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Wednesday, first week of Lent

March 4, 2009

Blessed St. Casimir’s Day! (Look for his story in the “saints of Lent” category)

Today is the beginning of the spring Ember Days! And no, “ember” in this case has nothing to do with fire. There are conflicting explanations of the origin & meaning of the word in this context, but they all have to do with the four seasons.

The Ember Days are times of prayer and fasting at the beginning of each of the four seasons–the consecutive Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after Ash Wednesday, after Pentecost, after the Exaltation of the Cross (Sept. 14) & after St. Lucy’s day (Dec. 13). One memory aid was the phrase “ashes, dove, cross, Lucy”. These days are meant to sanctify each season as it arrives. Ordinations came to be held during the Ember days, so Ember Days are also good times to pray for vocations and for priests.

Ember Days were largely forgotten after Vatican II, but a number of Religious orders, at least one diocese & most Latin Mass organizations still observe them. Our diocese has a remnant of the Lenten Ember days–this Friday (Ember Friday) is a Day of Prayer and Penance for Diocesan and Universal Church needs.

Lord, look upon us and hear our prayer.
By the good works You inspire,
help us to discipline our bodies
and to be renewed in spirit.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen

Jonah 3:1-10 (God forgave the Ninevites, who repented on hearing Jonah preach)
Psalm 51:3-19 “A broken, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn”
+Luke 11:29-32 (Jesus is greater than Jonah–so repent!)

“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed” (Jonah 3:4)

What if that read, “Forty days more and America shall be destroyed”? What would we do?

Flight is looking pretty good! Let’s see, forty days to pack the essentials, apply for visas…

But you’ll notice that the Ninevites didn’t order a mass-evacuation. Rather, the king proclaimed a fast of man and beast in sackcloth and ashes, reasoning, “Who knows, God may relent and forgive, and withhold His blazing wrath, so that we shall not perish” (Jonah 3:9). He saw forty days as enough time to repent, to choose a new way of life. God saw their conversion…and Nineveh was saved.

Jesus urges us not to let these repentant pagans put us to shame. They responded to Jonah, the reluctant prophet whose disobedience had landed him in the belly of a whale for three days. Far greater is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Who came to us freely, spending three days in the belly of the earth in payment for our sins.

We too have forty days…time enough to repent, to choose a new way of life. Will we take God up on His offer, accepting the salvation He bought for us with His own Precious Blood? (“A broken, humbled heart He will not scorn” -Psalm 51:19). Or will the repentant citizens of Nineveh (Iraq!) rise to condemn us?

May God bless our repentance and heal our sin-sick land.

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