Here we are in the first full week of Lent. I think we’re all getting used to the idea of what this year’s Lent entails. As I mentioned last week, I am trying to organize my thoughts around the Lenten pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving and incorporating those pillars with the tripod of my way through Cursillo of piety, study, and action. Something the priest said at Monday’s mass stood out to me, and that was that we are all presbyters, as opposed to proselytizers. Public prayer, not conversion. That was the word [presbyter] used in that day’s Reading from the First Letter of Peter, and defined in Father’s homily as someone who prays in public. We may recognize that word as the basis for Presbyterian, a Protestant sect of Christianity.
If we are all called to be presbyters as Peter exalts us to “tend the flock of G-d in [our] midst” [1 Peter 5: 1-4], how do we reconcile that with Jesus’ call to not be like the hypocrites and go to our rooms and pray in private [Matt 6.6]?
How should, how can we pray in public and not become like those hypocrites?
As I set this aside earlier in the week, I thought about the ways in which I was praying in public and yet hoping to avoid hypocrisy. I am definitely thinking more about prayer and ways to be closer to G-d during these forty days leading up to the Easter Vigil. I spent time discerning what actions and tasks were important to me and which ones I needed to give up to make my time more effective and positive, not only for me, but for those people I would be working with.
Sometimes prayer is a conversation between yourself and G-d and sometimes it is contemplative, thinking on a scripture passage or meditation. We ask for things – petitions, we ask for things for others – intercessory prayer and sometimes we just sit in the quiet and hope G-d can understand what it is we’re seeking even if we don’t necessarily know.
On Wednesday night, I participated in a centering prayer group. We met on Zoom. I had been to a workshop on centering prayer last month, and this was a good opportunity to put what I learned into practice with others. While we were each in our own spaces and muted, we were also all together, hearing the same reading, listening to the bell that started off our quiet, contemplative time, the screen sharing a single candle if we chose to keep our eyes open to see it. Solitary and in group at the same time.
Private and public.
Admittedly, I had some trouble focusing. My house was empty and silent. The group was silent, not even a buzz from the lights or clock in the room, no airplanes flying low overhead like they’d done all morning. And still, I needed to continue to draw on my sacred word to bring me back to my prayer. By the time, I felt settled, the bell rang and it was the end of the twenty minute sit (what the prayer time is called).
It reminded me of those early days of the pandemic, when the sun was out, the snow was gone, and the cold was bearable. I would take out my camp chair to the front lawn and just sit. On occasion I took a photo of the trees or the sky. I’d write in my journal. I’d pray the rosary.
But often, I would just sit, noticing each flutter of a breeze, each chirp of a bird, and before I even realized it, an hour had passed. I’d unconsciously been doing centering prayer a year ago, but didn’t have the language to name it then.
One way I can be a presbyter is to take my chair outside (when my lawn doesn’t have the mounds of snow that it currently has) with my prayer book and journal, my pashmina and just sit. Let myself be drawn into G-d’s world and let the nearby church bells lift me from my reverie and gently bring me back to this world refreshed.
Ash Wednesday has arrived. It feels so early this year, but I suppose everything feels a bit jumbled during this pandemic year. As my priest said at mass this morning, things are different, but they’re also the same. Less people allowed at mass. Ashes distributed with a cotton swab (my parish) or sprinkled over your head (others). I didn’t make this morning’s mass in person although I planned to, and registered to attend. The ice on my car made different plans. I was able to watch the mass livestreamed and stopped by the church later in the afternoon to pick up a small vial of ashes. It was a do it yourself for me today.
I would have thought a year into the pandemic that I’d be an expert on reflections on any subject that came to mind, but when I went to write this on Tuesday, there was nothing. Sometimes reflections feel like journal entries, and I’ve been not great at journaling this past year. I’ve tried to keep checklists – masses attended, rosaries said, writing accomplished, but even that little bit has been a failing.
I hadn’t even decided what I’d be giving up, and then I gave myself an extension. Not anything canonical, but I think sometimes when we force ourselves to do things without the impetus of why we’re doing them, they lose something in the translation.
I spend a lot of time worrying about what I’m going to give up as if forty days without chocolate or soda is a hardship in the big picture of things, but on the other hand, I think that sacrifice should also be a sacrifice of time. What can I do to grow in my relationship with G-d? What are things that I can do for these forty days that will stay with me for the next forty? And then the next?
To begin for the readers waiting with bated breath, I’m not going to make my decision on what I”ll be offering to G-d for Lent until the first Sunday of Lent although I have a good idea what it will be and it wasn’t even on my original brainstorm list. By Sunday, I will have had some time to discern what I can accomplish from giving something up or trading it for something that is more positive and/or spiritual.
