Essay: A Tale of Three Lents

Peter Chepaitis, OFM HNPNow

Peter Chepaitis, OFM

by Peter Chepaitis, OFM

I have had three diverse experiences of Lent that have taught me several aspects of what the Spirit of God is calling me to do and be as a baptized disciple of Christ.

In the early 1990s, I was part of the Ministry of the Word of Holy Name Province. Lent, at that time, meant preaching parish missions, sometimes three during the six weeks of Lent. It was a time of collaboration with both friars and lay partners reflecting on and proclaiming the love, mercy and healing of God.

In 2020, as Covid-19 was raging, Lent became a time of solitude and separation. Sr. Anna (Tantsits, IHM) had been my ministry partner in preaching parish missions, and we were forced to let go of what we expected to be doing during Lent. It became a time to focus on prayer, reflection, and “fasting” from external ministry. This experience led our preaching ministry to evolve into weekly preaching on the Internet by sharing reflections on the Sunday Scriptures through email. It was also a time of leading a weekly contemplative prayer meeting using Zoom and speaker phone.

Peter Chepaitis, OFM, and Sr. Anna Tantsits, IHM, collaborate in preaching ministry not only during Lenten parish missions, but throughout the year.

In 2022, I had a Lenten experience before Lent began. Because of problems with my prostate, I spent 42 days wearing a Foley catheter before having surgery in early February – even before Ash Wednesday. The Spirit was teaching us how to do penance by accepting the pain, inconvenience, and uncertainty of my situation in peace and patience. It was also a time to receive care from Sr. Anna and many from the local parish community, which made it possible to hold my trips to the hospital to a minimum. In a sense, we had to “forgive what is” before returning to ministry in person.

In 2023, we are preparing for Lent by reflecting on our past experience and readying ourselves to preach at communal reconciliation services and a few Sunday Masses. We are being called to continue to proclaim the Word online and to walk with individuals as spiritual companions in person and through Zoom.

By reflecting on the Scriptures for each Sunday in the light of these three Lenten journeys, we hope to learn more deeply how to receive and proclaim the Love and Mercy of God through Christ. We are being called by the Spirit of God who is speaking through Scripture, the Sacramental Tradition, and our own experience – to admit once more our own powerlessness: to forgive our own sins, to forgive the pain inflicted by others, and to totally accept “what is” in every circumstance.

We are being called to practice what God has led us to preach, namely, to let Christ forgive us and those who have hurt us even when we cannot do it by our own power – and to let Jesus empower us to “forgive what is” when we find our reality, and that of the world and Church, difficult to accept. As a recovering alcoholic once taught me, we need to pray in a manner that reflects the first three steps of AA: “I can’t, Lord, you can, I think I’ll let you.”

Finally, during this Lent, we hope to learn again how to live in creative tension between solitude and community, prayer and ministry. We are being led to collaborate not only in what we do, but even more in who we are as interdependent parts of the body of Christ. We hope to discover again and share the truth that prayer is not just necessary for ministry, but is a form of ministry. We hope to become even more aware that Lent is a time to go deeper into living the call of Baptism, and that the Sacrament of Reconciliation – once called “second Baptism” – is a ritual expression and a contemplative experience of our baptismal call.