Saturday, March 31, 2012

Drink Up!

Cucumber slices, oranges and lemon balm, fennel and tarragon
Moving into Holy Week, there is a lot to do around here!  We just returned from a vacation in Williamsburg, which I'll post about later (like after Lent...).  With all the cooking, cleaning, and prepping that has to happen this week, to say nothing of the praying and spiritual concentration, I find it is important to try to take care of my health to keep my energy up.

One thing I consistently fail to do when I am busy is drink water.  Dehydration causes fatigue and irritation; when I'm not aware of getting in all the water I need, I tend to get cracked skin, feel grumpy, and generally succumb to exhaustion.  So I decided to make water a priority during this busy week.  I want to be happy and energetic for my Lord's Resurrection, not burned out and grumpy!

Lemon Balm
Here is what I have been doing.  Each morning, I take three quart size mason jars and fill them with filtered water.  I add a dash of sea salt to replace the minerals the filter took out.  Then I add a natural flavoring, which I just leave in the jars (except the green tea) until I'm ready to drink the water.  I keep the jars in the refrigerator.  The flavoring and cold temperature makes drinking the water much more appealing! Also, I can see how I am doing with getting enough water. If I start neglecting myself,  I have the visual reminder of the still-full jars to get me back on track.

 Flavorings that  I have enjoyed so far include:

**sliced cucumber and mint
**orange wedges and lemon balm (growing wild in Virginia)
**fennel and tarragon (from my herb garden)
**sliced lemon and lime together
**lemon and lemon balm
**lime and mint
**green tea (remove bag after a few minutes) and mint.
**sliced lime

Try this and see if it works for you, too!  Then share your favorite flavorings so we can all enjoy them!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Annunciation

The Annunciation, Philippe de Champaigne

In the pupil of chastity's eye
I beheld you
Generous maid! Know that it's God
who broods over you.

For heaven flooded you like
unbodied speech
and you gave it a tongue.

lily: before all worlds
you lured the supernal one.

How he reveled
in your charms! how your beauty
warmed to his caresses
till you gave your breast to his child.

And your womb held joy when heaven's
harmonies rang from you,
a maiden with child by God,
for in God your chastity blazed.

Yes your flesh held joy like the grass
when the dew falls, when heaven
freshens its green: O mother
of gladness, verdure of spring.

Ecclesia, flush with rapture! Sing
for Mary's sake, sing
for the maiden, sing
for God's mother. Sing!
                                                                                 ~St. Hildegard of  Bingen

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lenten Centerpiece: Meditations Week Six

Crucifixion, Palmezzano

This is a short week.  We will add the final element to our Interactive Lenten Centerpiece on Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent.   On Palm Sunday, we begin our annual Holy Week tree.  At that time, I will probably put our centerpiece display on our altar table or some other place appropriate to meditation until Good Saturday.   I will try to post the Holy Week devotion as we add to it, so it probably won't be something you'll be able to use this first year.  Maybe, though, it will give you some ideas for next Lent!

This week we will add the nails.  Although I have a realistic-looking Roman nail, it is, naturally, at my other house with the Christmas decorations (it is the kind you can hang on your tree).  I looked online for one, but they are kind of expensive.  So I went to Lowe's and got regular large spikes.  Another option is 6" masonry nails, which look more like the Roman nails.  They are not as large, however, and I felt the larger nails would make a greater impression.  Remember, this is not about getting it perfect or spending a ton of money, it's about impressing truth upon our children's minds and souls.

Because of the shorter time, I am only posting two meditations this week instead of the usual three.

The Crucifixion, detail, Grunewald
Meditation #1:  This is the last full week of Lent. Next week, Holy Week, we will follow the last week of the life of our Lord from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to His silent resting in the tomb on Good Saturday.  And then comes the joy of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday!  We have added the final piece to our centerpiece--three large (or sharp, if you chose the masonry nails or other nails) nails to represent the nails that pierced Jesus's hands and feet.  Jesus loves us so much He died for us!  Let's think for a minute what would have happened if He hadn't been willing to die for us.
     In some churches, you might have seen statues and crucifixes covered with purple cloth the last few weeks of Lent.  This covering reminds us that without the death of our Lord, there would not have been any saints to pray for us.  The Blessed Virgin Mary would not be our sweet heavenly mother or our intercessor;  St. Joseph would be completely unknown; all the mighty miracles and great acts of kindness that were performed by the saints would have gone undone.  Without Jesus's death on the Cross and His Resurrection on Easter morning, we would have no hope of Heaven and no idea of how much God loves us.  The Holy Spirit would not dwell in us and cleanse us of original sin in Baptism.  We wouldn't be able to go the confession, or even go to Mass.  Actually, it's hard to imagine what a terrible state the world would be in without the presence of the Lord in every tabernacle all over the world and without the continuation of the sacrifice of Christ in the Holy Mass. 
St. Padre Pio even said,

 It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.

