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Tuesday, Third week of Advent (St. Lucy): Second Chances

December 13, 2011

Blessed St. Lucy’s Day!
You can find her 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 (Dec. 13). 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.

O God, who through your Only Begotten Son
have made us a new creation,
look kindly, we pray,
on the handiwork of your mercy,
and at your Son’s coming
cleanse us from every stain of the old way of life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Zephaniah 3: 1-2, 9-13 (God will leave a humble, holy remnant in Israel)
Psalm 34: 2-3, 6-7, 17-19, 23 “The Lord hears the cry of the poor”
+ Matthew 21:28-32 (God’s looking for changed lives)

God is the King of second chances…
but we have to take them.

Over and over throughout the history of God’s Chosen People,
we see the lowly downtrodden, exploited, abused–by their own!

God noticed.

When the afflicted man called out, the Lord heard,
and from his distress He saved him.
-Psalm 34: 6

He always gave the persecutors a chance to repent
but whether they did or not, justice prevailed.

Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37).
When God gave them a second chance they repented,
and were saved from famine (Genesis 42:21, 45).

Moses, the meekest man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3),
faced mutiny after mutiny (afraid he’d be stoned to death!)
from the people he’d led out of Egyptian slavery
(Exodus 14:11-12, 16:2-3, 17:2-4, Numbers 11:4-15, 12, 14:1-4, 16, 20:2-6, 21:4-5, etc.).
Their lack of repentance cost that generation entrance into the Promised Land
(Numbers 14:27-38).

The great King Solomon oppressed his own people toward the end of his life.
That and his idolatry, unrepented, cost his son most of the kingdom (I Kings 11-12).

During the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah,
The people reneged on their promise to free their Hebrew slaves.
They set them free alright–but then forced them right back into slavery!
God was not amused… (Jeremiah 34).

Even after the return from the Babylonian exile,
after the Jewish people had bought back their countrymen from slavery to the Gentiles,
they were forcing these same people into slavery to themselves! (Nehemiah 5).
When God gave them a second chance they repented and were spared.

Jesus celebrated the son who first rebelled against his father,
but ultimately repented and carried out his father’s will (Matthew 21:28-32).

Examples abound…you get the idea…

Tyranny–from above or below–will not be tolerated forever (see Zephaniah 3:1).

Justice is only good news for the just…and for the repentant.

God keeps giving second chances.
But they don’t do us any good unless we take them.

That’s good news for the oppressed…
and for those willing to repent.

What second chance is God giving you today?


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