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Friday, third week of Lent

February 29, 2008

Blessed Friday!

…and blessed “leap day” :)!

There’s a prayer that has special significance for Fridays of Lent. Praying this before a crucifix on a Lenten Friday (with the usual conditions of Holy Communion the same day, Sacramental Confession within a week before or after, prayers for the pope’s intentions–at least an “Our Father” and “Hail Mary”–and no attachment to sin), makes one eligible for a plenary indulgence (i.e., to have the Church open Her treasury of graces to pay all the debts you’ve incurred, that you would otherwise pay in Purgatory):

Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus,
while before Your Face I humbly kneel;
and with burning soul, pray and beseech You to fix deep in my heart
lively sentiments of Faith, Hope and Charity,
true contrition for all my sins and a firm purpose of amendment;
while I contemplate with great love and tender pity Your five wounds,
calling to mind the words which David, Your prophet, said of You, my Jesus:
“They have pierced My hands and My feet, they have numbered all My bones!”

Hosea 14: 2-10 (if we return to God, He will save us)
Psalm 81:6-11, 14, 17 “I am the Lord, your God: hear My voice”
+Mark 12:28-34 (love of God and neighbor are the greatest commandments)

If you’ve ever wished you had the “CliffsNotes” of the Christian life, Jesus gives them in today’s Gospel:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!
Therefore you shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength…

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:29-31)

These two commandments–which are really two aspects of one commandment–sum up everything God’s been trying to tell us since the foundation of the world. If we get this right, we’re home free (literally!).

We tend to look at this and think, “Love God–that’s not so hard. I’ll just say, ‘God, I love You!’–I’ll even go to church to say it!–and then I can go about business as usual.” The Children of Israel tried that already: “This people pays me lip service but their heart is far from Me. They do Me empty reverence” (Matthew 15:8).

So what does God want? “If you love me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

…so we could reword the summary to say, “You shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” That suddenly makes “love” much more concrete! God’s not just looking for a “warm fuzzy feeling” when the sunset’s gorgeous and life is good. He’s looking for love in the trenches, for love that forebears, trusts, hopes, endures; love that never fails (see I Corinthians 13:7-8). The Greek word translated here as “love” is “agape”, which is divine, self-sacrificial love–the kind of Love Jesus demonstrated for us by leaving the splendors of Heaven to take on our limitations and sufferings, up to and including the ultimate injustice of the cross. Agape doesn’t ask “what’s in it for me?”, but rather pours itself out entirely for the sake of the beloved.

That’s a tall order! And it leaves our human nature sputtering “…but what about me?! When is it my turn? I don’t want to be miserable forever! If I devote my whole heart, mind & strength to God, I won’t have anything left for myself!” That’s exactly why every generation, from Adam and Eve to you and I, has such a hard time with God’s commandments. We don’t really believe in God’s Love for us! “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34, emphasis added). Because His infinite Love is our supply, we’re utterly incapable of giving away more than we receive from Him. Besides, when done for the sake of the Beloved, receiving is a form of giving!

God promises that when we learn to love this way, far from being miserable, we will be fulfilled and happy beyond our wildest dreams. “I will be like the dew for Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar, and put forth his shoots. His splendor shall be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar” (Hosea 14:6-7).

We’re not there yet, though. This whole season of Lent is designed to help us get closer to this ideal so that our Easter will truly be a season of rejoicing in this vibrant new life. God shows us the way. “Return, O Israel, to the Lord, your God; you have collapsed through your guilt. Take with you words, and return to the Lord” (Hosea 14:2). He even gives us the words! “Say to Him, ‘Forgive all iniquity, and receive what is good, that we may render as offerings the bullocks from our stalls. Assyria will not save us, nor shall we have horses to mount; We shall say no more, ‘Our god’ to the work of our hands; for in You the orphan finds compassion’” (Hosea 14:3-4).

That’s a basic outline for Confession. Substitute the things you’re leaning on to save you, the dependence and/or priority you put on work or money or popularity (or anything else that’s not God). Take those words with you to God in Confession so that He can replace your idols with His own supernatural life in your soul.

“O magnify the Lord with me, let us together extol His name…Look to Him that you may be radiant with joy!” (Psalm 34:4, 5)

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