This is why we pray at the Stations of the Cross: "We adored You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy Cross You have redeemed the world."

Meditation #2: During Lent, we have offered extra gifts to God.  Maybe we have not eaten certain foods or maybe we have added special prayers.  We have tried to remember to unite all of our troubles, pains, sufferings, and even all of our joys, to Christ.  It may be that someone teased you about your Lenten practices, someone who didn't understand what you were doing or why you would do it.  It is hard for people who don't know Jesus to understand why we would give up anything for Him.  But if they knew Him, they would love Him, too, and they would want to offer gifts to Him just as we have.    Even if we know this, it can be hard to be teased or criticized for our Faith.  
Jesus died for speaking the Truth about Himself.  There will be times when we will suffer for the Truth, too.  Jesus warned us:

You have not chosen me: but I have chosen you; and have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.  These things I command you, that you love one another.  If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember my word that I said to you: The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.~John 15:16-20

Let us try to remember that when people tease us or criticize us for our Faith, that means we are truly following in the footsteps of our Master and Lord.   We should forgive them and pray for them, too, just as Jesus did.  And, above all, we should keep on obeying God!

***Next year I will repost these meditations, perhaps with some improvements.  I would make one change, which I will note in the introductory post.  The first week should begin on Ash Wednesday and go through the Saturday after Ash Wednesday.  Then, the changes to the centerpiece can take place on Sundays, which I think makes a bit more sense and will be easier to keep track of.  If you have any changes you think would improve this series of meditations, please let me know so I can incorporate as many of them as possible.  Have a blessed Holy Week and a joyful Easter!  If I can, I will post our Holy Week devotion beginning on Palm Sunday.**** 

Monday, March 19, 2012

St. Joseph, Pray for Us!

St. Joseph Leading the Christ Child, Murillo
Blessed St. Joseph, pray for us!

This is a special day for us, as we have many Josephs in our family and my husband is half Italian.  So San Giuseppe is a very popular guy here!  On this Solemnity, our family will enjoy a St. Joseph's altar surrounded by tasty Italian treats, including cream puffs (a traditional dessert on this day) and a special cake with cannoli-like flavors. (I have included the recipe below.)  We will also add some olives, Italian bread, baked ziti, and sauteed spinach to our display to make a whole dinner in honor of St. Joseph.  Later tonight, I'll post a picture of the spread on this post!

Here's the finished spread! I ended up making a slow-cook cacciatore with the ziti because, as it turned out, I was unable to be in the kitchen from 3-5:30 p.m., meaning the main dish had to be finished and cooking before 3.  Typical day!  I couldn't really get a good picture of it because our house is tiny and I couldn't get far enough back to incorporate the entire counter.  Also, late in the day the lighting was strangely strange...

Another shot of the "spread" showing
the salad and some of the desserts.

My favorite side of the buffet, lol!

Usually, St. Joseph altars consist of breads and desserts, but for our family, a dinner works out well.  I can't imagine keeping the children out of a spread of goodies all day, and, while we all enjoy dessert here, how many different desserts can we really eat on one day?  By making it a dinner display, we can have a festive feast and a lavish display around St. Joseph without having it be entirely about dessert!  Also, we put everything out at once, eat it, and it's not lingering around temptingly all day.  We leave up our "altar" made of three gold-wrapped Amazon boxes, plastic flowers, and our St. Joseph statue for the entire day.

Now, having said that it isn't entirely about dessert, I'll pass on a dessert recipe I tried this year, lol!

            Cannoli Cake 

This recipe was originally in a Woman's Day magazine that I was reading in a doctor's waiting room.  I didn't write down the issue number or the name of the cake, but it had a lot of cannoli ingredients in it and seemed perfect for St. Joseph's Day! It really is delicious, but a bit hard to get the four layers to turn out quite right.  No one will mind, though!  It's very rich!

