Wednesdays: Through the Holy Heart of St. Joseph: Guide us on Our Lenten Journey

Lead us on the way of Your Cross O Lord ©  2013

Lead us on the way of Your Cross O Lord © 2013

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with the weapons of self-restraint. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever (Collect from Ash Wednesday Mass).

Today we are bid to embark upon a 40-day sojourn with Our Lord Jesus Christ: an intense period of repentance, prayer, penance, fasting and alms-giving. As we accompany our Lord along the Way of the Cross, we are invited to deepen our relationship with Him – we are summoned to allow Him the opportunity to exchange our stony hearts for natural hearts. Neither Our Lord – nor His Holy Church – forces us to repent and change our lives – we are merely invited. The decision is ultimately ours; yet should we choose to accept the summons, and spend these brief winter’s days striving to encounter our Lord, our lives will never be the same.

Repent and Believe in the Gospel ©  2013 (EA photo)

Repent and Believe in the Gospel © 2013
(EA photo)

We begin the journey marked with the Sign of the Cross as ashes are placed upon our foreheads. This visible sign is sealed with the verbal challenge to “repent and believe in the Gospel,” and to “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Before the ashes are distributed, they are solemnly blessed by a priest.

With earnest supplication on our behalf, He prays:

Dear brethren, let us humbly ask God Our Father that He be pleased to bless with an abundance of His grace these ashes, which will be put on our heads in penitence.

O God Who are moved by acts of humility and respond with forgiveness to works of penance, lend Your merciful ear to our prayers and in your kindness pour out the grace of Your blessing on Your servants who are marked with these ashes, that as they follow the Lenten observances they may be worthy to come with minds made pure to celebrate the Pascal Mystery of Your Son. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen. (Daily Roman Missal).

Bless These Holy Ashes Which We Place on Our Heads as a Sign of Penance ©  2013 (EA photo)

“Be pleased to bless with an abundance of His grace these ashes, which will be put on our heads in penitence.” © 2013 (EA photo)

The metaphor of a spiritual retreat, a sojourn through a spiritual desert, is often applied to the Lenten journey. Just as Christ spent forty days in the desert engaged in intense prayer and fasting, we too are asked to follow in His footsteps.

This week I have been prayerfully contemplating my own Lenten journey, I concluded that I need the spiritual support of a guide. I need the intercession of one whose Holy Heart has already been perfected, and one whose protection and guidance I may securely rely upon. My thoughts of course turned to St. Joseph. Scripture tells us that St. Joseph was a “just man” (Matthew 1:19). In his compassion, he sought to do what was right and pleasing to the Lord – even in difficult circumstances (Matthew 1: 20-24, Matthew 2:13-14).

St. Joesph, Be My Protector and Guide! © 2013 (EA photo).

St. Joseph, Be My Protector and Guide! © 2013 (EA photo).

I too endeavor to do what is right and pleasing to the Lord. While St. Joseph was a righteous and good man, Our Lord sought to stretch the capacity of his already holy heart. Scripture tells us: “For whom the Lord loves, He chastises; and He scourges every son whom He receives (Hebrews 12: 6).”

Like so many other beloved servants, it was through trial and suffering that Our Lord chose to perfect St. Joseph as a smith refines the finest silver. I’ve been told that as a silversmith refines an object of silver, he carefully heats it in a flame. The smith must be careful not to overheat the desired object because silver tends to oxidize, and if he is not careful the piece can be ruined if it is left in the flame too long. Thus, the silversmith must be attentive to the process of perfection: his eyes must always remain on the object he is attempting to refine. When the purification is complete, it shines with brilliance, and smith’s own image is beautifully reflected in it.

Thus it is with God. Just as He refined the Holy Heart of St. Joseph through trial and suffering, He offers to perfect each of our human hearts as well. In submitting to the loving hands of the Master Smith, our hearts will bear the beautiful reflection of His Divine visage.

Let Me not Become Distracted, but Seek and Find The Way, The Truth and the Life © 2013

Let Me not Become Distracted, but Seek and Find The Way, The Truth and the Life © 2013

St. Joseph was uniquely qualified for his mission here on earth. He was immediately obedient, accustomed to hard work, chaste, willing to seek the Will of Almighty God in each and every situation. St. Joseph listened more than he spoke, and was ever willing to set aside his own personal plans and in favor of fulfilling the design of God. Scripture tells us that when the Angel of the Lord appears to St. Joseph in a dream and bids him to “Rise, take the Child Jesus and His mother, [and] flee to Egypt and stay there until I tell you (Matthew 2: 13),” St. Joseph immediately complies with the command of the angel. Likewise, when the Angel of the Lord reappears in a subsequent dream and announces: “Rise, take the Child Jesus and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the Child’s life are dead (Matthew 2: 20),” again St. Joseph acts immediately and decisively in accordance with the summons of the angelic messenger. Scripture indicates that Joseph again responded to yet another dream and settles with his Holy Family in Nazareth.

The Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years as a result of their disobedience and hard-heartedness (Numbers 32: 11-13).

Remember how for forty years now the Lord, your God, has directed your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep His commandments. He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to your forefathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. The clothing did not fall from you in tatters, nor did your feet swell these forty years. So you must realize that the Lord, your God, disciplines you even as a man disciplines his son (Deuteronomy 8: 1-5).

