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Lenten Prayer

          O Lord, who has mercy on all,

          take away from me my sins,

          and mercifully kindle in me

          the fire of the Holy Spirit.

          Take away from me the heart of stone,

          and give me a heart of flesh,

          a heart to love and adore Thee,

          a heart to delight in Thee,

          to follow and enjoy Thee, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

-                               St. Ambrose of Milan (339-397)

 

     It always amazes me how a prayer written centuries ago can still speak to us today. This prayer of St. Ambrose is a good example. Written in the fourth century, it still resonates with us living in the twenty-first century. For me, three words or phrases stand out as being particularly contemporary, especially during the season of Lent: mercy . . . give me a heart of flesh . . . a heart to enjoy Thee.

     Ambrose begins his prayer by addressing God as the One who has mercy upon all. Mercy is a timeless description of who God is. When the twentieth-century Trappist monk Thomas Merton was asked to describe God, he said, God is mercy within mercy within mercy.” Similarly, the recently canonized St. Faustina had visions of Jesus with streams of mercy flowing from His heart. The mercy of God is a quality Jesus lived and called us to emulate: “. . . forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

     We might wonder why St. Ambrose would pray to be given a heart of flesh. Do not humans, by their nature, already have that? Ambrose knew that a heart of flesh is a heart that is vulnerable to both joy and pain. Joy we usually welcome. Pain we often try to block. But if we numb ourselves from pain – whether by denying our own pain or turning away from the pain of others – we risk acquiring a “heart of stone.”

     Once again, Jesus’ heart is our model. He did not anesthetize Himself from pain. On the contrary, He was deeply moved by the suffering He experienced and witnessed around Him, reaching out to others not only through His healing miracles but, more importantly, through His compassionate healing presence and teachings.

     Even as we share in Jesus’ suffering and pain, we glimpse the joy of Easter. St. Ambrose reminds us that every loving relationship includes mutual enjoyment, and he concludes his prayer asking for a “heart to enjoy God.” We can enjoy God by delighting in our Creator’s amazing works – from dancing daffodils to chirping birds to boundless oceans and the vast canopy of stars at night. We can enjoy intimacy with Jesus in the Gospels, in the Eucharist, and in one another. And we can enjoy the Holy Spirit’s encouragement towards even-greater generosity and trust.

     St. Ambrose’s prayer is indeed ageless. Let us draw comfort and wisdom for our Lenten journey from his enduring words.

Reflection for the Week
Third Sunday in Lent

Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live; Not where I love, but where I am, I die."

St. Robert Southwell (ca. 1561-1595) – Jesuit Priest, Poet, and martyr

     Why do we need silence in our spiritual lives?  Cannot God break through all the noise and busyness in our lives?  After all is not the Jesuit idea of “finding God in all things” something we can all embrace?

     Yes. God can speak to us during every moment of the day – through friends, work nature, really anything that is good – even when we are busy and our lives are filled with noise.  But anyone who has ever been on a retreat or has withdrawn from the noise of life knows that physical silence enables us to notice things we may not notice otherwise.  Sometimes the recognition can be as simple as “I like being still with God.”

     For contemplative prayer, silence is essential.  Of course, none of us lives in a hermetically sealed room free from noise – even monasteries can be busy and noisy!  But some measure of silence, even imperfect silence, is important because it helps us focus on what we are praying about.

     If we are using our imaginations to picture ourselves in a scene from the Gospel, it is harder to concentrate with the TV or radio on and even harder if we are watching a video on our phones.

     How do we cultivate silence?  One way is to consciously choose it.   Say to yourself: For this period, I am going to be as silent as possible, sit in my room (or in church or in my backyard) and just read this Gospel passage quietly.  Then I will rest with God, Who will meet me, in a new way, in silence.

Hear our prayer
O Lord: Bless, protect and sanctify all those who bow their heads before You.