Bake 1 French Vanilla Cake from a mix in two 9" round pans.

Mix together and refrigerate until spreadable:
16 oz. ricotta cheese
1/2 c. powdered sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. rum extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped (I just used the mini semi-sweet morsels since I need to buy a bag of them to complete the recipe, see below)

Cut each layer in two horizontally.  The easiest way to do this is to use a serrated bread knife.  Spread the ricotta mixture between and on top of the cake layers, leaving 1" unfrosted around the edges of each layer. (You want the edges of each layer to almost meet so that there aren't big gaps between the layers that might make frosting a problem.) Don't frost the top layer.

For the final frosting, mix together and refrigerate until spreadable:
2 8oz. cartons mascarpone cheese
3-4 c. powdered sugar (that's not 3/4!  between 3 and 4 cups)
1/4 c. whole milk
2 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Frost sides and top of cake with mascarpone frosting mixture.  Press 1 c. sliced almonds into sides and sprinkle 2 T. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips over the top. (I skipped the almonds since many here are not fans.)

May St. Joseph, the patron of families, intercede for your family and all of its needs in the coming year.

Oh, St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God. I place in you all my interests and desires. Oh, St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, so that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.
Oh, St. Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls - Pray for me.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lenten Centerpiece: Meditations Week Five

The Temptation of Christ, Duccio
This week we will add a crown of thorns to our Interactive Lenten Centerpiece.  In keeping with my effort to keep this display as low-cost as possible, I made a crown of thorns out of my raspberry bush prunings.  Any branches with thorns could be used--blackberry, roses, wild brambles, etc.  When I made this crown, the scraping and poking of the thorns into my hands caused me to meditate on the terrible suffering of this part of our Lord's Passion. 
 Because the raspberry canes were stiff, the crown is fairly large and didn't fit onto the tray, so I put it off to the side, where I think it looks just fine.  Remember, the purpose is to give our families a focal point and reminder to meditate on our Lord's sacrifices for us, not to win a decorating award! 

Jesus Commands Satan, Carolsfeld
Meditation #1:  In the wilderness, Jesus suffered three different temptations.  We have seen that the first two were the temptation to deny God to satisfy His physical hunger and the temptation to fall into pride and take for Himself the glory that should belong to God.  Now, we see the third and final temptation, the last effort of the devil to turn Jesus away from doing the Father's Will. The devil takes Jesus up to the top of a high mountain and offers to give Him power over all the kingdoms of the world:

Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,  And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me.  

This last and final temptation is the most terrible of all--it is the temptation to idolatry.  Idolatry is the sin of worshiping as a god something or someone who isn't really God Himself.  It is giving the love and honor and attention of our hearts to anything more than to God.  In ancient times, pagan people worshiped actual statues of stone, calling them gods.  Today, we don't usually have wooden or stone gods that we are tempted to worship, but we can commit idolatry by allowing material things, such as the pursuit of riches or our own pleasures, to be more important to us than God.  We also commit idolatry when we value anything more than God:

2113 Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, "You cannot serve God and mammon." Many martyrs died for not adoring "the Beast",  refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God.

Jesus, when facing the temptation to value power more than God, responded:

Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil left him; and behold angels came and ministered to him.~Matthew 4:1-11

It only took a word from Jesus to send Satan away. Once Jesus made it clear that He would only serve God, the temptations ended.  We, too, must strive to keep God always first in our hearts and to honor Him in everything we do.  

Get thee hence, Satan, William Hole
Meditation #2:  When Satan tempted Eve in the garden, He told her she would be like God if she ate the apple.  But we know that Eve was already like God--she was made in God's image and God's likeness.  So, the devil tried to fool her into thinking she was missing out on something that God had already given her!  He tried the same tactic with Jesus on the mountain of temptation.  What did he say?  He offered Jesus the power over all the kingdoms of the world, didn't he?  But Jesus already HAD the power over all the kingdoms of the world, the power over the whole world.  St. John tells us,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.   All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. ~John 1:1-3

Jesus is the Word of God, the very One Who made all things.  The world belongs to Him because He created it.  So, once again, Satan is trying to trick Jesus.  Maybe the tempter is hoping that Jesus will doubt God's goodness or doubt His own relationship with God, but of course that would never happen.  Jesus knows Who He is, He knows He is the Son of God.  

