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Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

For Iames the gentele iugeth in his bokes
That fayth withouten feet is feblore than naught
And as ded as a dore-nayl but yf the dedes folowe:
Fides sine operibus mortua est.
Chastite withouten charite worth cheyned in hell;
Hit is as lewed as a laumpe that no liht is ynne. (I.181-185)

For gentle James judges in his book
That faith without works is a feeble thing,
Dead as a doornail unless deeds follow:
Faith without works is dead
Chastity less charity will be chained in hell;
It is as useless as a lamp that bears no light. (Trans. Pearsall)

William Langlang, Piers Plowman

As we draw closer to Lent, these words haunt me.

Two weeks ago I was on the bus, as is often, and most folks were quiet and enjoying the dark rainy ride home from a long day at work, save one woman on her phone. She had her newborn snuggled up to her in a Moby-wrap, and was talking to her partner(?) about their rent due and another issue involving a lawyer and more money going out of their pockets. It was likely uncomfortable to most because her business had instantly become their business. I imagine most people might have been upset as this one phone call was now their unsolicited phone call.

I knew I had a five-dollar bill in my billfold. It wasn’t a twenty or a fifty or even a ten. And it was more than just a crumpled single or a bit of change. It was enough to offer mercy, but hopefully not enough to make her feel uncomfortable to take it. “It’s not much,” I though over in my head, “but this may help you and your child more than I will help me.” The words were with me and well rehearsed. I even felt back in my wallet to make sure the bill was still there. It was, but as we drew nearer to the busstop, I grew tense. I worried that the gesture might embarrass her in front of so many people on the full bus. “I don’t want/need your charity,” I imagined her saying. She might even resent me and my offer, and give me a few words in reply for sticking my nose in her family’s financial business.

The bus stopped. The crowds and I exited as the mother and her son sat quietly to move on to the next terminal.

Langland’s words haunt me.

Langland is writing a poem about the world he sees around him, drenched in commerce and commodification. The Church, evinced its priests, monks, and friars are  everywhere in his society, but so too vice; the virtues are latent.

The poem’s main protagonist, Will, is all too often concerned with how he might save his soul (I.80).

Me too, Good Will.

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Πάντων δὲ τὸ τέλος ἤγγικεν.
σωφρονήσατε οὖν καὶ νήψατε εἰς προσευχάς·

Omnium autem finis adpropinquavit
estote itaque prudentes et vigilate in orationibus

The end of all things is near;
therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. (4.7)

The First Epistle of St Peter


Theophanes of Crete, “The Crucifixion” (1535)

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Exulta satis filia Sion!
Iubila filia Hierusalem!

Ecce rex tuus veniet tibi,
iustus et salvator,
ipse pauper et ascendens super asinum et super pullum filium asinae.

 

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!

See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (9.9)

The Book of Zechariah

Giotto di Bondone, “Christ enters Jerusalem,” Scrovegni Chapel, Padua (1305-06)

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Today’s Gospel reading at Mass may be formative in this Lenten season:

Jesus said to the Pharisees, ‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even came and licked his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

‘In his torment in Hades he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off with Lazarus in his bosom. So he cried out, “Father Abraham, pity me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.” “My son,” Abraham replied “remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. But that is not all: between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and to stop any crossing from your side to ours.”

‘The rich man replied, “Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too.” “They have Moses and the prophets,” said Abraham “let them listen to them..” “Ah no, father Abraham,” said the rich man “but if someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Then Abraham said to him, “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”’ (16.19-31)

The Gospel of St Luke

Lazarus and Dives, The Abbaye St. Pierre de Moissa

The following is a short essay I wrote for admission to Duke University’s Divinity School (February 2011):

St John Chrysostom (“the golden tongue”) articulates the Gospel of Christ in various sermons he preached in Antioch, where he served first as reader, then as deacon and priest, and then as the metropolis’ bishop. In one series, On Wealth and Poverty, Chrysostom focuses on St Luke’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The sermons’ central theme is that, while the poor may suffer misfortune, it is the duty of the rich to give alms and do acts of charity both to ease the plight of the poor and to fend off the disadvantages that accompany earthy treasures.

