Lent Not One of My Favorites, But It Means Easter Is on the Horizon
Joseph Nangle, OFM
As for many others, I’m sure, Lent is not one of my favorite liturgical seasons. I find myself wanting to hold on to these more comforting post-Christmas weeks of Ordinary Time. However, the invitation from our Province’s Communications Office to reflect on Lent is a welcome opportunity to once again gear up for another season of repentance. Because that’s exactly how I see Lent.
Forty days spent imitating Jesus as he prepared for his public ministry with a desert experience. I am increasingly convinced of the necessity to place ourselves before God for these six weeks, not only to call on Divine mercy for our own sins, but ever so much more importantly, Divine mercy for the monstrous evils which humanity continues to commit against our Creator, our sisters and brothers, and creation itself.
We think of Ukraine and the atrocities against millions of innocents; the human crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border; refugees trying to cross waters – tragically, some of them drowning, and those that make it only to find countries that reject them; and threats to our Common Home due to climate change and abuse of our environment, to name just the most obvious examples of sins writ large in our times.
I see Lent as an encompassing period, an extended season of repentance that consists of much more than “giving up” a few things while basically continuing business as usual. Without making this all about me, let me mention a few specifics: replacing television, web-surfing and movies with time for serious reading; trying to be constantly mindful that people who irritate me in large and small ways are equally loved by God; and – maybe the most challenging – putting up patiently with the increasing limitations of my age.
Above all, Lent helps me to remember the astounding statement made by Saint Paul in his letter to the early community of Colossae (1:24): “In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Let’s not forget throughout this season of Lent, there is always the 50 days of Easter on the horizon!
Joe serves as pastoral associate for the Hispanic community at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Arlington, Virginia, and is a member of an intentional Catholic community (Assisi Community) of lay and religious men and women in Washington, D.C., dedicated to a simple lifestyle and social justice issues. An author and a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace, Joe also served 12 years as co-director of Franciscan Mission Service and 15 years as a missioner in Bolivia and Peru.
Knowing, Loving and Adoring the Holy One
Thomas Hartle, OFM
I was raised in a home with a father who was an alcoholic and a mother who was a chain smoker. Both drank coffee. Lent was the only time my father wasn’t drunk on a daily basis and my mother didn’t smoke. In addition, they both stopped drinking coffee. And, of course, we seven children were forbidden to have sugar in any form! It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized why no one came near our home during Lent. You had nine people going through various stages of withdrawal! It wasn’t a pretty picture! Come Easter Sunday, after we had gone to Mass, Lent was officially over in my home. By 2 p.m., dear old dad was passed out on the couch, three sheets to the wind; the house was blue with smoke, and seven kids had overdosed on sugar. But we made a good Lent! It was all so easy then. But I came to realize it was no more than an exercise in self-will and stubbornness. We proved to ourselves we could do it. Did it change me in any way? Bring about any kind of conversion? Make me anymore Christ-like? Hardly! Lent for me was all about the externals. And if I lost a couple of pounds, that was proof enough that I had made a good Lent. Today I approach Lent much differently. It’s not about the external observance of customs, laws, and rituals.
Lent has become a time in which I am more conscious of seeking to know, love and adore the Holy One. That might mean that I reach out to those I have not been in touch with for a while, or attempt to be more patient and understanding. Maybe it’s an effort to be a bit more compassionate or forgiving, being less judgmental. I guess for me, it is discerning at the outset of Lent where I need to grow spiritually, and then setting my sights on what I need to do to accomplish that end. Lent has become a positive experience for me. Do I always succeed in my undertakings? NO! Do I come to new insights into who I am? Sometimes! I don’t need ashes applied to my forehead at the outset of Lent to remind me that I am dust and unto dust I shall return, or that I am entering upon a season of penance. I’d rather be anointed with oil – the oil of gladness, empowering me to go forth to live life as fully as I am able. Come Easter, with the Lord, I, too, will rise to share more deeply in my baptism, having been clothed in Christ. That leaves me breathlessly saying: ALLELUIA!
Breathing New Life into a Connection with God and Others
Steven Young, OFM
Lent has come to mean a season of renewal in my relationship with God and all my human and non-human brothers, sisters, and siblings. It is a time to consider the ways in which I have been neglecting those relationships and to reflect on ways that help repair and/or strengthen them. As we prepare to celebrate the mystery of the Resurrection, Lent offers the space to face the places of death around us and within us. Through Lenten practices, the Spirit can clear away death-dealing forces in each of us and breathe new life into our connections with God and others. When I was younger, I used to fast from candy and other snacks, but nowadays I am more likely to fast from certain unhelpful attitudes or activities that drain my energy and steal my precious time in this world. Through that kind of fasting, I then have more to offer of myself – in prayer, in my community, in my ministry, and beyond.