Lent is a forty day period where prayer, fasting, and almsgiving take the center of spiritual life. Despite being given dispensation from holy days and Sunday masses during the pandemic, I have still gone almost every week to the livestream mass. I was happily surprised to find it just as rewarding as going in person. In the summer, I began to attend Monday’s daily mass in person and I will continue to do that. Our church has done a great job of keeping things safe. I am very lucky with both my church and my children’s school.
In addition to the three pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving since I’ve become a Cursillista, I try to incorporate the tripod of piety, study, and action into my everyday life, but moreso during Lent when our time is spent in communion with Jesus, and of course, ourselves.
I have some tools and links that I’d like to share with you to assist with your own Lenten journey. The first three I will be doing throughout Lent.
Prayer of Spiritual Communion (this is what my parish uses for communion during their livestream masses for those of us participating at home):
I wish, my Lord, to receive you with the purity, humility, and devotion with which your most holy Mother received you, with the spirit and fervor of the saints. Amen
In addition to some of these, I am also going to praying the Rosary on Mondays and the Stations of the Cross on Fridays as well as committing to submit a reflection to my Cursillo group’s weekly digest. I will also (finally) begin reading A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith by Timothy Egan. This was recommended a couple of years ago and I bought it then, but haven’t found the right time to start it. I’ve decided to make that time now.
I also intend to recommit to my writing, both spiritual and secular. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve kept consistent with this website, but my other writings have fallen on the wayside. I hope to rectify that over the next forty days.
I hope to bring you more in the coming days. Have a meaningful Lent.
Some of my tools for this year’s Lenten Journey, including art from Bro. Mickey McGrath, my rosary, a key tab from my church, journal and Scripture gift, and really thoughtful and and prayerful daily devotions for Lent from Michelle Frankl-Donnay. (c)2020
“…the road that we seek is often the road we have already found.”
– Fr. James Martin, SJ, My Life with the Saints
One of things I’m learning through the Cursillo movement is how I can grow in relationship to Jesus through the three principles of piety, study, and action. These are key components of Cursillo, and while I did my weekend this past October, it is still taking me some time to regularly incorporate these into my life. I believe that I’ve always done them in varying degrees, but Cursillo has given me new eyes to see what it is I’m doing.
Lent is another way, a time of the year, to reflect on my relationships and what I do for myself in spiritual ways. The picture above illustrates some of my tools for my Lenten journey.
We are all obsessed, those of us who practice with giving up something for Lent. It is usually a food or a technology – social media, cell phone during dinner, etc. A lesser known thought is to add something to your life during Lent. This is only the first full week, and I am still discerning what I will add in addition to reading the daily devotional book my church gives us.
What have I given up?
Pizza. And bacon.
I didn’t even think about it. It just appeared in my head, and once it was there, I knew it was the right choice. My family still can’t believe it.
I’m trying to journal a bit more, and heeding Brother Mickey’s advice to take fifteen minutes a day to just be with G-d. I’ll let you know how all of that goes.
In addition to prayer and fasting for these forty days, there is also almsgiving. I always support my church and my St. Vincent de Paul Society, but for this Lent, I will also be supporting RAICES, and I encourage all of you to take up that mantle. There are still children in cages; there are still families separated. RAICES is on the front lines with all kinds of help, and have been since the beginning of this nightmare.
Giving up something is hard to choose, and giving up something for Lent can be a daunting task. Sometimes what I choose feels arbitrary and superficial. Some are good ideas, but not meaningful enough. Will giving it up bring me closer to G-d? Or just make me miserable for forty days? My feeling on giving something up is that it should be sacrificial – you should definitely notice that it’s absent. I won’t be giving up brussel sprouts or beets. I don’t eat them anyway. That would lack sincerity and significance. However, it should also not be something that is impossible to give up like driving or any number of things that you find indispensible.
I asked for help from my friends on Facebook, and I received some very good suggestions. In spite of their excellent responses, some of those very valid suggestions don’t (or won’t) work for me:
TV? Then I’d miss family time. We watch most things all together and enjoy that time. I’d be abandoning them for forty days.
Cable news? I don’t watch it 24/7 anymore, but I do need to keep informed, especially in this era of misinformation.
Internet? Besides keeping in touch with my family, it is essentially my livelihood.
Chocolate? Soda? Bread? Been there, done that. I’m not sure it holds the same meaning as the first time; at least not yet.
Caffeine? And go through withdrawal? Too physically taxing.
Ice cream? Maybe. My doctor would certainly like that.
Bacon? Hmm. Possible. Very possible.
