Lenten Meditations

LENT: Flaw, by Joe Hoover

From: The Jesuit Post If you have ever thrown an elbow or slid cleats high. If you have ever snapped back or punched first. If you have ever quietly stolen inconsequential things, small pieces of candy from a store, a magazine from a waiting room. If you have wiped your mouth on a dishtowel and hung it back up. If you have argued from authority. If you don’t wash your hands, not much. If you decided somewhere along the way – without even realizing it – that you would not have a relationship with the plaintive, pith-helmeted mail carrier.  Instead you two would walk by each other day after day like creatures from a sad divorce eons ago who had forgotten they ever knew each other. If you fail to give waitstaff irresistible small [...]

LENT: Keeping Watch, by Philip Berrigan

From: Disciples and Dissidents May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to all: “Watch!” (Mark 13:36-37) I am pondering the passage at Mark 13:36, and my thoughts return to the winter of 1943, to a nineteen-year-old draftee at Camp Gordon, now Fort Gordon, Georgia.  The old Springfield rifle is heavy, the Georgia winters are damp and cold and dark and – Lord, Gawd! – I’ve gotta walk guard for four hours. And do I ever watch!  I watch for the officer of the guard.  If he hears a weak challenge (Halt!  Who goes there?) or finds me forgetful of the password (Geronimo) or hiding or smoking, it’s weekend KP for a month.  The minutes and hours drag agonizingly by.  I’m [...]

LENT: Final Sanity, by Phyllis Tickle

From: Wisdom in the Waiting: Spring’s Sacred Days The forty penitential weekdays and six Sundays that follow Mardi Gras and precede Easter are the days of greatest calm in the church’s year.  Since by long centuries of custom the date of Easter is annually determined from the first Sunday after the full moon on or after March 21, the intertwining of physical and spiritual seasons is virtually inevitable.  The resulting union of deep winter and holy preparation makes reflection, even penitence, a natural activity. One night years ago, toward the end of winter, there was a storm, a cold front shifting suddenly and dropping onto us with ferocity and winds that bent down the pine trees along the fence line.  Sometime after I [...]

LENT: The Royal Road, by Thomas à Kempis

From: The Imitation of Christ There will always be many who love Christ’s Heavenly kingdom, but few who will bear his cross.  Jesus has many who desire consolation, but few who care for adversity.  He finds many to share his table, but few who will join him in fasting.  Many are eager to be happy with him; few wish to suffer anything for him.  Many will follow him as far as the breaking of bread, but few will remain to drink from his passion.  Many are awed by his miracles, few accept the shame of his cross. Many love Christ as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless him as long as they receive some comfort from him.  But if Jesus hides himself and leaves them for a while, they either start complaining or [...]

LENT: Discipleship And The Cross, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

From: Meditations On The Cross Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.  He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter.  “Out of my sight, Satan!” he said.  “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:31-34) Suffering and rejection are the summary expression [...]

LENT: I Hope You Find, by Ita Ford

From: “Here I Am, Lord”: The Letters and Writings of Ita Ford (Ita Ford, MM, was a Maryknoll missionary in Bolivia, Chile, and El Salvador.  She worked with the poor and war refugees.  On December 2, 1980, she was murdered in El Salvador along with fellow missionaries Sister Maura Clarke, MM; Jean Donovan; and Dorothy Kazel, OSU, by a death squad of the right-wing Salvadoran military-led government.) Dear Jennifer, The odds that this note will arrive for your birthday are poor, but know I’m with you in spirit as you celebrate sixteen big ones.  I hope it’s a special day for you. I want to say something to you and wish I were there to talk to you, because sometimes letters don’t get across all the meaning [...]

LENT: My Messy House, by Kathleen Norris

From: Amazing Grace When I’m working as an artist-in-residence at parochial schools, I like to read the psalms out loud to inspire the students, who are usually not aware that the snippets they sing at Mass are among the greatest poems in the world.  But I have found that when I have asked children to write their own psalms, their poems often have an emotional directness that is similar to that of the Biblical Psalter.  They know what it’s like to be small in a world designed for big people, to feel lost and abandoned.  Children are frequently astonished to discover that the psalmists so freely express the more unacceptable emotions, sadness and even anger, even anger at God, and all of this is in the Bible that they hear [...]

LENT: Why I’m Committed To Lent, by Mallory McDuff

In Fairhope, Alabama, I grew up in a family of six where giving up something for Lent was an expectation, not a choice.  A few days before Ash Wednesday, the dinner conversation revolved around one question: What are you giving up for Lent? As children, we sacrificed the usual suspects of chocolate, chips, ice cream, and TV.  When my brother Laurence gave up TV one year, he walked backwards through the living room with his hands over his ears to avoid confronting the television screen with its Saturday night lineup of Love Boat and Fantasy Island. My parents gave up indulgences like alcohol and meat, and then several years later, they became tee-totalers and vegetarians.  I just feel better without a headache after a party, explained my [...]