When we are tempted to do wrong, we must remember who we are.  We are the specially beloved of God, created in His own image and likeness. We have been redeemed by Him and we are temples of the Holy Spirit. As the readings on the Fourth Sunday of Lent recalled, "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10)  God knows us, loves us, and has given us everything we need to worship Him.  Let us keep our hearts faithful with His help and always put God first in our lives.

Christ Crowned with Thorns, Canuti
Meditation #3:  On our tray this week, we have added another symbol of the Passion, or suffering, of Jesus.  It is a crown of thorns.  After the soldiers scourged Jesus, they began to mock Him.  They scornfully called Him a king and placed on His head a crown of thorns.  Then they pretended to bow down and worship Him.  They gave Him a scepter of wood, too, and a cloak that was supposed to be like royal robes.  But they did not believe He was a king, they were teasing Him and making Him suffer.
Little did those soldiers know, Jesus really IS a King.  He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  Do you think those soldiers were inspired by Satan?  Satan had offered Jesus the kingship of the whole world and Jesus had turned it down.  Now, Satan was mocking Him and telling Him, "See, you should have done what I said!  Then you would really be a king, but now all you have to look forward to is dying."
How blind the enemy was!  He did not know that Jesus was truly a King, come to set His people free from death and sin.  He did not know that Jesus was choosing to suffer because this was the only way to free His people.  And he did not know that in only a few short days, Jesus would rise from the dead and the power of death would be forever broken!
Our crown of thorns can be a reminder to us of Jesus's suffering.  It can also remind us of His resurrection, His power, and His true Kingship.

440 Jesus accepted Peter's profession of faith, which acknowledged him to be the Messiah, by announcing the imminent Passion of the Son of Man.  He unveiled the authentic content of his messianic kingship both in the transcendent identity of the Son of Man "who came down from heaven", and in his redemptive mission as the suffering Servant: "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Hence the true meaning of his kingship is revealed only when he is raised high on the cross.  Only after his Resurrection will Peter be able to proclaim Jesus' messianic kingship to the People of God: "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lenten Centerpiece: Meditations Week Four

The Flagellation of Christ, William-Adolphe Bouguereau
 This coming Sunday we will add to our Lenten centerpiece a symbol of the whips that were used to scourge our Lord.  Here is what I came up with:

I used one of the leather bracelets from a leather braided bracelet kit my daughter had.  You could use strips of leather, brown felt, or even brown paper.  It doesn't need to be costly.  I glued on a few cut off pieces from a tuna can lid to convey the idea of the metal and bone pieces that were tied into the scourge and that tore our Lord's skin so cruelly.

Jesus Carried up to a Pinnacle of the Temple, Tissot
Meditation #1:   In the second temptation, Satan took Jesus up onto a high tower of the temple and, trying to trick Him by using Scripture, quoted from the Old Testament book of Psalms (Ps. 91), saying, "If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone."  Once again, we see that Satan didn't really know who Jesus was, but he was trying to get Jesus to both reveal His true identity and to sin against God.  What is the nature of this second temptation?  First of all, if Jesus had done as the enemy suggested, He would have been testing God.  That is, He would have been trying to force God to do what Jesus Himself wanted God to do in order to somehow prove that God is God. That is totally backwards!  Jesus came to do God's Will--not the other way around!  As our example, Jesus is showing us that we ought not to try to manipulate God into doing what we want Him to do, but rather we should always try to conform ourselves to God's will.  Jesus replied to the devil's temptation: "It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."  We should never try to put God in the position of having to conform to our demands and expectations to prove to us He is indeed God.

Secondly, Satan was tempting Jesus to make a  very public spectacle, so that everyone could see that He was the Son of God.  The Temple was a very busy place with many people always coming and going.  If Jesus did as Satan was asking, He would have instantly become a great celebrity and a man to whom everyone listened.  Satan was trying to appeal to Jesus's pride, but he did not know that Jesus was perfectly humble.  So, once again, our Lord resists all the temptations of the enemy.

