Lent is upon us, a time of prayer, reflection, and unity with God. But sometimes we miss important aspects of this holy season while we are in the midst of it.
In a weekly Lenten blog and video series for Franciscan Media, Casey Cole, OFM, will guide us through the season, tackling themes such as sacrifice, joy, humility, pleasure, and piety—all to help us gain a better understanding of Lent.
“What are you giving up for Lent?” is always a popular question among Catholics as Lent approaches, as if another New Year’s resolution is to be set (or reset). It becomes, for some, a badge of honor, and, for all, an opportunity to witness to the faith in a public way.
Even people who might not identify themselves as the most devout members of the Church engage in the practice of “giving something up,” and it can often lead to greater devotion.
For Francis of Assisi, it is the love of God, the self-offering and surrender of control that comes with the Incarnation that is at the heart of what it means to talk about the suffering of Jesus on the cross.
This sense of giving up control is seen in the way scholar Zachary Hayes describes the place of the cross in the spiritual worldviews of Francis and Bonaventure. When we look at the mystery of Jesus, this evokes quite a different sense of the divine.
We might think that the hope of Lent has to do with our hope that we will get through it, that we will come to the end of it. We see Lent as an obstacle course we need to navigate in order to get to the great feast of Easter. But while the Lenten season is indeed preparation for our Easter celebration, the hope of this season is that we will ﬁnd our lives transformed by the many ways we encounter God’s Word, by the richness of the Scripture readings chosen to encourage, to challenge, to confront, to comfort. Focusing only on the end goal would cause us to miss so much along the way.
When Lent was nearly over and it was time to begin our journey to Louisiana’s Pie Day, we rounded up our boys. It had been outfitted with an old mattress, blankets, pillows, crayons and cookies. Then, leaving Minnesota, we headed out for pie.
Who, but a Frenchman with Louisiana ties, would haul five children and an Irish wife 2,400 miles, round-trip, for pie? But it was not just any pie. It was Louisiana Sweet Dough Pie, and it is served only once a year—on Good Friday.
Where did the law about not eating meat on Fridays originate? When was this changed to Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent?
Already in the fourth century, there was a Church law about abstinence (not eating meat on certain days). Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays were once days of abstinence in the Western Church. By the 12th century, this was required only on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays—to remind Christians that Jesus died on this day. (Later, abstinence was added in connection with a few feasts.)
Now that we are in the midst of the Lenten season, parishes will be offering several opportunities to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It’s fairly common knowledge that many people have pretty much eliminated this sacrament from their lives–perhaps not consciously, but simply pushed it aside. Let’s face it. It’s not easy to admit our sins, and it’s even harder to confess them to another person, even if it is a priest.
To meditate, begin with your physical posture. Sit down (chair, cushion on the floor, or meditation bench). Keep your back straight. Relaxed and alert, sit still. Let go of any points of tension in your shoulders and face especially. Close your eyes lightly.
Then silently, interiorly and without moving your lips or tongue, begin to repeat a single word or phrase, sacred in your own faith tradition.
What was the first thought you had upon waking this morning? Were your first coherent thoughts colored by negativity, anxiety, worry, or strife? Did you leap out of bed and start chiding yourself about the million things you needed to do before breakfast?
Mother Teresa asks: Does your mind and your heart go to Jesus as soon as you get up in the morning? This is prayer, that you turn your mind and heart to God. In your times of difficulties, in sorrows, in sufferings, in temptations, and in all things, where did your mind and heart turn first of all? How did you pray?
When my husband, Mark, and I found out we were expecting our fourth child, we immediately started taking stock of all the things we would need for another baby. We started unpacking boxes of baby clothes that were stored away after our other children had outgrown them, and made a list of things we had to buy—bottles, new car seats, a bouncer, diapers. The list went on and on. We also made plans for how we would have to rearrange our home to accommodate our new family member.
From the opening verses of the Book of Jonah it becomes clear that we’re dealing with an unusual hero. In response to God’s call to head out for the city of Nineveh (located at the center of the Assyrian Empire that encompassed parts of Asia Minor and Mesopotamia) and preach a call for repentance to its inhabitants, Jonah jumps aboard the nearest ship and gets moving—but not to Nineveh. He boards a ship heading for a place called Tarshish.
John Dunne, longtime theology professor, writer, and campus legend at the University of Notre Dame, wrote often and well about “passing over” to another’s viewpoint, culture, or religion and then “passing back” to one’s own with greater understanding and deeper compassion. It’s an imaginative process that can move a person from hostility to tolerance to respect, and from isolation to community, an experience of intellect and heart Dunne called “the spiritual adventure of our time.”
We speak of one section of the Gospels, that which narrates Jesus’s life from the Last Supper until his death and burial, as chronicling his “passion.” On Good Friday, the lector begins the Gospel reading with the words: “The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John.”
Why do we call Jesus’s suffering just before his death his passion? Generally, this is not properly understood.
The Resurrection of Christ is at the center of our faith. Paul affirms: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). The Church devotes eight days of worship to retelling the Resurrection narratives.
From Easter Sunday to the following (Low) Sunday the readings at Masses present one by one the many New Testament accounts of the appearances of the risen Lord.
Lent is a time of reconciliation: God’s reconciliation with a wounded world. But, if we are honest, it is also a time for us to be reconciled with God again. It doesn’t mean that we have left the church or even sinned seriously. Hopefully not. But it is a time for us to come to the Lord in a sense of repentance for our failings—great or small. And that is why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It gives us an opportunity to do something externally to reflect what is going on in our hearts. But Lent is still a season of mystery for some.