Fr. Ian VanHeusen presents a gospel reflection and spiritual exercise on the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday, Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18. The Lenten season of almsgiving, prayer and fasting is upon us starting today. Father encourages us to invest in prayer of self-examination, and he provides practical assistance in the method of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises as a pathway toward greater spiritual freedom.
We invite you to watch Father’s video, then prayerfully read the Gospel and reflection, and work your way through the Exercises. We pray that this might help you in your apostolate, your family, your classroom, or personally… to prepare for and more deeply experience Sunday’s Mass, and to better integrate the Sacrament and the readings into your daily life.
1. Our Right hand does not know what our left hand is doing.
True humility and true spiritual freedom results in a forgetfulness of self. Pray with and for this unselfconsciousness, that your ego not become inflamed as you undertake the prayer, fasting and almsgiving of Lent.
2. We will discover our reward in the secret of our heart.
Praying with the heart, in secret, we are told that the Father will reward us. But are we looking for rewards instead of looking for interior growth? Strive for interior conformity to the workings of grace, and amidst the consolations and desolations that will naturally come, we can hope to reach a place of greater spiritual freedom.
3. In the midst of suffering, we will radiate with the love of Christ.
In the midst of suffering, we encounter a paradox: when we are examining our hearts, praying, fasting, almsgiving, all in a spirit of humility, we discover a joy that’s deeper than the things of this world.
An adaptation from The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The first of the “Three Methods of Prayer” entails praying on the Ten Commandments and the Seven Capital (or Deadly) Sins.
…Before entering on the prayer I recollect myself for a while, and either seated or walking up and down, as may seem better, I will consider where I am going, and for what purpose. The same direction should be observed at the beginning of all the methods of prayer.
A preparatory prayer should be made, for example, I ask God our Lord for grace to know how I have failed in the observance of the Ten Commandments, and also for grace and help to amend for the future. I will beg for a perfect understanding of them in order to observe them better and glorify and praise the Divine Majesty more.
In this first method of prayer I should consider and think over the First Commandment, asking myself, how I have observed it, and in what I have failed. I will use as a measure of this consideration the space of time it takes to recite three times the Our Father and the Hail Mary. If during this time I find faults I have committed, I will ask forgiveness and say an Our Father. This same method will be followed with each of the Ten Commandments.
1. If one comes to the consideration of a Commandment against which he is not in the habit of committing any sins, it is not necessary to delay so long on it. According as he finds that he sins more or less against a Commandment, he should devote more or less time to the examination and consideration of it. The same rule should be observed with regard to the Capital Sins.
2. After one has finished the consideration of all the Commandments as indicated above, and has accused himself of his faults, and asked for grace and help to amend for the future, he should close with a colloquy to God our Lord, adapted to the subject matter.
3. The Ten Commandments:
I. I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any strange gods before Me.
II. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
III. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
IV. Honor thy father and mother.
V. Thou shalt not kill.
VI. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
VII. Thou shalt not steal.
VIII. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
IX. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.
X. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.
With regard to the Seven Capital Sins, after the Additional Direction, the preparatory prayer should be made in the way prescribed, but with the modification that the object is the sins to be avoided, whereas before, it was the Commandments to be observed. In like manner the method prescribed, the regulation of the time, and the colloquy are to be observed.
In order to understand better the faults committed that come under the Seven Capital Sins, let the contrary virtues be considered. So also, the better to avoid these sins, one should resolve to endeavor by devout exercises to acquire and retain the seven virtues contrary to them.
I. Sloth (“a sadness in the presence of eternal or spiritual goods, and ultimately God Himself”)
II. Envy (“a sadness in the presence of the goodness of others”)
III. Covetousness (“the disordered and excessive desire to control persons, places, or things”)
IV. Vainglory or pride (“respecting oneself or others for the wrong reasons”)
V. Gluttony (“the excessive preoccupation with our bodies at the cost of becoming forgetful of our souls, not only in terms of excessive eating and drinking, but also in terms of excessive preoccupation with physical fitness and physical beauty”)
VI. Lust (“the vehement disorder of sexual desires”)
VII. Anger (“a mixture of sadness and hatred in the presence of what is true”)
Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
The Gospel of the Lord
Follow Fr. VanHeusen at http://ianvanheusen.com
Photo credit: Naassom Azevedo / Unsplash
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