The Scourging, Caravaggio
Meditation #2:  Let's look at the new item on our tray this week.  What do you think it is?  It is a scourge.  A scourge was a terrible whip, all studded with bones and metal, that was used to punish criminals in ancient times.  Our scourge reminds us of the scourge that was used on Jesus before He was crucified.   Before He was crucified, Jesus was arrested and taken before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.  Only Pilate had the authority to put Jesus to death.  Pilate decided to have Him scourged first, perhaps hoping that that terrible beating would be enough punishment to make the people stop demanding that he put Jesus to death.
Jesus suffered the scourging without a word.  He fulfilled by His suffering an ancient prophesy about the Messiah:  

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. ~Isaiah 53:3-7 (RSV)

Jesus could have exercised His royal and divine power and authority.  He could have struck down Pilate and the soldiers who taunted and scourged Him. It would have been no effort at all for Him to stop these tortures and show Himself as the glorious King of Heaven that He is.  But He did none of these things.  He did not give us an example of pride and power, but one of humility and silence.  In the desert, Jesus resisted the temptations of Satan by His perfect humility.  At the end of His life, Jesus followed the Will of God perfectly because of His humility.
Jesus, when we are tempted to show everyone how great we are, help us to remember Your example of humility.  Help us to remember how much you suffered to teach us humility and silence, and help us not to act or speak in ways that are boasting and proud. 

St. Catherine of Alexandria at Prayer, Titian
Meditation #3:  We are almost halfway through Lent.  This coming Sunday (that is, March 18th--this was supposed to be posted on Sunday the 11th, but I got anxious!) will be Laetare Sunday--the halfway point!  We have been thinking a lot about how Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for us, and also about other ways in which He suffered for us. We have been trying to be faithful to our Lenten penances.  We have been thinking about living holy lives, too, and growing in patience, humility, holiness, and self-control.  Now is a good time for us to take stock of how we are doing.  What are we doing well?  What are we struggling with?  Whatever we need help with, we can be sure our Lord will give us all the help we need if we just ask Him for it.  He suffered so much for our salvation--it's easy to see that He wants us to be holy and that He will help us in every way to become holy.  Let's take some time today to pray and ask Him for all the help we need.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lenten Centerpiece: Meditations Week Three

The Stoning of Stephen, Gemignano

[ No longer applicable, from original 2012 post:Dear readers,  this week we had a scary event happen at our home.  My dearest husband suffered a heart attack.  While he is recovering well, as you can imagine it has been a crazy time here.  So, I was unable to completely finish all of the meditations I had planned for this week.  However, I have posted below what I did have ready, as well as the ideas I was planning to develop in the meditations.  I'll try to get back here before Wednesday to finish up, but I hope this will give you enough to go on!  Please keep my husband in your prayers for a complete recovery.  Thank you so much!] 

This week we will add one large stone and several smaller ones to our Lenten centerpiece.  I live in a very sandy coastal area and larger stones are a bit tough to come by, but as I was walking and praying about this centerpiece, I happened to see a piece of asphalt broken off and lying in the road.  It's not a true stone, but the black color fits the Lenten mood and sure co-ordinates well with my tray!  So, thank you, Lord, for providing my large stone!  Here's how my tray is looking this week (only, actually, it's not looking blurry, but my "assistant" bumped my arm):

If you are following the meditations I have been writing, please remember that my children are all 9 and up so if you have littler ones I would suggest you shorten and modify the meditations some.  Maybe just tell the Bible stories, mentioning important concepts such as the Fall and Jesus's willingness to suffer for us, while not dwelling too heavily on the more serious and difficult topics of death, abandonment, and the devil.  However, older children can and should understand these basic truths of the Faith.
Also, while the meditations are written in a kind of narrative form, in reality I present them more as a sort of discussion, asking questions and trying to get the children to think about what they already know and to apply it.  The Baltimore Catechism questions are just for your use, although older children do like to try to see if they know the answers and they are good discussion starters.