The Secret to Never Breaking a Fast in 65 Years
Francis Pompei, OFM
I have fasted for the past 65 years from the same thing every Lent – LIVER! And I never once broke my fast! During Lent, I focus not on my sins, but rather, I place my focus on Jesus – and I experience that Jesus forgives me when I sin again and again as I am in this body, and that He loves me anyway! This is what I do during Lent – and I suggest everyone should do this: Spend time in front of the crucifix like St. Francis did. Sit and stare at Jesus until you experience Him and hear Him say, “I love you anyway.”
A Demanding Journey That Begins Within
Kevin Tortorelli, OFM
Lent is a demanding journey to the cross of Christ. There is a lot of stumbling, a lot of down on one’s knees. But the journey begins within. It is a work of grace. I am the fig tree without fruit (Lk 13:6). I accept that truth. But the owner will not give up on me. He brings me to raw prayer in which I listen, struggle, sometimes rebel. I fast from my ego that has nourished me plump and comfortable. I reach out to you lest my ego best me. This journey brings me to the death of one who is the measure of all because love is the measure of all. In this measure there is room for all. Everything is met here. The cross will ask everything of us, to give up sin, to do something about a wrecked and alienated world, to let God be God. Lent imparts the knowledge of Jesus Christ and him crucified (1Cor 2:2). In this task it is without equal. In Lent we hear Jesus say first he must suffer and then enter into his Glory. What is this Glory? Lent does not answer but it holds the question for us. Now there is work to be done, a journey to undertake, led by the Spirit into my wilderness.
A Time to Nourish and Enrich, Not Deprive
Frank Sevola, OFM
The season of Lent is given to us as a time to repent for our sins and return to the ways of the Gospel. Our liturgies are somewhat subdued and the priest wears purple vestments as a sign of penitence. We teach children to give up something they really like! Perhaps even as adults, we still get caught up in giving something up for Lent. But it usually ends up being more of a test of one’s self-will than a personal sacrifice. How often we say (or hear others say), “only so many more days until I can have chocolate or beer or broccoli (or whatever you gave up), again.” The true spirit of Lent is not about testing self-will. It is found in our willingness to do penance and repent for our sinful ways. These are some of the things that I try to do during Lent (and often suggest to others). Try eating one less meal one or two days a week. Fasting is not meant to make one suffer hunger, it is meant to help us understand the plight of the hungry. Think about going without a purchase or extravagance that you really don’t need. This isn’t meant to deprive, but rather it is a way to give alms – giving the same amount of money to charity that you would’ve spent. Think of someone you’ve hurt, or have been hurt by. Pray for that person and do something for them anonymously. Prayer must underscore whatever you do. It must be the foundation of our Lenten observances. Without prayer, our actions are meaningless. Spend extra time in prayer this Lent. In the end, Lent is not a time to deprive, but a time to nourish and enrich. Enrich yourself by beginning to understand the people around you. Enrich yourself by giving of yourself. Nourish yourself by forgiving someone and praying more often. Let Lent be the spiritual springtime of your soul – a time of blossoming and coming to life. Enrich, nourish, and celebrate your life. Then you will truly be ready to celebrate the Resurrection!
Lockheed Martin in Crosshairs During Lent
Patrick Sieber, OFM
For many years, more than I want to count, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday mean another visit to The Lockheed Martin weapons facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Our prayer each time is that the ashes on our foreheads will remind us of the “Mark of Cain” and the issue of Fratricide. A reminder to do no harm to another human being! But Lockheed’s business is in weapons of mass destruction. The horrible conclusion of their products is reducing whole villages and cities to ashes. They are the biggest “gun” in the world, and maybe they are beyond redemption in our time. Can a sinful corporation be redeemed? The money spent on their products has reduced many of our cities, like my ministry here in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia and in Camden, New Jersey, to ashes. Billions are spent on cruise missiles and killer drones, while inner cities remain in an Ash Wednesday and Good Friday curse of suffering – with no promise of an Easter Sunday. Maybe things will change for the better this Lent and Easter. Maybe we will hear more sermons, if any, talk about “men with guns” and the companies that produce the weapons. Mainstream churches – Catholic and Protestant, for example – seem reluctant, almost afraid to confront and criticize. Resurrection from the ashes and the cross happened once. It can happen again. But it will take a lot of work and prayers during this Lenten season. Amen and alleluia for all.