LENT: Thorns And Impediments, by Richard Valantasis

From Centuries of Holiness The ascetical struggle has often been metaphorized as a difficult hike up a high mountain.  The metaphor includes the strenuous effort required, the difficulties of climbing, and the occasional encounter of impediments on the road, especially a thorny path.  Macarius the Egyptian, a fourth-century ascetic monk, writes in particular of the encounter with thorns on the way of progress, and his vivid descriptions give important instruction about the attitude and effort in the face of thorns and other impediments.  This theory of thorns provides important information for the postmodern ascetic. The thorns, theorizes Macarius, demand that the ascetic pay attention.  Thorns cannot be ignored, because if one tries [...]

PAIN: Bald Places, by Hob Osterlund

From Portland Magazine Rooms 652 and 653 couldn’t be more different, except they’re both bald. Room 652 is a woman with a glioblastoma.  It’s the kind of brain tumor that often kills fast, usually within six months of diagnosis.  She’s fifty-seven.  Her name is Teea.  The doctor says I’m history, says Teea softly, without apparent fear.  Her humor is deceptive.  I bet she’d bribe, threaten, or supplicate all creatures, medical or otherwise, two-legged or four, who promised they could buy her even one extra week.  She wants to live so bad she could scream it to the Heavenly rafters, but she doesn’t, at least not in the hospital.  She behaves calmly here. Each of her three daughters is as [...]

LENT: The Relinquished Life, by Oswald Chambers

From My Utmost For His Highest So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours.  But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, with the whole Christ – “for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” – so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet. (Andrew of Crete) No one is ever united with Jesus Christ until he is willing to relinquish not sin only, but his whole way of looking at things. To be born from above of the Spirit of God means that we must let go before we lay hold, and in the first stages it is the relinquishing of all pretense. [...]

LENT: Meeting Christ In The Liturgy, by Fr. Cusick

From the website: The Word on the Web Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite, omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae. Laetatus sum in his, quae dicta sunt mihi: in domum Domini ibimus. Though we engage in the prayer, penance, and almsgiving of Lent, and join ourselves to our divine Lord in his trial in the desert, we never forget that the Lord has risen from the dead. Every Sunday of the year is a “little Resurrection” where we put aside penance and rejoice in the Lord’s Resurrection by which we begin now to share in his unending life. This Fourth Sunday of Lent, in particular, is named for this [...]

LENT: The Memory Of God, by Richard Valantasis

From Centuries of Holiness One way to articulate a goal of human existence comes from a metaphor of the ascetical tradition: the remembrance of God.  The concept is relatively simple: our task as humans is to remember that God exists and that God is present in the course of daily living.  This means that, since Christians know that God exists and that God is forever present to them, they must bring the remembrance of that reality to bear in every moment.  So the remembrance of God is a kind of recollection of God in every event of the day.  As seekers bathe, eat, work, relate to others, commute to work, sit idle, watch television – whatever seekers do in a day – seekers remember that they are before God, in God’s presence: [...]

LENT: Under The Great Rock, by Carlo Carretto

The track, white in the sun, wound ahead of me in a vague outline.  The furrows in the sand made by the wheels of the great oil trucks forced me to keep alert every second, if I was to keep the jeep on the move. The sun was high in the sky, and I felt tired.  Only the wind blowing on the hood of the car allowed the jeep to continue, although the temperature was like hell-fire and the water was boiling in the radiator.  Every now and then I fixed my gaze on the horizon.  I knew that in the area there were great blocks of granite embedded in the sand: they provided highly desirable sources of shade under which to pitch camp and wait the evening before proceeding with the journey. In fact, towards mid-day, I found what I was looking for. [...]

LENT: Not Servants, But Friends, by Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, MM

From Mother Mary Joseph’s Sunday Conference, February 27, 1938 For forty days, we follow Christ to his cross.  Are we going to follow as onlookers, or are we going to be real companions to Christ?  This is the question we should all ask ourselves.  Jesus has called us friends and says: “You are not servants, but friends.”  Now, a friend is a person to whom we can look under all circumstances for understanding, consolation, sympathy, and help.  The reproaches that are heaped on our friend fall also on us, and we hear Jesus, in the words of the Psalmist, saying: “I have expected reproach and misery, and I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none; and for one that would comfort [...]