Meditation #1:  After Jesus had been fasting in the wilderness for forty days, the Bible tells us that  He was hungry.  He was not only hungry, but after forty days he was desperately hungry.  At this moment, Satan came to Him to tempt Him to satisfy His hunger, saying, "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread."~Matthew 4: 3  The stones on our tray this week remind us of the stones in the desert that the tempter wanted Jesus to turn into bread.  Was it wrong for Jesus to want to eat?  Certainly not.  So why was it a problem if He turned the stones into bread?  Didn't God want Him to have food?  Of course, God knew Jesus needed food, just as He knows everything we need.  And God was going to give Jesus what He needed at the right time.  The tempter, however, was trying to get Jesus to go ahead and use His power to satisfy His own desires.  The tempter was trying to get Jesus to doubt that God would give Him what He needed at the right time.
Jesus responded by simply stating His trust in God; He knew that God would provide everything He needed to live. He knew that doing the will of God was more important than satisfying His own needs.  So,  He said, "It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God."~Matthew 4:4  
     We can trust that our God will give us everything we need to live forever with Him in Heaven, as well as our necessities in this life, when we seek to do His Will.  As we look at our rocks this week, let's think about the many ways God provides for our needs every day and let us remember to put our trust in Him.

Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed?  For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.  Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.~Matthew 6:31-33

The First Temptation, William Blake
Meditation #2:  Do you remember how we learned that Jesus was like a Second Adam?  And we know that the first Adam was tempted, don't we?  In fact, the first Adam was tempted to eat something, too.  A piece of fruit that God had told him not to eat.  Adam failed to withstand temptation.  He didn't resist the tempter, but he gave in to temptation and ate the fruit God told him not to eat.  Ever since then, all of us who are Adam's children and grandchildren have had a hard time resisting sin.  Because of Adam's sin, we find ourselves wanting things like too much food or too much sitting around when we know we ought to be exercising.  And we don't always resist these desires, do we?  Even when we know what is right to do, sometimes we don't do what is right.  Our wills and our reason are weakened by the Fall.  This weakness has a name: "concupiscence". Concupiscence just means that we have a tendency to want to sin, to be attracted to sin, and to want to indulge ourselves. 
Pentecost, Taddeo Gaddi
When Jesus was in the desert, He was tempted just as the first Adam was--to eat something that God had not given Him. Unlike the first Adam, Jesus resisted the tempter and did not sin.  After He had ascended to Heaven, Jesus sent us a Helper so that we, too, could have the self-control necessary to resist sin.  That Helper is the Holy Spirit, and one of the special fruits of His presence in our souls is self-control:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. ~Galatians 5:22-25

Let us ask God to help us be obedient to the Holy Spirit and to strengthen us whenever we want to indulge ourselves too much.  As Lent progresses, let us stick to our resolutions and practice saying  "No" to some of the desires of our bodies so that the fruit of self-control will grow in us.

From The Baltimore Catechism #3:

Q. 259. What other effects followed from the sin of our first parents?
A. Our nature was corrupted by the sin of our first parents, which darkened our understanding, weakened our will, and left in us a strong inclination to evil

Q. 260. What do we mean by "our nature was corrupted"?

A. When we say "our nature was corrupted" we mean that our whole being, body and soul, was injured in all its parts and powers.

Q. 261. Why do we say our understanding was darkened?

A. We say our understanding was darkened because even with much learning we have not the clear knowledge, quick perception and retentive memory that Adam had before his fall from grace.

Q. 262. Why do we say our will was weakened?

A. We say our will was weakened to show that our free will was not entirely taken away by Adam's sin, and that we have it still in our power to use our free will in doing good or evil.

Q. 263. In what does the strong inclination to evil that is left in us consist?
A. This strong inclination to evil that is left in us consists in the continual efforts our senses and appetites make to lead our souls into sin. The body is inclined to rebel against the soul, and the soul itself to rebel against God.

Q. 264. What is this strong inclination to evil called, and why did God permit it to remain in us?
A. This strong inclination to evil is called concupiscence, and God permits it to remain in us that by His grace we may resist it and thus increase our merits.

Q. 267. Does this corruption of our nature remain in us after original sin is forgiven?
A. This corruption of our nature and other punishments remain in us after original sin is forgiven.

 Q. 699. Which are the gifts of the Holy Ghost?

A. The gifts of the Holy Ghost are Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord.

Q. 700. Why do we receive the gift of Fear of the Lord?
A. We receive the gift of Fear of the Lord to fill us with a dread of sin.

Q. 701. Why do we receive the gift of Piety?
A. We receive the gift of Piety to make us love God as a Father, and obey Him because we love Him.

Q. 702. Why do we receive the gift of Knowledge?
A. We receive the gift of Knowledge to enable us to discover the will of God in all things.

