Walking the Way of the Cross with Christ is one of the most beautiful devotions of the Lenten season. Each Friday afternoon, the sisters gather in the convent garden to make the Stations of the Cross together. We take turns selecting the set of Stations reflected upon, enriching our communal prayer by sharing our favorite meditations. Below are a few excerpts:
Traditionally, Ember days are three days of special prayer and penance offered to God by the Church in thanksgiving for the graces of the previous season and imploring Him for an increase of grace for the new season. They occur four times a year, corresponding to the four natural changes of season. From antiquity, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday have been observed by Christians as days of fast and penance - Wednesday to compassionate Christ in His betrayal, Friday to honor the death of Christ, and Saturday to join with Our Sorrowful Mother in waiting for the Resurrection. The Ember days are observed the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the third week of Advent, the first week of Lent, the week after Pentecost, and mid-September. Pope St. Leo the Great considered the Ember days to be of Apostolic origin. A few links for further reading about Ember days here, here, and here.
We might think of the Ember days as our quarterly spiritual check-ups, a time to ask ourselves, "How is my spiritual life really doing? Is there something that I should be doing that I am not? Or something that I am doing, but need to renew my effort and intention?" As the spring Ember days fall in Lent, a period already devoted to prayer and penance, we might find it helpful to spend these days reflecting on why we are disciplining ourselves: to enter more fully into union with Christ, our Crucified Savior. In keeping with the tradition of the Church, the sisters observe these days as days of abstinence and special prayer. Prayer for priests (our specialty!) is particularly encouraged because Ember Saturdays were customarily days for the conferral of Holy Orders.
"We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee
Because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world."
The Baptism and Temptation of Christ by Veronese
Lent, the season of 'bright sadness' as the Eastern tradition calls it, has begun. The Liturgy of the Church on the First Sunday of Lent focuses on the temptation of Christ in the desert in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Latin Rite. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this mystery of Christ's life:
"The evangelists indicate the salvific meaning of this mysterious event: Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. Jesus fulfills Israel's vocation perfectly: in contrast to those who had once provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ reveals himself as God's Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil's conqueror: he 'binds the strong man' to take back his plunder. Jesus' victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father." (CCC 539)
Today is the first of the Lenten Ember days. These seasonal days of penance and abstinence help us to remember to thank God for the graces we have received and to implore further graces for the new season. Let us pray particularly that this Lent we may receive the grace to perfectly fulfill the Father's will.
Our monthly devotion for the month of February is in honor of the Passion of Christ. This will help us to prepare for the liturgical season of Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday (February 10th). Christ the sinless Lamb of God has suffered the most brutal torments in order to save us from our sin, yet often we repay Him with infidelity and ingratitude. When we pause to remember all that Christ Himself suffered for us: His agony in the garden, trial before Pilate, carrying of the Cross, and most importantly His crucifixion and death on the Cross, it should lead to conversion in our lives.
During His agony in the garden, we see Christ imploring His Father to "let this chalice pass from me". As His passion looms before Him, He prays for this so fervently that He begins to sweat blood. Knowing what lies ahead, Christ begs for the Father's will to be accomplished despite His mortal anguish praying, "not my will but thine be done". All of us can learn much from this spirit of intense humble prayer, followed by complete surrender to the will of the Father.
In Christ's appearance before Pilate He is humble and silent. Pilate questions Him giving every opportunity for Him to defend Himself yet He does not. Instead He allows himself to be mocked, scourged, and crowned with thorns. Only when Pilate asks Him if he is the King of the Jews does he respond, "You say that I am". With us it is often very different. We take offense at the slightest opportunity, we are overly defensive and quick to anger. Christ teaches us the exercise of silent meekness in the face of injustices and injuries, and it is by developing this spirit that we come to salvation.
On the painful way of the Cross, Christ again serves as our example of love, perseverance, and silence. Three times He falls under the weight of the Cross, but each time He gets up and continues on His way. Despite His pain, weakness, and loss of blood He pushed forward. At last too weak to go on carrying the Cross, it is taken from Him yet even then,He went forward on His journey to Calvary. With Christ we must learn to persevere in doing the good, and rise with Him each time we fall. When we trust in Him, His grace will supply all we lack.
Finally in His Crucifixion and death Christ gives his soul back to the Father. In His final moments He cries, "Father into your hands I commend my spirit". He is not bitter, angry, or indignant, but simply accepts the will of His Father. After all He has suffered He dies simply, poorly, with one last prayer on his lips. Breathing forth His pure, holy spirit in reparation for our sins. There is no end to the lessons we can learn from Our Lord's example in these last moments. Every virtue shines forth in Him so perfectly that it makes up for all the sins that are in the world, have been, or will ever be. Truly, God has come to His people and set them free.