Sexagesima Sunday

     The last class I took as a seminarian, forty-seven years ago, was a counseling internship through a local hospital. Specifically, I was interning if family therapy as part of the inpatient drug and alcohol treatment program. Each weekly session lasted about four hours and was intense and heart-wrenching. Family members and loved ones routinely confronted those in treatment, with the suffering their addiction had caused.

     Our staff supervisor often spoke to family members about the “tough love” that is needed in the face of addiction. For example, not enabling the person with the addiction and not sugarcoating the harm that was done to them and the pain they were feeling. He would often remind those in treatment: “You cannot just talk the talk; you have to walk your talk.”      Talking about remorse is different from being remorseful. Talking about making amends is not the same as making them.

     St. John was saying the same thing centuries ago: “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and in truth.”

     Our tradition teaches that love is not so much a feeling, as it is an act of the will. Love is to will the good of the other person, whoever he or she is. That, it seems to me, is the hinge upon everything turns.

     True love is counter-cultural because it is the conscious choice to love and to will the good for those who are deemed unlovable. True love is cross-cultural because no one of any race, creed, color sexual orientation, ability or disability can be excluded from it. True love is having the wide, embracing, redeeming, and merciful love of Jesus.

 

 

Hear our prayer,
O Lord: Bless, protect and sanctify all those who bow their heads before You.

Blessings. M+

Second Sunday in Advent

Collect of the Day

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience, and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

 

From the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer

Commentary

 

     A prayer for the right use of Holy Scripture, especially as a preparation for the Second Advent.


     A.   The Nature of the Bible.


     It is both human and Divine, human because “written by holy men of old,” Divine because they wrote as “moved by the Holy Ghost.” Our Church recognizes both elements in the phrase, “‘Who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written.”
The Bible is our lesson-book as “written for our learning.” It is not out of date, for every age may say it was written for our learning. If merely human it would lack authority to teach; if merely Divine we could not attain to its lessons.


     B.   The Right Use of the Bible.


     This is to be a matter for prayer, for He by Whom it was caused to be written can alone cause it to be read with profit. It is not merely to be heard when read by others, but to be read by ourselves, and read with attention—not merely read, but studied and assimilated.


     C.   The Blessings of such Spiritual Study.


     These are threefold—Patience which can endure trials, Comfort that can be happy beneath the rod, Hope that all trial will one day be at an end. Such spiritual study is to be a great means of preparation for the Second Advent as giving hope of everlasting life, to be welcomed with eagerness and retained with perseverance

Bishop Owen Williams Lenten Message


Dearly Beloved Friends,

 

This year, as we enter the Church’s Season of Lent, custom calls for us to give up something or take something on. We do this because it is a form of discipline which is to strengthen our faith. The Church often talks about Spiritual Exercise, in order to conform our will to God’s will. Easier said than done.

 

Why would you give up coffee or chocolate? Or, why would you give up a favorite soap opera or sporting game? If you think you are doing it to punish yourself, because you are so wicked, then you are on the wrong track. Instead, you might ask yourself, “How does punishing myself bring me closer to God?”

 

Or to use another cliché, it is like “starting off on the wrong foot.” Originally, this saying came from military training. If you start off on the wrong foot when marching in ranks, you would be out of sync with the rest of the company. Most athletes would tell you that if you don’t start off on the correct foot, things can go terribly wrong.

 

The Sunday readings for the first four weeks of Lent are about starting off “on the right foot.” The verses from St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, Ephesians, Thessalonians, and the Corinthians, all have that in mind. They give guidance on how to form our own spiritual lives. Likewise, the Gospel readings contain similar themes. These can give a framework to our Lenten Spiritual Work.

 

The world as we know it, right now, is in a terrible mess. This is nothing new. It has been that way since the Fall of Man. There are “wars and rumors of wars;” “upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity.”  The last line in the Book of Judges appears to be the reality in this present time. “In those days, there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

 

Currently, one third of all humans call themselves Christians. Many who would label themselves followers of Christ act as if the King of Kings never existed or the Ten Commandments are merely suggestions. All Existence calls out for a Savior. In stubbornness, the people reject the Promises of Christ. They look to themselves, a fallen humanity and the source of their problems. They create false saviors.