Unlike Origen, who precedes Chrysostom’s ministry by a century, Chrysostom’s reading of the biblical witness is less allegorical in nature and a more literal than his Alexandrian predecessor. For Chrysostom, the Gospel contains an honest and realistic call to serve the poor through the giving of alms. The parable itself is a vision of a rich man, negligent of the poor mendicant before his house’s gates, and then dying and then suffering in Hell. Chrysostom’s states for the benefit of his congregation that the rich man’s sin lies not in his wealth of earthly possessions but in his hard-heartedness and lack of care for the beggar. For Chrysostom, the poor have advantages in their lack, as they have less distraction in their honest pursuit of holiness. And while the rich may be disadvantaged as to their wealth and its distractions, the rich may give alms to the poor and therefore help to secure their own lot of penance and holiness.

Notice that in his sermons Chrysostom does not lambast the rich. His congregation in Antioch, at that time the Empire’s third largest city, no doubt had many wealthy merchants and tradesmen, and it would be easy for Chrysostom to castigate them for their material excesses. But Chrysostom does not preach hell as much as he does heaven, offering these congregants encouragement towards the blessings that accompany giving to his city’s poor. Chrysostom does not use his words and his episcopal position to condemn, but to offer gospel, that is good news, for the poor and the rich alike. Most importantly, as he does at the end of each sermon, Chrysostom askes a blessing of thanksgiving to Christ: “May we all attain this salvation, by the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

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God willed that many things should be said by the prophets, his servants, and listened to by his people. How much greater are the things spoken by the Son. These are now witnessed to by the very Word of God who spoke through the prophets. The Word of God does not now command us to prepare the way for his coming: he comes in person and opens up the way for us and directs us toward it. Before, we wandered in the darkness of death, aimlessly and blindly. Now we are enlightened by the light of grace, and are to keep to the highway of life, with the Lord to precede and direct us.

The Lord has given us many counsels and commandments to help us toward salvation. He has even given us a pattern of prayer, instructing us on how we are to pray. He has given us life, and with his accustomed generosity, he has also taught us how to pray. He has made it easy for us to be heard as we pray to the Father in the words taught us by the Son.

So, my brothers, let us pray as God our master has taught us. To ask the Father in words his Son has given us, to let him hear the prayer of Christ ringing in his ears, is to make our prayer one of friendship, a family prayer. Let the Father recognize the words of his Son. Let the Son who lives in our hearts be also on our lips. We have him as an advocate for sinners before the Father; when we ask forgiveness for our sins, let us use the words given by our advocate. He tells us: Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. What more effective prayer could we then make in the name of Christ than in the words of his own prayer?

St Cyprian, bishop and martyr, On the Lord’s Prayer (full text here)

Duccio di Buoninsegna, from Maestà (1308-11)

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Blessed the man who does not follow the counsels of the wicked,
or stand in the paths that sinners use,
or sit in the gatherings of those who mock:

His delight is the law of the Lord,
he ponders his law day and night.

He is like a tree planted by flowing waters,
that will give its fruit in due time,
whose leaves will not fade.

All that he does will prosper.
Not thus are the wicked, not thus.
They are like the dust blown by the wind.

At the time of judgment the wicked will not stand,
nor sinners in the council of the just.

For the Lord knows the path of the just;
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Psalm 1

The Apse Mosaic at San Clemente, (13th cent)

“The cross of the Lord is become the tree of life for us.”

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And for all Christians, there was a time of preparation before the great festivals which became longer and more elaborate in direct proportion to the elaboration of the festivals themselves.  From early days, the time of anxiety and tragedy which led up to the Resurrection was marked out by abstinence and vigil.  By a natural progression of ideas, this was linked to the story in the Synoptic Gospels that Christ had retreated from his active life and ministry into the desert for forty days and nights.  It was the perfect time if the liturgical year for catechumens to spend a last rigorous preparation before their triumphal reception into the Church during the celebration of Easter.  This forty-day period, first explicitly mentioned with much fanfare in the Canons of the Council of Nicaea and therefore probably of long standing, was the season which in English is known as Lent. . . The forty-day season would make all the more joyful the Christmas and Epiphany festivals at the darkest time of the calendar, when the days were at their shortest, as the release came at last from the time of preparation. (200)

Christianity : The First Three Thousand Years, Diarmaid MacCullouch


Christ in the Wilderness Surrounded by Angels, Charles de la Fosse

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