LENT: Lenten Observance Transforms Us From Cacophony To Symphony, by Christopher Frechette

From National Catholic Reporter Lent is upon us.  How does it grab your imagination?  By now you’ve likely decided what to give up this year, how to donate alms, when to give prayer some extra time… all of these may have been on your mind, but where has your imagination gone?  For several years now, mine has been returning to an image that helps both my personal prayer and my participation in liturgy.  It also grounds my reflections on almsgiving and fasting. Imagine attending a symphony or school orchestra concert.  Picture arriving with the crowd and anticipating how you will relax and enjoy the music.  Behind the sounds of chatter and movement, hear the instruments as they warm up.  Dozens of different instruments are [...]

LENT: A Lifetime Job, by Dorothy Day

From Selected Writings “Hell is not to love anymore,” writes George Bernanos in The Diary of a Country Priest.  I felt when I read this that the blackness of hell must indeed have descended on Our Lord in His Agony. The one thing that makes our work easier most certainly is the love we bear for each other and for the people for whom we work.  The work becomes difficult only when there is quarreling and dissension and when one’s own heart is filled with a spirit of criticism. In the past, when I have spoken on the necessity of mutual charity, of self-criticism rather than criticism of others, the accusation has been made that I talk to the men as though they were angels, that I do not see their faults.  Which is [...]

LENT: In Mirrors, by Walter Wangerin

From Reliving the Passion In mirrors I see myself.  But in mirrors made of glass and silver I never see the whole of myself.  I see the me I want to see, and I ignore the rest. Mirrors that hide nothing hurt me.  They reveal an ugliness I’d rather deny.  Yow!  Avoid these mirror of veracity! My wife is such a mirror.  When I have sinned against her, my sin appears in the suffering of her face.  Her tears reflect with terrible accuracy my selfishness.  My self!  But I hate the sight, and the same selfishness I see now makes me look away. “Stop crying!” I command, as though the mirror were at fault.  Or else I just leave the room.  Walk away. Oh, what a coward I am, and what a fool!  Only when I have the [...]

LENT: Why I Love Lent, by Brandeis Raushenbush

From HuffPost Religion I wasn’t raised in a household that observed Lent and only began to get into it once I was introduced to the more liturgical traditions while at seminary. My mother always thought it odd that I would observe this season believing that one of the finer things about being a Protestant was not having to do dreary old Lent. However, Lent has become my favorite season and Ash Wednesday my favorite Christian holy day outside of Holy Week. Having someone look you in the eye with love and tell you that you are going to die is powerfully moving, and quite beautiful, especially, I suppose, if that day doesn’t seem too close. “Death is the mother of beauty. Only the perishable can be beautiful, which is why [...]

SERMON: Welcome, Dear Feast Of Lent, by Mark Haverland

…as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. (2 Corinthians 6:10) “Welcome, dear feast of Lent.” So begins George Herbert’s poem on Lent. In five brief words, “Welcome, dear feast of Lent,” Herbert manages to use three words that we do not normally associate with Lent at all: is Lent either “welcome,” or “dear,” or a “feast”? I must confess that for me Lent is often not very welcome. Where the forty days of Eastertide seem to fly past, Lent goes on and on. In Lent difficult things always seem to happen. I miss my wine and chocolate in Lent. Instead of remembering not to eat meat on Fridays, I have to [...]

LENT: Bothering To Love, by James Martin, SJ

From Huffington Post One Priest’s Modest Proposal for Lent What have you given up for Lent? That’s what many Christians – from almost every denomination, and especially Roman Catholics – are asking one another this time of year.  The most common thing to forego, I would wager, is some kind of food: soda and chocolate seem to be the Most Favored Sacrifices, with cigarettes and liquor running a close third.  Each year, in fact, a Jewish friend from my college days calls me on Ash Wednesday to tell me what to give up, since he thinks my deciding on my own is too easy.  Last year it was chicken wings, which was harder than you might think.  (I’ll save the story of how he came to assign my abstinence for another [...]

LENT: Message For Lent, by Pope Francis

Make your hearts firm. (James 5:8) Dear Brothers and Sisters, Lent is a time of renewal for the whole church, for each community and every believer.  Above all it is a time of grace.  God does not ask of us anything that he himself has not first given us.  We love because he first has loved us.  He is not aloof from us.  Each one of us has a place in his heart.  He knows us by name, he cares for us, and he seeks us out whenever we turn away from him.  He is interested in each of us; his love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us.  Usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings, and the [...]

LENT: Metanoia, by Daniel E. Pilarczyk

From Lenten Lunches To think of Lent only as a time of penance is to do it an injustice.  While the traditional practice of “doing something” for Lent is praiseworthy, there is much more to this wonderful season than just additional practices of piety or acts of penance and mortification.  In Lent, the church calls us to metanoia.  As a former Greek teacher, I take delight in pointing out that the word metanoia connotes a change of mind and heart, altering one’s mind-set toward whole new ways of thinking and acting.  This involves taking a look at where we are and trying to see where we ought to be.  It involves testing our values and discerning how they stack up against the values that Jesus offers his [...]

