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Tuesday, Third Week of Advent (St. John of the Cross)

December 14, 2010

Blessed St. John of the Cross’ Day!

You can find his story here.

The winter Ember Days begin tomorrow!

In this case “ember” has nothing to do with fire.
Some say it’s a corruption of the Latin “Quatuor Tempora”,
meaning “four times” because they occur four times a year
(at the beginning of each of the four seasons). 
Others consider it a variation of the Old English “ymber”.

Thus says the Lord of hosts:
The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth,
and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth
shall be to the house of Judah, joy, and gladness,
and great solemnities: only love ye truth and peace.
-Zechariah 8:19

The Ember Days are times of prayer, fasting and partial abstinence
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 (yesterday).  One memory aid was the phrase “ashes, dove, cross, Lucy”.
They were definitely arranged and prescribed for the universal Church
by Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085),
but the practise of setting aside days to sanctify the seasons
goes back to the Early Church–Pope Leo the Great (440-461)
said that it went back to the Apostles themselves. 
The partial abstinence means that meat was only taken at one meal of the day
on Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays (Fridays are already meatless).

Wednesday and Friday were selected
because these were the days of penance observed by the Early Church
in place of the Jewish practise of fasting on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 
Christians fasted on Wednesdays (the day Christ was betrayed)
and Fridays (in honor of Good Friday). 
Saturdays were added as the culmination of the Ember week,
with a procession to St. Peter’s in Rome and an all-night vigil.

The Ember Days are meant to sanctify each season as it arrives. 
The purpose of these days of fasting, abstinence and almsgiving,
besides the general one intended by all prayer and fasting,
was to thank God for the gifts of nature,
to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy. 
They are seasonal “days of recollection”, or spiritual renewal,
as well as days to ask God to bless the fruits of the earth
and to thank Him for the blessings He has provided. 
They give us time to reflect on the beauty of the seasons
and what they can teach us about God and Heaven.
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that
“the beauty of spring, the brightness of summer, the plenty of autumn, the rest of winter”
are foreshadowings of the wonders of our eternal home.

Ordinations came to be held during the Ember days,
so Ember Days are also good times to pray for vocations and for priests. 

The Saturday of the Embers Days is the most important–
at one time an all night vigil was held at the end of the Ember Days
from Saturday night to the following Sunday morning.

With the revision of the liturgical calendar in 1969,
the Vatican left the celebration of Ember Days
up to the discretion of each national conference of bishops. 
In the United States, the bishops’ conference has decided not to celebrate them,
but many dioceses around the world still do. 
Even in the U.S., individual Catholics, a number of Religious orders
and most Latin Mass organizations still observe the Ember Days.

Check out Catholic Cuisine for more information & menu ideas.

Father of love,
You made a new creation through Jesus Christ Your Son.
May His coming free us from sin and renew His life within us,
for He lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit
One God, forever and ever.  Amen.
(Opening Prayer from Mass)

Readings:
Zephaniah 3: 1-2, 9-13 (God will leave a humble remnant)
Psalm 34: 2-3, 6-7, 17-19, 23 “The Lord hears the cry of the poor”
+ Matthew 21:28-32 (the one who ultimately does God’s will is approved)

It’s been said that Christmas is for children.
While that’s true, it could be argued that adults need it more.

It takes a lot of growing up to become truly childlike.
It takes a lot of maturity to finally realize that “having it all”
isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
For many of us, that lesson can only be learned the hard way,
at the bottom of the pit we’ve dug for ourselves,
or perhaps, like the younger son in today’s parable, simply as a second thought.

The promise Advent brings is that God’s come to pull us out.
He doesn’t write us off for our foolish mistakes.

The poor man cried, and the Lord heard him,
and saved him out of all of his troubles
-Psalm 34:6

Nor does He come with the disapproval we so richly deserve:

The Lord redeems the life of His servants;
none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned
-Psalm 34:23

Our guilt simply cannot survive the immensity of His Love.

You may truly say that if I had committed all possible crimes,
I would still have the same confidence;
I would feel that this multitude of offenses would be like a drop of water
thrown into a blazing furnace.
-St. Thérèse of Lisieux

When we entrust it to Him, our shame vaporizes.

On that day you need not be ashamed of all your deeds,
your rebellious actions against Me;
For then I will remove from your midst the proud braggarts,
And you shall no longer exalt yourself on My holy mountain.
But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly
-Zephaniah 3:11-12

God’s greatest obstacle is our pride;
our resistance to being dependent on Him,
to being receptive to His forgiveness.
Determined to “stand on our own two feet,” to make ourselves worthy,
we cripple ourselves.

What limits God is not His own love,
but our willingness to accept His love.
It has been aptly said,
“It is not our misery that gets in God’s way,
but our importance.”
-Fr. Bartholomew Gottemoller

This is why tax collectors and prostitutes
are entering the Kingdom of Heaven ahead of us (see Matthew 21:31).
They know their need.

no great sinner needs to be urged to shame and remorse;
that sinner has drunk deep of the cup of misery and knows well its bitterness.
-Walter Farrell, A Companion to the Summa

St. Thérèse’ “little way” is a shortcut to this maturity,
to the lowliness God holds up for our admiration.
She expected nothing from herself, everything from God.
She turned herself over to Him completely, faults and all,
and He gave her everything.

That’s what God’s asking of us.

The challenge that Christmas presents to the human heart
is to have a faith that’s great enough
to receive all that God, through His Son,
desires to give.
-Roy Lessin

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