Thursday, February 14, 2013

Smoke and Ash

In the past, I have started Ash Wednesday with early morning Mass followed by Adoration, confession, more Adoration, Vespers, and  Mass again in the evening  (without receiving ashes or Holy Communion a second time).  I love the Gospel of St Matthew read on Ash Wednesday, and I love seeing the churches full of people and I pray every year that just one of those lapsed Catholics will have a spark ignited that returns them permanently to the faith.  However, circumstances did not permit me to be observe the day in the manner that I prefer.  The Lord had other plans for me.

I have been feeling sorry for myself of late especially because  there is a Catholic church less than a 1/4 mile from my place of employment, but it does not offer a 6:30 am Mass.  Every morning and evening when I drive by it, I make the sign of the cross and feebly extend my hand in the direction of the rose window, like a starving, weakened person might do when begging for a scrap of bread.

But I am a persistent begger, and short of cutting a hole in the roof of the church and having my friends lower me in, I refused to give up.  The afore-mentioned church does not post its bulletin online anymore.  Apparently, you have to have a log-on and password to view it.  But did that stop me?  No, I discovered that previous years' worth of bulletins were still accessible to schlubs like me.  I went back to the two prior years' Ash Wednesdays and saw that this parish offers a 6:30 am Mass with imposition of ashes.  As I sat in my pew yesterday morning before the Mass began, in that very church that to date had been closed to me, I felt a bit like the woman in the parable who hounded the judge until he gave her what she wanted.

I got to work exactly on time and the black cross smudge on my forehead announced to one and all that it was indeed Ash Wednesday.  While I work with many Catholics, only two of them knew what day it was.  None of them knew it was a day of abstinence.  One of them actually believed it was OK to eat meat, so long as you don't eat it on Good Friday.  Call it a shocking but valuable opportunity to do what was obviously missed when these folks were catechized.  I might have lived in disgrace for a good part of my life but the one thing I was blessed to have gotten was an excellent education in the faith by nuns in habits.

The previous evening I spent at a Mass celebrating the close of Forty Hours Devotion at a nearby parish not my own.  My heart literally ached for the priest, who put so much effort into his excellent sermon on Jesus as the Lamb of God to have not more than 25 people bother to show up.  At the conclusion of Mass and Benediction, he stood in the rear of the church to greet and thank those who came, telling us each we had our priorities in order.  After shaking my hand and exchanging pleasantries, Father shared his sorrow that so few of his parishioners made time to come to such a beautiful Mass.

"I've never seen it this bad." he said.  "The people... they just don't bother to come out anymore."

Lest you think I walked away feeling smug, please think again.  For close to 20 years, I was one of those Catholics who couldn't be bothered to show up.  Sure, I went to church.  I joined one catholic-lite house of worship after another in an endless search for that which had been right before me the whole time.  Far be it from me to judge anyone who'd rather sit home and watch whatever drivel appears on television on Tuesday evening rather than pay some small tribute to our Eucharistic King.

I couldn't help but think of how the destruction of the faith was not an external force but a destruction that came largely from within - the experiment gone horribly wrong known as Vatican II.  However well-intentioned its architects might have been, they did something worse than fooling with Mother Nature.  They messed with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and opened the door to abuse and heresy and yes, even sacrilege.  Does that mean I think the Novus Ordo is a sacrilege? I do not, but the nonsense that goes on at some Ordinary Form Masses would simply never happen at the Extraordinary Form because there is no opportunity for it.  First, you weaken the structure of the Mass, and the rest of the decay just happens, like dominoes.  Next, you have clown Masses, communion "services", heretical preaching and profanation of the Body of Christ.

Following that you have annulments for sale, laxity in the confessional (if its used at all), a wink and a nod for contraception and cohabitation, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Catholics for Choice.  Women's "ordination".

The smoke of Satan could not enter the Church without an open invitation.  For nearly the past 8 years we've had a shepherd who understands this all too well.  For faithful Catholics, he was a sanctuary lamp of hope.  His announcement on Monday, coincidentally or not followed some hours later by a lightening strike on the Vatican, was a blow to those of us who get it that Christ died to convert the world into Himself, not Himself into the world.

I don't know what Benedict XVI's resignation portends, if anything.  I am grateful for the time he spent in the shoes of the fisherman.  I can't blame the liberals or the SSPX or the Anglicans who wouldn't swim.  I can only blame myself, who couldn't be bothered to show up for nearly 20 years and did not do my part to reinforce the foundation.


You've done it again.  Your prayers have moved the Lord to show His incomparable mercy.  The mother contemplating abortion had additional testing and got a second opinion and was told there is almost no chance her unborn child has Downs Syndrome.     Thank you for your prayers but I must beg you again to pray, this time for a little girl not even two-years-old who is in need of a heart transplant.  Please pray that God might grace her with a miraculous cure and if this does not conform with His Holy Will, that He might intercede so that her life, valued so much by her parents and siblings, might be spared.  Her mother told me yesterday she was taking her to Mass to get her ashes for the very first time.  

