In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul encouraged the Church at Corinth to think of their faith as an athlete thinks of a competition: Run to win. “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1Cor 9:24-27).
As Paul notes, athletes drive their bodies hard, training them to accomplish great things. They do not run aimlessly. Instead, they discipline their bodies and minds in every way so that when the race starts, they can strive to do their very best. For us, as Christians, the race that Paul describes is how we are to live our faith. Each day is a competition, and the only chance that we have of winning is preparing for the contest that lies before us. To be successful, we must be willing to train. To train successfully, we must bring discipline into our lives.
The joke goes like this. How does a musician get to Carnegie Hall? The answer: Practice, practice, practice. We are all born with innate gifts and talents, but for us to use those gifts and talents well, we must use them well and repeatedly. Research made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers indicates that 10,000 hours of practice are needed to hone those gifts and talents so that we can use them proficiently. I can’t help but think of Kobe Bryant here, who practiced insistently day after day long after he was an acknowledged star in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Historically, Lent was a time of sacrifice. Christians were expected to fast and abstain from eating meat. People often gave up something they liked, such as candy or soft drinks, in order to deny themselves this pleasure. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic understanding of Lent has changed, even if many of today’s Lenten disciplines are similar to those of the past. What had once been understood primarily as a period of mortification and penance can now also be understood as a period of preparation and training. During Lent we engage in a period of training, of developing the discipline we need to control our wants and needs. This control over our behavior and cravings helps us to prepare to live the life of discipleship.
The word “discipline” primarily describes the training done to produce a specific outcome. So if I want to be a mathematician, I would need to study the discipline of mathematics. If I want to be a musician, I would study the discipline of music. And if I want to learn to be a Christian, I would have to study the discipline of Christianity. I would then become a disciple of Christ and seek to make my own what he taught.
Throughout history, humans have learned that certain practices promote discipline. These practices, which are considered virtues, are necessary for healthy, wholesome and holy lives. For example, being able to control our desires has long been considered essential for strength of character. Self-control requires willpower, which is the internal motivation that allows us to delay immediate gratification in order to accomplish a more important or more desirable outcome. Controlling the mind and body requires self-discipline—doing what we know we should do even when we are tempted to abandon our efforts. Only by developing self-discipline and self-control do we gain power over our lives.
The research of Angela Duckworth provides a scientific confirmation of the value of these character strengths and virtues, which, along with grit—the determination to see tasks through to completion—are the key ingredients to success. Learning to delay gratification has proven to be an important discipline as well. And a study conducted in the 1960s and 1970s at Stanford University by psychologist Walter Mischel showed that children who could control their immediate desires in order to achieve later rewards were far more successful later in life than those who could not.
The challenge for us is to determine how we can best use the period of Lent to prepare our minds and bodies to follow Jesus in order to win the prize. Start by setting a goal and then doing what it takes to accomplish it. The idea is to go into Lent intent on becoming a better person and a more mature Christian. Decide what changes you want to make and what you need to do to accomplish these changes. Next, establish a daily plan for accomplishing your goal. Let’s say you want to grow closer to God in prayer. Consider setting aside time each day to pray. For motivation, consider praying during your lunch time and giving the money you save to feed the hungry. Now you have two worthy goals to motivate you, and you will learn the discipline of prayer.
Whatever discipline you practice, take these words of St. Paul to heart: “I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14).
THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT
Today’s readings illustrate God’s transforming power at work. Jesus breaks numerous taboos by interacting with a woman, a Samaritan who had five husbands and now lives with someone not her husband. Despite all of this, Jesus requests a drink of water.
The conversation between Jesus and the woman is revealing. Reaching out, Jesus asks for something ordinary. Given the religious boundaries separating them, the woman tries to draw Jesus into dialogue. Jesus simply replies by revealing himself as the one who has power to grant living water that will become a spring inside her “welling up to eternal life.”
Refusing to be drawn into another dispute about the place of worship (Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim), Jesus reveals that true worship of God is “in Spirit and truth.” He makes himself known to her as the Messiah. She becomes a missionary to her people, and many come to Jesus.
John describes a drama of faith. Jesus takes the initiative. He speaks and gradually draws the woman closer to himself. He does not condemn her irregular way of life. He accepts her as she is. He overcomes her objections indirectly by deepening his engagement with her. At the same time, he leads her deeper into the truth. Faith is a personal encounter with Christ, and John shows how powerful this encounter is and what happens when one is receptive to Jesus.
In the Gospel, we see how Jesus brings the woman to faith. By the time the conversation between Christ and the Samaritan woman ends, she is ready to bring the news of the Messiah to the townspeople. The Preface today speaks of how Christ creates the gift of faith in those who seek him. With the priest, we pray in the Preface, “For when he asked the Samaritan woman for water to drink, he had already created the gift of faith within her.”
Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that he can give her “living water.” On the Third Sunday of Lent, in the exorcism during the first scrutiny, the priest prays over the elect, “Lord Jesus, you are the fountain for which they thirst. Show your elect the way of salvation in the Holy Spirit.”