Quietly Keeping Orthodox Feasts While Praying with Brothers of the Latin Rite
Robert Lentz, OFM
My entire adult life, I have painted icons. Iconography has been my deepest vocation, what I have to give to God and humankind. It is rooted in my spiritual life as a Christian belonging to the Byzantine Rite, a way of living and believing in the Gospel that’s different from that of the Roman Church. As a member of Holy Name Province, I live and pray with brothers belonging to the Latin Rite. At the same time, I nourish myself spiritually by quietly keeping Orthodox feasts and the daily rhythm of Byzantine prayer in the quiet recesses of my personal life. With the arrival of Lent, my daily prayer demands more time, as the Orthodox Office becomes longer and more elaborate. My Lenten practice is trying to be faithful to this prayer. Because Rome and the Churches of the East follow different calendars for determining the date of Easter, being caught between these two calendars is itself painful. Lent and Easter are, for me, a vivid experience of the rent in Christ’s Body. Like Merton, I try to hold within myself the contradictions inflicted by human pride, with the hope that my small struggle will help Christians, both East and West, one day find visible unity once again.
Pausing During the Day for Jesus’ Unconditional Loving and Healing Embrace
Christopher Keenan, OFM
Lent is less giving up something and more giving in to be loved by someone. It is choosing to receive at every moment of our life the humble love of the Incarnation and the crucified love of Calvary from Jesus, who is with us and within us. My Lenten gift is to remind myself during the day: No matter what has happened to me in my life, or what I have done to mess it up, one thing that never changes is that I am always in Jesus’ unconditional loving and healing embrace at every moment of my life, if only I would choose to receive it. I already have it. I can’t earn it. Jesus already earned it for me. He earned it for all of us. I no longer have to look outside myself for the wonder that is already within me. I pause during the day to receive Jesus’ unconditional loving and healing embrace.
Wilderness – a Place That Gives Way to Something Disorienting and Unfamiliar
Steven Patti, OFM
I see the Lenten season as its own 40 days which recalls the biblical meaning of 40 days, and which has to do with time spent in the wilderness. I am far from any wilderness, living here in New York City. But I am drawn to the deeper meaning of the word: wilderness as a place where there seem to be no touchstones, no orientation, a place where the known and understood world gives way to something disorienting and unfamiliar. In so many ways, that seems to be our world today. What once seemed firm and in place – Church, politics, institutions (however illusory it all might have been) – all seem to be fracturing and fragile in front of us. And yet, the biblical witness continuously reminds us that even amid fractures and loss and exile, God searches for us in our wanderings. I have been reading through Walter Brueggemann’s recent book, A Wilderness Zone, and he writes about how biblical testimony will “de-absolutize our excessive certitude and permit us to look again at the social facts that are in front of us.” And maybe for me this Lent, that’s a starting point for my own prayer and practice.
New Life for the Soul
Patrick Tuttle, OFM
Lent means Spring. New life for the soul. A movement from darkness to light, from death to new life. I recently suffered my younger brother passing on from cancer. While earth was earth (a firm foundation of faith in the Resurrection of Jesus), the windows of the house blew out and all the furniture was crammed to one side of the room, making it unrecognizable and unlivable. The experience required whatever force of nature that allows a green bud to pop through rough winter-safe bark. I have been given a promise that if I suffer and die with Him, I will rise. I believe God keeps promises. His timing I find a wild rollercoaster that I wish to get off of for now.
Lent Slows Down a Rushed Life
Linh Hoang, OFM
Active participation is a necessary part of being a faithful Catholic. This may come in various ways, such as worshipping, praying, reflecting, touching, and contemplating. The time of Lent includes all of those activities, but at a mindful and slower pace. It shifts because I am now reflecting on the fasting and suffering of Jesus in the wilderness. Fasting from food, other material things, and petty distractions slow down a rushed life filled with deadlines and meetings. The suffering of Jesus in the desert gives perspective to my own life where the pain of aging surfaces evermore physically, the unknown becomes ever unimportant, and the end of life draws ever closer. Embracing the suffering and fasting of Jesus in a more active way at Lent strengthens my hope for a renewed faith.