Thank you and may God reward you richly for your generosity, if not in this life, in the Life to come.


  1. Funny you should mention Ash Wednesday and priorities together. Late Tuesday I got a request from one of the directors to attend a meeting early on Wenesday morning that was one of those must attend things. It really ticked me off. I had planned to go to an 8 AM mass. I was torn all night on what to do. My other options were to find a church that would have mass during lunch, and on short notice I wasn't going to be able to do that, or go to the evening mass after work. I didn't want to do that. I had my heart set on that morning mass. So I went to the mass and waltzed into the meeting at around 9:15 (lucky the mass took only 45 minutes) with my ashes glaring on my forhead for everyone to see why I was late. Haha, well, who told them to set up a meeting the night before? Anyway it was clear where my priorities were. ;)

    1. Good for you Manny! That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!

    2. Thank you both.

      Joyce, this is off topic but I wanted to ask you about your graphic of St. Nicholas of Tolentino off to the side. I had never heard of him until this very night. My parish has a Lenten series of short lectures on Friday nights during Lent. Tonight we had a lecture on St. Rita of Cascia (my parish is named St. Rita's) and we had an Augustinian who came in and told us her history, and he mentioned that one of her devotions was to St. Nicholas of Tolentino. I guess you've had that graphic up for a while but I never noticed until this moment. What a coincidence. Is there a particular reason you have that graphic? I know nothing about him.

      By the way, that Augustinian also had spent 15 years in Philadelphia at a national shrine to St. Rita that is there. He's now in Cascia at a monestery or something that is there.

    3. Hi Manny, yes, that would be Father Michael DiGregorio, who has written a book on St Rita called "The Precious Pearl" and who is also the vicar general for the Augustinian order. He was our guide on the trip I took to Italy in 2011. He was also the rector of St Rita's National Shrine here in Philadelphia before his appointment to Rome. The trip to Italy is where I came to know St Nicholas and through Father Michael. If you look in the blog archives, I probably posted some photos of the basilica named for him in Tolentino. The photo you see at the right is one that I took of him in the sacristy of that basilica. He is the patron saint of the holy souls and leading up to All Souls' Day in November I pray the Seven Days of Prayer for the Dead, which I believe Father Michael might also have written or compiled. Incidentally, Father Michael was our spiritual guide in Cascia and led us on the tour of St Rita's Monastery and the basilica there named for her. Cascia is in the Umbrian region of Italy, which is a wealth of sites important to the Augustinians as well as Catholics in general - Roccaporena, where St Rita was born, Norcia, where St Benedict was from, Tolentino, Assissi, Montefalco and others. It's late notice, but St Rita's in Philadelphia is planning another pilgrimage to Italy in April, again led by Father Michael, but this time it will be a slower, more prayerful pace than the first trip. I wish I could go but I was blessed to have gone at all in the first place. If you contact St Rita's, they will be happy to put you on their mailing list for their quarterly publication "The Peacemaker". The shrine holds an annual novena to St Rita's in May so maybe you'll pack up the Mrs. and little Matthew and take a ride here :)

      Thanks for letting me know about the talk you heard, small world, isn't it?

    4. Yes that's him! He grew up on Staten Island and went to St. Rita's parish and school. He mentioned how many "coincindences" he's had with St. Rita. It is a small world. And thank you for the info on St. Nicholas of T.

    5. Ha! I just found this. Allison of Association of Catholic Women Bloggers was at the Lenten lecture too:

  2. Hallelujah for the saved baby! And of course I will add the other little child to my intentions.
    Happy that you made it to the church!

  3. Joyce, wonderful news about the baby! Thanks be to God.

    I read your first post the other night where you wrote that the priest at 40 hours devotion looked like he was about to cry. I have been thinking about that ever since. It is just too sad...that Our Lord should be so neglected. I'm sure that priest's broken heart comforted Jesus. I will try to do additional holy hours for Lent...inspired in no small part by the thought of that priest moved almost to tears....

    And re your comments about the Mass. I often think how sorry I am that all that beauty I knew at Mass as a child was abruptly taken away, and I've spent my entire adulthood missing it, and searching for whatever little glimpses I can find in some of the more traditional parishes. What a great loss...and with it went most of the nuns, thousands of priests and Catholics who knew their faith. But at least I can see hope now...things are ever so much better than 20 years ago. The gates of hell will not prevail... Prayers for the little girl as requested. xo

  4. Thank you Patricia, I need to make an extra effort myself to make more Holy Hours and pray more during Lent. Sometimes, I have so many things on my mind it is nearly impossible to concentrate when I pray, but I don't have that problem when I'm before the Blessed Sacrament. That is a beautiful thought, that the priest's broken heart consoled Jesus. I always think of Therese, admonishing the novice who said "from now on, my tears will be for Jesus alone" to which the Little Flower replied:" Tears for Jesus? This must not be! It is for us to console Our Lord, not for Him to console us!" To think that one day, we will be in her company and that of her beloved Jesus! I cannot wait. Thanks for the visit xoxo Joyce


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