We’re fortunate to have two traditional liturgies at St. Anthony’s during the Triduum and on Easter Sunday.
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COMBATING TEMPTATIONS WITH FASTING, PRAYER, AND ALMSGIVING
According to an ancient tradition, on the first Sunday of Lent we listen to the story about the temptation of Jesus in the desert. But we can ask ourselves, why do we begin Lent this way with the story of the temptations? According to the Curé of Ars, the reason for this is to show us that one of the purposes of Lent is to give us a time to combat evil more than we usually do. In a similar way, St. Benedict, in his Rule for monasteries, says that the entire life of the monk should be a sort of Lent, but because we don’t have the strength to do it , then it’s necessary to compensate for our carelessness during the rest of the year during the actual season of Lent.
But now, let’s analyze the Gospel passage in a more detailed way. Three temptations are presented. The Gospel describes the first temptation: “And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards He was hungry. And the tempter coming said to Him: ‘If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread’” (Mt 4:2-3). This temptation is easily understood. Jesus was hungry, and the devil wanted him to work a miracle to satisfy his hunger. In fact, in another place, Jesus performs the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and of the fish, apparently to satisfy the crowd’s hunger. Thus, it might seem that there would be nothing wrong if he performed such a miracle for himself. But the devil wanted to lead Christ by his natural desire of food to abuse his power of performing miracles, that is, by performing a wonder without a proportionate reason.
The second temptation seems less understandable, and the thing which the devil suggests is worse. “If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down” (Mt 4:6). The idea is that he will be miraculously saved, and this will show more clearly that He is the Son of God. It’s obvious, however, that there isn’t a true reason to do such a thing, and therefore the temptation makes even less sense.
The third temptation is even worse, even if the devil promises the greatest result. “All these”, that is all the kingdoms in the world, “will I give Thee, if falling down Thou wilt adore me” (Mt 4:9). The devil knows that there is no reason to adore him, and therefore he must offer everything in order to convince a person to do so.
We can compare these temptations with the traditional good works of Lent, that is, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. With fasting, we are able to curb the appetite for food, working against the first temptation. With prayer, we recognize our dependence on God, but without presumption, working against the second temptation. The relationship between almsgiving and the third temptation is perhaps less evident, but looking at almsgiving as a result of charity, which is the love of God, then we see that the thing which is most contrary to charity, and in this sense, to almsgiving, is precisely adoring the devil. In this way, from the temptations themselves we can understand the means to combat them, that is, with the works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
And in conclusion, in today’s text we find another suggestion on how to live a fruitful Lent. Jesus responds to every temptation with a citation from Sacred Scripture. From this we can understand the importance that Sacred Scripture assumes in our personal conflict against temptation. We monks have Lectio Divina, and during Lent, we are called to dedicate ourselves even more fully to this practice. For other people, for example, for those who are not used to reading Sacred Scripture regularly, it would be a great idea to begin doing this during this season of Lent this year, maybe even reading for fifteen minutes a day, and thus find a way to help in the practice of virtue and in the struggle against temptation. At any rate, in all of our Lenten practices, let us ask for God’s help to persevere and bring them to completion.
Homily from a Benedictine monk in Norcia, Italy.
Every night, before going to sleep, the monks read a passage from St. Peter: be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour: whom resist ye, strong in faith (1 Pet 5:8-9) and every morning during the year, the monks read a passage from St. Paul, Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong (1 Cor 16:13). The monk, then, is called to a continual vigilance. In fact, the ancient monks tried to follow this principle to the point of never even sleeping. As an older monk once said: “It’s enough for a true monk to sleep only one hour.”
Even if this extreme vigilance seems out of our reach, the monastic tradition has always placed it as a fundamental attitude. And all of us can understand this from the ordinary experience of everyday life. In being vigilant, it prepares us for something that might (or will) happen. For example, if someone must take a difficult math exam, he has many books to study. But this student is also married with two children and works as a bartender to earn extra money on the side. Before studying for the exam, he’ll need to create some space. He will ask for four weeks off from work, and he’ll need to find a room in his house where the children won’t be able to disturb him. And, once all of this preparation is completed, then he’ll be able to start studying.
These experiences help us to understand today’s liturgy, called Septuagesima. When we came into Church, and saw the violet vestments, maybe some of you thought that there was a funeral or maybe you thought of Lent. Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima form, not only the traditional time for the carnival, but a small period of preparation for Lent. As we all know, Lent is the time for preparation for Easter. These three Sundays of Septuagesima, then, become a preparation for the preparation.
The concept of preparing for Lent might seem absurd. Isn’t Lent itself a preparation for Easter? Wouldn’t this mean giving a somewhat exaggerated emphasis on corporal fasting and penance? Certainly, if we think of Lent always in negative terms, the time of Septuagesima will have a dark and somber character. But, if we look at the time of Lent, which will arrive in three weeks, as a time to listen and to grow in the love of God, then the three Sundays of Septuagesima will make more sense. If we look at Lent with the analogy of the exam, then God will be able to speak to and with us during Lent. Are we ready to listen?
Today’s Gospel presented for Septuagesima demonstrates the same point. The parable of Jesus turns human logic upside down. Five workers begin working at five different hours, and receive the same stipend. But the workers who worked the entire day were upset for what they considered a lack of justice. Wouldn’t we be upset, too, if a prostitute or a thief were to enter heaven before us? Are we prepared for this message? The gospel touches the heart of our Faith, that is, the gratuitousness of Redemption. It can’t be earned. Yet we’re still sleeping.
Maybe during this Lent, God will ask something great of us. Maybe he will ask us for a great sacrifice of charity or of forgiveness. Maybe he will ask us to suffer an injustice. Maybe he will ask us for a great humiliation or a painful disease. Maybe he will ask us for our very life. The time of preparation during Septuagesima is an opportunity to clean our rooms, to throw out the trash, to put our lives in order to be prepared to listen, prepared to grow with God. If our hearts are full of the music of our personal tragedy, it will be difficult to do very much from Ash Wednesday onwards.
Today’s Gospel says that the workers began working at five different hours. In these different hours, we see the analogy for Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima, Lent, and in the end, the Holy Triduum itself. Certainly, all have been paid. It’s possible to wait. But if we don’t get prepared now, how do we know that afterward, or even later, we will get prepared? It’s always easier to say, “well, I just can’t do it this year. Maybe next year”. It’s important to remember the last phrase of the Gospel: for many are called, but few chosen (Mt 20:16).
If we want to experience real fruit during Lent, then we should pull out the weeds from our garden now, and take advantage of these three weeks. Lent will be short and maybe difficult. Let’s roll up our sleeves now, and prepare for Lent. Run whilst you have the light of life, that the darkness of death shall not overtake you (Jn 12:35) (Rule, Prologue)
[A homily given by a Benedictine monk of Norcia, Italy]
On November 1, 2016, Monsignor Chiodo celebrated an evening Mass in the usus antiquior for All Saints Day. Below are some photos which show the beauty of the form, the church, and the involvement of the dedicated families.
We’re grateful for Monsignor’s dignified prayer, for the servers (under the direction of Andy & Steve), and for the women’s schola who sang the propers of the musical.ly followers free day and added some appropriate hymns.
(Photos courtesy of Mr. Bob Nandell. Thanks!)
Welcome to the Una Voce Des Moines site! This site is to promote the ancient form of the Mass to those of central Iowa. We hope to organize occasional Masses & events, get instagram private profiles perhaps even some prayer meetings, to showcase the rich liturgical patrimony of the Roman Catholic Church.
Do you have any suggestions or recommendations? Do let us know!