 

Our true hope is in the reality of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. Let us then, pick up our cross, begin our spiritual exercise, storm Heaven with prayers and “continue Christ’s faithful soldiers and servants unto life’s end.”

 

Your faithful servant in  Christ,
Bishop Owen R. Williams
                      /s/
Ordinary of the Diocese of the West
Anglican Church in America

Reflection for Advent III

         “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three,” writes St. Paul, “and the greatest of these is love.”  I sometimes wonder if Paul had a hard time choosing the “greatest” among these three gifts from God.  Certainly, I am a big fan of Love!  But, after all, without faith we have no foundation.  And to that end, without hope we would have no future.

     Over forty-five years ago, as A young Deacon, I read something that upended my notion of hope, which until then I had taken for optimism – as in, “Do not worry!  It will all work out!”  The comment that I read was from Pedro Arrupe, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus from 1965 -1983.  He Said: “I am quite happy to be called an optimist, but my optimism is not of the utopian variety.  It is based on hope.  What is an optimist?  I can answer for myself in a very simple fashion: He or she is a person who has the conviction that God knows, can do, and will do what is best.”

      In other words, hope is grounded in God.  It is not simply having a good attitude, as important as it is.  It is based on a relationship with the Source of All Being, who comes to us the Savior whose birth we await during this season of Advent.

     Hope is also a gift, something we must pray for.  Even in our darkest moments, when it seems like God has forgotten us (which God never does) we are invited to pray for hope.  And in that very prayer, we deepen our relationship with God, and again find hope. - Fr. Michael Costanzo

Prayer

From the New Advent web site

NOTE: All words or phrases in blue, when clicked, will take you to a New Advent web page.

For a specific prayer or meditation, choose from the Prayers & Meditations tab drop down list.

(Greek euchesthai, Latin precari, French prier, to plead, to beg, to ask earnestly).

     An act of the virtue of religion which consists in asking proper gifts or graces from God. In a more general sense it is the application of the mind to Divine things, not merely to acquire a knowledge of them but to make use of such knowledge as a means of union with God. This may be done by acts of praise and thanksgiving, but petition is the principal act of prayer.

     The words used to express it in Scripture are: to call up (Genesis 4:26); to intercede (Job 22:10); to mediate (Isaiah 53:10); to consult (1 Samuel 28:6); to beseech (Exodus 32:11); and, very commonly, to cry out to. The Fathers speak of it as the elevation of the mind to God with a view to asking proper things from Him (St. John Damascene, On the Orthodox Faith III.24); communing and conversing with God (St. Gregory of Nyssa, "De oratione dom.", in P.G., XLIV, 1125); talking with God (St. John Chrysostom, "Hom. xxx in Gen.", n. 5, in P.G., LIII, 280). It is therefore the expression of our desires to God whether for ourselves or others. This expression is not intended to instruct or direct God what to do, but to appeal to His goodness for the things we need; and the appeal is necessary, not because He is ignorant of our needs or sentiments, but to give definite form to our desires, to concentrate our whole attention on what we have to recommend to Him, to help us appreciate our close personal relation with Him. The expression need not be external or vocal; internal or mental is sufficient.

     By prayer we acknowledge God's power and goodness, our own neediness and dependence. It is therefore an act of the virtue of religion implying the deepest reverence for God and habituating us to look to Him for everything, not merely because the thing asked be good in itself, or advantageous to us, but chiefly because we wish it as a gift of God, and not otherwise, no matter how good or desirable it may seem to us. Prayer presupposes faith in God and hope in His goodness. By both, God, to whom we pray, moves us to prayer. Our knowledge of God by the light of natural reason also inspires us to look to Him for help, but such prayer lacks supernatural inspiration, and though it may avail to keep us from losing our natural knowledge of God and trust in Him, or, to some extent, from offending Him, it cannot positively dispose us to receive His graces.

Continue to the New Advent web site for more about prayer  OR BY clicking the blue words.

 

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