LENT: The Resurrection Faith, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Fruits of the Spirit (Letter to the Prayer Group, Eastertide, 1941) I am writing to you at the moment in the Christian year when, as it were, we pause and look back on the richest cluster of such spiritual facts ever revealed to man.  Paschal Time, to give its old name to the interval between Easter and Ascension, marks the end of the historical manifestation of the Word Incarnate, and the beginning of His hidden life within the church.  But the quality of that hidden life, in which as members of the Body of Christ we are all required to take part, is the quality which the historic life revealed.  From the very beginning the church has been sure that the series of events which were worked out to their inevitable end in Holy [...]

LENT: The Cross And Its Demands, by Evelyn Underhill

From Light of Christ “It is not the act of a good disciple,” says Saint John of the Cross, “to flee from the cross in order to enjoy the sweetness of an easy piety.”  So here above all, by the crucifix and what it means to us, we test the quality of our discipleship.  What we think about the cross means ultimately what we think about life, for “seek where you will,” says à Kempis, “everywhere you will find the cross.”  And when you have found it, what are you going to do about it?  That is the question: look at it with horror or with adoration? It has been said that the whole life of Christ was a cross.  I think that saying does grave injustice to its richness of response, to the real [...]

LENT: Incarnation And Eucharist, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Mystery of Sacrifice For the fully Christian life is a Eucharistic life: that is, a natural life conformed to the pattern of Jesus, given in its wholeness to God, laid on His altar as a sacrifice of love, and consecrated, transformed by His inpouring life, to be used to give life and food to other souls.  It will be, according to its measure and special call, adoring, declaratory, intercessory, and redemptive: but always a vehicle of the supernatural.  The creative spirit of God is a redemptive and cherishing love; and it is as friends and fellow workers with the Spirit, tools of the divine redemptive action that Christians are required to live.  “You are the Body of Christ,” said Saint Augustine to his [...]

LENT: Union With God, by Evelyn Underhill

From The School of Charity All gardeners know the importance of good root development before we force the leaves and flowers.  So our life in God should be deeply rooted and grounded before we presume to expect to produce flowers and fruits; otherwise we risk shooting up into one of those lanky plants which can never do without a stick.  We are constantly beset by the notion that we ought to perceive ourselves springing up quickly, like the seed on stony ground; show striking signs of spiritual growth.  But perhaps we are only required to go on quietly, making root, growing nice and bushy; docile to the great slow rhythm of life.  When we see no startling marks of our own religious progress or our usefulness to God, it is well to [...]

LENT: Forgiveness, by Evelyn Underhill

From Abba There is no lesson Christ loves better to drive home, than this disconcerting fact of our common human fragility: which, when we have truly grasped it, kills resentment and puts indulgent pity in its place.  Let the man, the group, the nation that is without sin cast the first stone.  God’s forgiveness means the compassionate recognition of the weakness and instability of a man; how often we cannot help it, how truly there is in us a “root and ground of sin,” an implicit rebellion against the Holy, a tendency away from love and peace.  And this requires of us the constant compassionate recognition of our fellow-creatures’ instability and weakness; of the fact that they too cannot help it.  If the [...]

LENT: Abasement And Adoption, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Golden Sequence His Spirit comes to us, as Caussade said, in “the sacrament of the present moment.”  Joy and pain, drudgery and delight, humiliation and consolation, tension and peace – each of these contrasting experiences reaches us fully charged with God; and does, or should incite us to an ever more complete self-giving to God.  But each experience, as such, is neutral when seen only in natural regard.  It is then merely part of that endless chain of cause and effect of which our temporal lives are made.  It can only touch our deepest selves, help or hinder the growth of the spirit, in so far as we do or do not direct our wills through it in love and reverence to Him.  There is only one life – the [...]

LENT: Cross And Church, by Evelyn Underhill

From The School of Charity In his letter to the Romans, we find Saint Paul asking his converts if they realize what it means to be part of the church.  It means, he says (and we can imagine their surprise when they heard it), being received into the death of Christ – the unconditional sacrifice of the cross – in order to walk in newness of life: transformed through self-loss into a bit of that body which is indwelt and ruled by the Spirit of Divine Charity.  No easy application for membership, then, fulfills the demands of real Christianity.  It is a crisis, a radical choice, a deep and costly change.  When we judge our own lives by this standard we realize that full entrance into the church’s real life must for most of us [...]