On Thursday, March 3, 2022, God sent me an early morning wake-up call. At 0230 hours I woke from a deep sleep. After 30 minutes it was clear that I needed to get up. So, instead of waiting until 0400, I got dressed and started my day. It was during my morning prayers that I realized that Jesus had a message for me.
My prayers begin with Lauds from Prayer of Christians, the American Interim Breviary copyright 1971. I’ve used it long enough for the cover to be off (but still use it loosely as a cover). This portion of my Morning Prayers was fairly routine. It was the additional readings that contained special meaning.
The first reading was from My Daily Life by Anthony J. Paone. This small booklet published by The Confraternity of the Precious Blood (1970) offers insights to our strengths and weaknesses as human beings striving for peace, perfection, and holiness. In particular, a passage from Chapter 30, Advantages of Hope in Daily Life, struck a nerve.
“Hope is needed by every man, whether he lives on a purely natural plane or on the higher and broader plane of religious faith. Like supernatural faith, religious hope is infused directly by God into the human spirit at the same time when he raises the spirit up to a supernatural union with Him. This union with God is called the ‘state of grace’”.
During Lent we prepare for the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; everything we do is grounded in hope. To say we believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Easter morning requires a supernatural act of hope. Particularly today in a world where science provides a depth of understanding on the limitations of our physical bodies, the resurrection of the body is not even considered a reasonable myth. Words of faith professing belief in the resurrection are empty without the hope that we, like Christ, will be resurrected.
My second reading came from the Confessions of St. Augustine, Translated with an introduction and notes by John K. Ryan, and published by Image Book (1960). The passage from Book 8, The Grace of Faith, Chapter 5, The Inner Conflict, reinforced the importance of grace in our lives. St. Augustine describes the inner battle between ‘carnal’ will and ‘spiritual’ will. Augustine’s desires of the flesh waged war against his desire for union with God. “In vain was I delighted with your law according to the inward man when another law in my members fought against the law of the mind … ”. He acknowledges that he was at the mercy of his sinful flesh. “For the law of sin is force of habit, whereby the mind is dragged along … against its will … even though it was by its will that it had slipped into the habit.”
How does St. Augustine expect to win this battle? He offers the following question as answer and for reflection. “Who would deliver me from the body of this death, unless your grace through Jesus Christ our Lord?” Augustine’s only act at this time is hope for God’s grace.
Clearly we need to begin by acknowledging our sins before we can offer repentance during Lent. We can only hope for God’s grace to strengthen and guide us to His forgiveness.
The third reading came from Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen, Image Book (1977, ©1958). In Chapter 11, The Beatitudes, Bishop Sheen presents Christ’s Sermon on the Mount as one side of a coin that contains Mount Calvary on the other side. The events are inseparable. Each Beatitude is associated with an accusation against Jesus which foretold, and guaranteed, his rejection and death. As the Bishop states, “The Sermon on the Mount cannot be separated from His Crucifixion any more than day can be separated from night.”
Bishop Sheen relates the beatitudes to our time by noting that society’s focus on “Security, Revenge, Laughter, Popularity, Getting Even, Sex, Armed Might, and Comfort” directly oppose His message for peace and happiness. For example: “To those who say, “ ‘You cannot be happy unless you are rich,’ He says, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ … To those who say: ‘If nature gave you sex instincts you ought to give them free expression, otherwise you will become frustrated,’ He says, ‘Blessed are the clean of heart.’ “
Since the sexual revolution began with the Kinsey Reports (1948 males and 1953 females), the sins of the flesh were being dismissed by men and women. Bishop Sheehan makes a point of emphasizing Christ’s approach to sin. He notes that Jesus used the phrase “‘You have heard’” for one part of the teaching and the word “ ‘But’ “ to qualify that teaching in light of His words.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’…’But I tell you that he who casts his eye on a woman so as to lust after her, has already committed adultery with her in his own heart.’” Clearly St. Augustine got the message.
Bishop Sheehan notes that Christ elevated even the intention to sin is a sin. Purity of heart is a more demanding challenge than purity of body. If there is no intent, there will be no act. If you have any doubts, ask St. Augustine.
The fourth and fifth readings were from the daily Mass at 0500. Each morning, the Daily Mass is broadcast live from the EWTN Chapel. During the Liturgy of the Word, we heard readings from the Book of Deuteronomy (Dt 30:15-20) and from the Gospel of Luke (Lk 9:22-25).
Moses said to the people:
“Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom.
If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God
Then he said to all,
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
yet lose or forfeit himself?”
The message in the readings is clear. The other thoughts, in my humble view, also offer a clear message. Therefore I will close with the response from the Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 1)
Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.