These forty years of wandering and discipline stand in stark contrast to the journey of St. Joseph and the Holy Family. While that is not to say their journey was at all easy, it certainly didn’t take forty years. For some objects of silver, the Master Smith must refine them in the flame a bit longer than others…. As I embark upon this Lenten journey through the spiritual desert, I am going to consciously chose St. Joseph and invoke his intercession and aid. Cognizant that he traveled with Our Blessed Lord and Lady, I am sure that he will have the grace to protect me through whatever trials the Lord deems necessary to purify my being as I endeavor to reach the Pascal celebration with a pure and holy heart.

St. Joseph Holf My Hand and Guide My Steps Along this Lentern Journey © 2013 (EA photo)

St. Joseph Hold My Hand and Guide My Steps Along this Lenten Journey © 2013 (EA photo)


Dear St. Joseph,

As I embark upon this Lenten journey, help me to realize that I am not alone. Hold my hand, and guide my steps as you did so long ago for Jesus and Mary. Protect my heart from distractions and dangers as I traverse the sands of time. Teach me to surrender fully to God’s providential care, and to respond immediately to His summons. Help me to repent of the past, and embrace the present in a spirit of prayer and penitence, as we journey toward the Resurrection of your Divine Son. May I learn to embrace Jesus and Mary with love like yours, and may my heart swell to fully reflect the image of the Risen Christ when my journey is complete. St. Joseph, foster-father of Jesus, protector of the Holy Family, be my guide!

Blessed Lenten Journey,

Ad Jesum per Mariam,


A Clean Heart Create for Me O God

Repent and Believe in the Gospel © 2012 EA photographer

“A clean heart create for me O God, and a steadfast Spirit renew within me (Psalm 51:12).” This simple sentiment from Ash Wednesday’s Responsorial Psalm encapsulates the entire purpose of Lent. We are powerless to restore our own hearts to their primitive purity – our spirits to the fortitude that comes with their Baptismal Grace. Alone we can do nothing. The best we can do is to answer God’s call to “Turn to me and be saved;” admitting our human weakness, and casting our cares upon His sacred shoulders.

It sounds so simple. Our souls long to be purified; like the leper (recall the Gospel of the sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time). Like him, our inmost being cries out: “If You wish, You can make me clean (Mk: 1:40).” We hope and pray that Our Lord will respond with same tenderness and pity that He offered the leper. We desire that He will touch us too, and utter the words: “I do will it. Be made clean!”

During this season of Lent we are confronted by our need to be healed, inside and out. We see sin in all its filth; coming face to face with our own guilt, and the need to be made clean. The readings this week both in Daily Mass and the Divine Office Liturgy of the Hours rouse our consciences from the slumber of complacency to an acute awareness of the need to repent.

Thursday’s Vespers reading sets a serious task before us:

“Submit to God; resist the devil and he will take flight. Draw close to God, and He will draw close to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners; purify your hearts, you backsliders. Be humbled at the sight of the Lord and He will raise you on high (James 4: 7-8, 10).”

Cleanse Our Hands and Our Hearts O Lord, © 2012

Ouch! Those words sting! Speaking as a premier backslider, I know this isn’t going to be easy. In this reading it is as if Our Lord’s gaze meets ours – His is full of love, yet compelling us to change. Are we willing to meet His gaze? It is decision time. Find the courage, resolve, and trust – it is time to transform. We must move from invitation to action and live the call to repentance.

In today’s midmorning reading from the Divine Office, Our Lord explains that His discipline is itself a sign of His Love, and an invitation to healing.

“Whoever is dear to me I reprove and chastise. Be earnest about it, therefore. Repent! Here I stand, knocking at the door. If anyone hears me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him, and he with Me (Revelation 3:19-20).”

What a beautiful call to purification in anticipation of the Great Feast! Our daily purification prepares us for the Eucharist; and subsequently readies us for the Eternal Banquet of the Lord. Just as we respond at Holy Mass, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof; but only say the Word and I shall be healed.” Here too we are called to conversion, to accept penance, change our hearts, and open the veiled depths of our very selves to His abiding Love.

Our Loving Savior makes it clear that this call to conversion in not a static event. Merely calling His name and acknowledging His Divinity is not sufficient; for even the demons know Jesus name, and acknowledge His authority. We are called to go beyond mere recognition to take up our crosses and truly follow Him. We are called to enter into the mystery of our redemption; walking through desert now, and later grasping the wood of cross on the way to Calvary. Each step is to be in sync with Jesus Christ. Yes, conversion must begin today, but it must also continue as long as we draw breath and our hearts beat within the core of our flesh.

We are invited into the desert to pray and to fast with the Lord © 2012 EA photographer

As Lent begins, we are invited into the desert, to pray and fast with Our Lord. Here, “among the wild beasts” we too will be tempted by Satan (Mk: 1:12-13). Armed with prayer, fasting and alms-giving, we will draw close to Our Lord. We will cooperate with His grace and conquer the personal demons that seek to distract us from the ultimate Good with which our souls long to be satisfied. With confidence, we are called to embark upon this journey, together with He by Whom we are known to be Loved. The call to repent is urgent, and our immediate response is sought. As Our Lord states in the Gospel: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel (Mk 13-15).”

Now is the acceptable time!

As we journey from Ashes to Easter, together may we pray:

“Father, through our observance of Lent, help us to understand the meaning of Your Son’s death and resurrection and teach us to reflect it in our lives. Grant this through our Lord, Jesus Christ Your Son Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever, Amen. (Divine Office, Sunday Evening, Week 1, Lent).”


Ad Jesus per Mariam

M.A. J.M.J.