The Samaritan woman is changed through the encounter with Jesus. She had been a woman who lived in sin but now is proclaiming the Gospel with enthusiasm. St. Augustine explains in a treatise that the woman portrays the Church. “The woman of Samaria is a symbol of the Church not yet made righteous but about to be made righteous.”
For Your Reflection: How can you cease grumbling this Lent and trust that the Lord is present in your life? Do you nurture the hope that God has given you? At what point in the Gospel can you identify with the Samaritan woman? How can you continue that encounter with Christ?
LENTEN COMMUNAL PENANCE SERVICE
The sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the hallmarks of the season of Lent. As we move through this special time of the year, we come to realize our faults and failings as well as our gifts and blessings. Here at St. Peter’s we have the wonderful opportunity to celebrate this sacrament either within the confessional setting every Monday through Saturday or within the context of a Communal Penance Service twice during Lent. The first of these Lenten Penance Services will be held this week on Wednesday, March 18, at 12:15 P.M. It will consist of prayer, Scripture reading, a short homily, an examination of conscience, and then face-to-face confession with a number of priests stationed around the church. The entire service will last about fifty minutes. We hope you will be able to participate with us on Wednesday. Please note that the Penance Service will take the place of the 12:15 Mass on this day.
SOLEMNITY OF SAINT JOSEPH
Thursday, March 19, 2020
Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the foster-father of Jesus, was probably born in Bethlehem and probably died in Nazareth. His important mission in God’s plan of salvation was “to legally insert Jesus Christ into the line of David from whom, according to the prophets, the Messiah would be born, and to act as his father and guardian.” Most of our information about Saint Joseph comes from the opening two chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel. No words of his are recorded in the Gospels; he was the “silent” man. We find no devotion to St. Joseph in the early Church. It was the will of God that the Virgin Birth of Our Lord be first firmly impressed upon the minds of the faithful. He was later venerated by the great saints of the Middle Ages. Pius IX (1870) declared him patron and protector of the universal family of the Church.
St. Joseph was an ordinary manual laborer although descended from the royal house of David. In the designs of Providence he was destined to become the spouse of the Mother of God. His high privilege is expressed in a single phrase, “Foster-father of Jesus.” About him Sacred Scripture has little more to say other than that he was a just man—an expression which indicates how faithfully he fulfilled his high trust of protecting and guarding God’s greatest treasures upon earth, Jesus and Mary.
The darkest hours of his life may well have been those when he first learned of Mary’s pregnancy, but precisely in this time of trial Joseph showed himself to be a man of absolute faith and trust in God. His suffering, which likewise formed a part of the work of the redemption, was not without great providential import: Joseph was to be, for all times, the trustworthy witness of the Messiah’s virgin birth. After this, he modestly retires into the background of Scripture.
Of St. Joseph’s death the Bible tells us nothing. There are indications, however, that he died before the beginning of Christ’s public life. No doubt his was one of the most beautiful deaths one could have, in the arms of Jesus and Mary. Humbly and unknown, he passed his years at Nazareth, silent and almost forgotten. He remained in the background through centuries of Church history. Only in more recent times has he been accorded greater honor. Liturgical veneration of St. Joseph began in the fifteenth century. He is now also venerated as the patron of a happy death.
At present there are two major feasts in his honor. On March 19 our veneration is directed to him personally and to his part in the work of redemption, while on May 1 we honor him as the patron of workers throughout the world and as our guide in the difficult matter of establishing equitable norms regarding obligations and rights in the social order.
We invite you to join us on Thursday, March 19, for a Solemn Mass at 11:40 A.M. and for Solemn Vespers in church at 5:40 P.M. There will be no 12:15 Mass on this day due to the length of the Solemn Mass.
ADORATION OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
You might remember that on Ash Wednesday in the liturgy we were encouraged to practice three things during the Lenten Season: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We have been observing abstinence from meat each Friday, and hopefully we have found a number of ways to give alms to the poor, e.g., distributing Chicago Shares coupons as one of these possibilities. I presume each of us has determined how we would try to be more disciplined about prayer, whether that be personal prayer each day or liturgical prayer such as praying the Liturgy of the Hours or by going more frequently to daily Mass.
Another form of prayer that you could bring into your daily routine might be prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. If you work here in the Loop, you might see if you could stop in to St. Peter’s from time to time between 1:45 and 4:45, since Monday through Friday the Blessed Sacrament is exposed on the altar. You don’t necessarily need a long period of time for this (although a half-hour of quiet prayer can be very fruitful); even five to ten minutes focusing on the continuing goodness of the Lord in your life and your gratitude for it can work wonders in your spiritual life. A number of parishes throughout the Archdiocese also have exposition where you can pray in this fashion near your home. Seek it out; the rewards are magnificent!
A CHUCKLE FOR LENT
There was a knock at the door. It was a small boy, about six years old. Something of his had found its way into my garage, he said, and he wanted it back.
Upon opening the garage door, I noticed two additions: a baseball and a broken window sporting a baseball-sized hole. “How do you suppose this ball got in here?” I asked the boy.
Taking one look at the ball, one look at the window, and one look at me, the boy exclaimed, “Wow! I must have thrown it right through that hole!”