spot ashes on your forehead, and notice those meatless lunches on Friday, they might think you peculiar for caring about such things. Our Church's recent stand  on issues of conscience and freedom in the context of contraception and the HHS manate has brought what is considered a very "peculiar" teaching to the attention of others in recent years.
Lent is the time to embrace our "peculiarity". In both senses of the word.

Next, notice the responsory: God Himself will set me free from the hunter's snare, from those who would entrap me with lying words, and from the hunter's snare.  This is one of the many places in the Liturgy of the Hours where we can apply a prayer not just to ourselves --in this case the hunter is Satan, temptation, and my own sinful inclinations--but also, we should listen to the voice of Jesus. He knows his enemies are after him. Here he expresses confidence in his Father.

From here, I want to call attention to both the morning and the evening antiphons for the Gospel canticles:
Morning: When you fast, do not put on a gloomy face, like the hypocrites.
Evening: When you give alms, do not let you left hand know what your right is doing.
These two lines of scripture summarize what our attitude should be about our lenten practices. Don't let your family and friends know how it's just killing you to not check your email more than twice daily. Smile a lot. And don't show off by  dropping little  references to your good deeds when you are with people who would be impressed.  If someone suggests that your should do more A or be more B, don't counter by dazzling them with the C,D,E,F and G that you are already doing.

Now, jumping to the reading for Evening Prayer:
Work our your salvation with fear and trembling,for it is God who of his good pleasure works in you both the will and the performance. 
This one verse says it all about the faith and works issue that protestants like to bring up. Yes, Jesus saves us. No, our response to saving grace is far more than just the "sinners prayer". Yes, God helps up with the "far more" part too.

Finally, the Closing Prayer (same as the Collect at the day's mass)
This is one of those cases where you really want to glue a copy of the new translation into your breviary, since there is so much more here than in the old version. This is a man's prayer, and when it comes to penance, we all want, as Teresa of Avila advised her nuns, to "Be Men!"
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian sevice, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with the weapons of self-restraint. Through our Lord Jesus Christ your son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lenten breviary Primer

This is a post from last year for the benefit of Divine Office newbies who want to use books rather than apps. 

If you just started using a breviary recently, you might have some trepidation about lent. You've got to start using the Proper of Seasons every single day, rather than just Sundays. This is not so difficult, but here are some principles to simplify it further. You might want to print and cut out this post and stick it in your book for reference.

1. Each day you will only use the four-week Psalter as far as the end of the psalms--taking care to use the specified Lent antiphons--and then turn to the front of your book (Proper of Seasons.) Keep a ribbon there and in the psalter.

2.For Ash  Wednesday: use week IV of the Psalter for the Office of Readings, although Friday of week III is also an option. For the  the next three days, use week IV of the Psalter (although for Thursday only  week III is also given as an option.) Personally I"m sticking with week IV. On Sunday you will start over with week I, and so on through the rest of lent, going in order and then repeating weeks I and II for the last two weeks.

3. Saints Days. All saint's days in lent are observed as optional memorials. This means you do not use the Common of martyrs, doctors, etc. You use everything for the regular lenten weekday EXCEPT what is in the Proper of Saints. Alternatively, you may ignore the saint's prayers and readings altogether and do everything from the current lenten weekday. (That is what "optional" means).

4. Solemnities. St. Joseph on March 19th and the Annunciation of Our Lady on March 25th are two breaks from lenten liturgy. Do their complete offices from the Proper of Saints and the Commons as the breviary instructs you. Use these days to lighten up on your lenten penances, e.g. eat dessert, drink a cocktail, watch TV or have a chocolate bar. (Or in my case, go to the mall and buy myself some earrings or a pretty top. Shopping fasts are really rough on girls like me.)

Okay, any questions on Lenten offices or anything else related to the Liturgy of the Hours? Fire away!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Lenten Reading

It's that time of year to think: what am I gonna do for lent this year? If you read Catholic blogs and websites you'll never lack for suggestions. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving. There's so many ways to do these.

Spiritual reading comes under the heading of prayer. Depending on what you select, and how you read it, the reading itself is prayer.   Due to its status as liturgy, the Liturgy of the Hours is a prime example of this.  If you don't regularly pray the Office of Readings, then there is no better lenten spiritual reading. If you're pressed for time, just skip the psalms and do the two readings--one from scripture and one from the saints/fathers/doctors of the Church--by themselves.  But of course, the psalms give context and elevate the entire thing into the universal prayer of Christians throughout the world.

You already do the Office of Readings? Good for you. You might add to spiritual reading in a number of ways:

-Read through the gospels, several epistles, or some Old Testament book during lent.
-choose a papal encyclical or two. Deus Caritas Est by Benedict XVI, Dives in Misericordia or Salvifici Doloris by St. John Paul II,  or Evangelium Gaudium by Pope Francis are all good possibilities.

-choose a Catholic Classic that has stood the test of time. Introduction to the Devout Life, The Imitation of Christ, Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence, The Story of a Soul.   It always takes a little more mental effort to immerse oneself in the language of a century or three ago, but that's just the sort of toughness we want to exercise during lent.

-Okay. You know you'll be too tired or distracted to focus on a classic work? Fear not. There's lots of new titles out there by popular authors which look really good. Here are a few promising ones that have recently come my way:
40 Days, 40 Ways by Marcellino D'Ambrosio - as the title suggests, you get a different lenten activity each day. It might be a suggested penance, a prayer practice to explore, a work or mercy, or just a topic for meditation.  On day seven he suggests that we pray one psalm a day and/or explore the Liturgy of the Hours, so D'Ambrosio on my list of good guys!

Spiritual Warfare by Paul Thigpen   - this book sold out its first printing in just a few weeks. Although the Kindle edition is available at a reduced price, the gorgeous leatherbound print edition might be worth waiting for. A serious book for our troubled times.

Remade for Happiness by Fulton Sheen a best seller from the 1950s is now back in print from Ignatius Press. It asks "What are You Like? How Did You Get that Way? Who Can Remake You?"If you've never had a taste of Sheen's writing, this is a great one to start with.

Practical Theology- SpiritualDirection from St. Thomas Aquinas- 350 Ways Your Mind Can Help You Become aSaint by Peter Kreeft Ignatius Press a modern apologist takes the most practical passages of the Summa and helps you see the perennial wisdom of St. Thomas. 

These are just a few. If you like, share in the comments below what spiritual reading worked well for you last year, and/or what you are planning to use this year?

Plus any Divine Office-related questions are welcome as well.