Q. 703. Why do we receive the gift of Fortitude?
A. We receive the gift of Fortitude to strengthen us to do the will of God in all things.

Q. 704. Why do we receive the gift of Counsel?
A. We receive the gift of Counsel to warn us of the deceits of the devil, and of the dangers to salvation.

Q. 705. How is it clear that the devil could easily deceive us if the Holy Ghost did not aid us?
A. It is clear that the devil could easily deceive us if the Holy Ghost did not aid us, for just as our sins do not deprive us of our knowledge, so the devil's sin did not deprive him of the great intelligence and power which he possessed as an angel. Moreover, his experience in the world extends over all ages and places, while ours is confined to a few years and to a limited number of places.

Q. 706. Why do we receive the gift of Understanding?
A. We receive the gift of Understanding to enable us to know more clearly the mysteries of faith.

Q. 707. Why do we receive the gift of Wisdom?
A. We receive the gift of Wisdom to give us a relish for the things of God, and to direct our whole life and all our actions to His honor and glory.

Q. 719. Which are the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost?
A. The twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost are Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Benignity, Goodness, Long-suffering, Mildness, Faith, Modesty, Continency, and Chastity.

Q. 720. Why are charity, joy, peace, etc., called fruits of the Holy Ghost?
A. Charity, joy, peace, etc., are called fruits of the Holy Ghost because they grow in our souls out of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost.

Christ Freeing Adam and Eve, The Chora Museum
Meditation #3: The rocks on our centerpiece this week remind me of how Jesus was tempted to change stones into bread.  They also remind me of the very first martyr ~ St. Stephen.  St. Stephen was a deacon in the days when St. Peter was the Pope, just after Jesus Himself died.  St. Stephen's job was to be sure that bread and other necessities were given out to the poor fairly.  One day Stephen was arrested, and he was taken before the rulers who had put Jesus to death.  Stephen did not fear.  He knew who Jesus was! In the desert, Satan doubted that Jesus was the Son of God, for he said to Him, "IF you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread."  But Stephen was certain that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Promised One whom Adam and Eve had been told about, who would save us from our sins and bring us to happiness in Heaven. Stephen knew that no matter what happened to him, to his body, he could absolutely trust in Christ to keep him safe for all eternity.  So, St. Stephen boldly told his accusers that they had killed the Messiah!  And that Jesus was God!  "Blasphemy!!!", they all cried out, "We condemn you to death by stoning!" And speaking thus, they picked up stones and began to hurl them at Stephen.  Stephen looked up into Heaven and at that moment he saw Jesus sitting in power next to God the Father.  Just as Jesus had in the wilderness, Stephen prayed for all of those who were persecuting and killing him.  He offered all of his sufferings to God for the sake of God's Kingdom. Stephen died, but his prayers were heard by God and great graces came forth from his death for the infant Church.  Not only did the Church begin to spread out from Jerusalem, but also one of Her greatest apostles-St. Paul- was converted through St. Stephen's prayers.
Jesus suffered in the Wilderness, but that was not the end of His suffering for the sake of the salvation of the world.  Until the end of time, He also suffers in His saints, as St. Paul himself would say:
 [I] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church: ~Colossians 1:24 
Whenever we are suffering or whenever people are cruel to us because of our love of the Lord, let's remember St. Stephen.  We can offer all of our sufferings and trials to God for the salvation of souls.  In this way, we can join Jesus in His prayers and sufferings and help bring about the victory of the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

In the Wilderness

In the Wilderness
by Robert Graves
Christ of His gentleness
Thirsting and hungering
Walked in the wilderness;
Soft words of grace He spoke
Unto lost desert-folk
That listened wondering. 

He heard the bitterns call
From the ruined palace-wall,
Answered them brotherly.
He held communion
With the she-pelican
Of lonely piety. 

Basilisk, cockatrice,
Flocked to his homilies,
With mail of dread device,
With monstrous barbed slings,
With eager dragon-eyes;
Great rats on leather wings,
And poor blind broken things,
Foul in their miseries. 

And ever with Him went,
Of all His wanderings
Comrade, with ragged coat,
Gaunt ribs--poor innocent--
Bleeding foot, burning throat,
The guileless old scape-goat;
For forty nights and days
Followed in Jesus' ways,
Sure guard behind Him kept,
Tears like a lover wept.