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An Evolving Perspective on Lent

The impact of Lent can change with time. Here, a friar describes how his outlook on the season has evolved as he has matured, describing his evolving attitudes about fasting, abstinence and journeying toward the Easter Resurrection.

Since we are amidst the season of Lent, I would like to offer some reflections on the important season and its traditions. In my youth, my image of God was a God to be feared. I cannot cite doctrinal evidence of that image of God, but it was the God of my childhood. I lived in fear of God, expecting that if I stepped out of line, God would strike me with lightning or worse. This comical description was later given to me – “ambush theology.”

It was tradition to fast, to abstain, to go without something during Lent. Being young, that would usually mean being denied desserts, chocolates or anything similar. On the topic of prayer, there were a number of additional quiet or prayer services such as holy hour, living rosary, Stations of the Cross every Friday, and benediction that we were encouraged to participate in. My favorite recollection of those prayer services was the large number of people and how everyone was involved.

Journeying with Jesus
My favorite fasting story happened with a dear friend, Mary Nevins. Sadly, her husband was in a nursing home and I volunteered to bring him ashes and Holy Eucharist. I met Mary at a diner near their home to have her lead me to the nursing home and then we had a bite to eat. I could be guilty of losing focus; we both decided to have cheeseburgers, forgetting it was Ash Wednesday. I recalled in Mark’s Gospel the friendly scribe: compassion is better than any burnt offering. My feeling was that I had to explain breaking the fast and abstinence even if it was only to myself. Ironically, one fast was less of a challenge for me. I recall with fondness Friday fasting that was a bonus because it included pancakes, pizza, and, of course, soup and stations at the Franciscans’ parish in Brant Beach, N.J. Sometimes I wonder whether it counts as fasting if you enjoy the food.

As I grew older, I had a different experience of Lent. In Mark’s Gospel, we heard: We are journeying with Jesus, first to Calvary and then Easter Resurrection. If you are ever near Long Beach Island on the Jersey Shore at Easter time, I recommend going to the sunrise Easter Mass on the beach. I was always amazed at the creative way some people wanted us to remember that journey day to day in Lent. We were given items to keep in our pockets such as a stone reminding us Jesus carried the burden of our sins, a cross because we carry our crosses just as Jesus did, a coin to remind us that the material world sometimes separates us from God. In scripture a small reminder, give to Caesar what is Caesar but to God what is God’s. I have to confess the worst one for me also was the one I remember the most – a common carpenter’s nail. I count how many times the pointy end stuck into my leg. I remember not being a happy camper.

Finding Encouragement Through Gospels
Now, when I think about the journey with Jesus, it is very much different from the image of God that I had as a child. I am drawn to Jesus on the cross in Luke’s Gospel; we will be hearing these passages of scripture at the Gospel reading for Palm Sunday. I have found great encouragement with these passages. When he was near death, “Father forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” Later, in Luke, we hear Jesus tell the criminal on his side, “I assure you: this day you will be with me in paradise.”

I started with a fear of God as a small boy and now look to a relationship of God as a loving forgiving parent even when I am not always lovable. If I was God, I might say this to me: go out and do the same. Forgiven them Father and welcome them into paradise. If I am unwilling to imitate Jesus’ theme of forgiveness, I need to be more prayerful asking to be willing to forgive. In most cases, I would prefer to give up desserts and sweets but that does not imitate Jesus’s journey to Calvary.

During the Stations of the Cross, I remember singing: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Recently, I read a story in our Paterson Diocesan newspaper, The Beacon, about a life-saving person, a savior – Leonard Larue, captain of the S.S. Meredith Victory. In 1950, his ship saved war refugees who were fleeing conflict during the Korean War. He saved 14,005 refugees on a 45-mile voyage to safety. The refugees were fleeing in the winter from the cold in North Korea and were brought to the south on a three-day journey. He later became a Benedictine monk at St Paul’s Abbey in Newton, N.J. We may not have been with Jesus in his journey to Calvary, but we can help today’s refugees as Captain Larue — later Br. Marinus, OSB  – did in 1950.

Peace and all Good! Pax et bonum.

— Fr. Kevin, a native of Little Falls, N.J., who professed his first vows as a Franciscan in 1975, is stationed at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Butler, N.J.  The previous reflection published in HNP Today, titled “Finding Our Way to God,” was written by Kevin Mackin, OFM.

Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic — a holiday, current event, holy day, or other seasonal themes – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at communications@hnp.org. Additional reflections by friars can be found in the Spiritual Resources section of HNP.org.

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