I do always add a spiritual component to my forty days in the desert:
I already read two devotional books throughout the year on a daily basis: Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2019 by The Irish Jesuits and A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His journals. I’ll be adding two more: My parish gives out a small book, Not by Bread Alone 2019: Daily Reflections for Lent by Mary DeTurris Poust. This takes about five minutes to read each day and provides a reflection and a suggested meditation to reflect on. We’ve used this book for a number of years and it really is a good way to meet G-d everyday. The second book is Lenten Gospel Reflections by Bishop Robert Barron, which was given to my by the person who will be sponsoring me on my Cursillo journey (more on that in a later post). This one looks to be short readings also and it has space for notes or journaling.
Daily Lenten Reading, 2019. (c)2019
i’ve also decided to set aside $1 every time my family eats out or buys a non-grocery food item like Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, etc and on Easter money donate all those dollars to my parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society.
I’m currently getting ready to attend Ash Wednesday Mass followed by a parish soup lunch. It is a really lovely way to begin Lent with other like-minded people, all on different paths but the same journey. It reinforces the community of the church.
In addition to my own commitments during Lent, Lent has three pillars of prayer, fasting (and abstinence), and almsgiving. Fasting and abstinence sound similar, but are very different in practice, and for me, Catholic fasting is much different than my decades of Yom Kippur fasting (which I still observe). Fasting during Lent is only required of those 18 through 59, and may include one regular meal as well as two smaller meals. Fast days in Lent are today, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Additionally, Fridays in Lent require abstinence from meat as well as other enjoyable sources, freeing us to grow closer to G-d.
My church also included a forty day calendar offering suggestions on ways to make Lent moe meaningful. It is provided from Take Five for Faith and I sill share it with you this weekend.
I will keep you updated on my progress and I hope you will comment with your own reflections and suggestions this Lenten season.
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
1 John 4:7-10
In the first reading today, the gift of the holy spirit poured out on the Gentiles. Peter ordered them to be baptized – cannot withhold water when they’ve received the holy spirit.
It’s not the water. It’s not the holy spirit. It’s not the cross. It’s all of those individual things becoming the greater thing, not only to guide us, but to always be within us.
When I was brought fully into the church four years ago I found out that the Easter Vigil is the only time the parish priests confer confirmation on the candidates. It is the only time that the bishop is allowed to be substituted. It is also the one time when the traditional sacraments are given in their order – baptism, confirmation, communion – rather than receiving the first communion between baptism and confirmation. There is something about being a part of such a longstanding tradition. When I participated and observed the Jewish rituals, I was always in awe of being a part of G-d’s chosen, descended from Abraham, observing things that had been observed since the beginning.
I feel that same way about my journey through Catholicism. In my studies, I’ve discovered that the mass hasn’t changed much since those first centuries.
The profoundness sometimes weighs on me, but the joy of it all lightens me.
This I command: love one another
Accept the Father’s love,
Offer your love as he does.
Accept His saving power, and
Offer gratitude for it.
Follow his commands,
Absolve your sins,
Close your eyes, and breathe it in.
Exhale it out with thanks, and
It reminds me of James 3:26: Faith without works is dead. It’s not the faith that’s important; it’s what having faith leads you to do. From giving money to giving time, our works and their reception increases our faith which increases our good works. Similarly, when we love both truthfully and through our deeds, we, and they, come alive.
“Let us love in deed and truth.”
Remind me, O Lord that faith and love are paramount, equally deed and works will lead us to fulfillment and a deeper faith and abiding love. Amen.
The cornerstone is the foundation, but it’s more than that. It’s the beginning, the first step, the mark of remembrance; the placeholder for all that is to follow.
When seeing the cornerstone, we see where that space all began. Sometimes there’s an engraving, a year of commencement or sometimes completion. A symbol highlighting the buildign’s significance – a cross, an open book. Letters: an engraver’s initials, an artist’s signature, a person’s legacy.
We trace the marks with our fingertips; we photograph all sides with a camera or even our mind’s eye. We do a pencil rubbing on vellum, but there are still realizations hidden deep away.
We begin with the cornerstone and find our own way from there.
Show us the full meaning of the cornerstone,
Bring us there for the beginning,
And walk with us as we end there
At the end of our circle.
We pray to you, and thank you for being by our side.
Since I’ve joined the church, even before my baptism, I have only attended one Easter Day mass. It was the year before I took my sacraments, and I remember it was crowded and there was bright sunlight streaming in through the skylight, and the women were wearing the brightest, most springy colors I could ever imagine. I feel like I wore my own bright pink shirt. Since then, last night included, I have attended the Easter Vigil. It is a bit more solemn and dark. It is literally dark. It doesn’t begin until 8pm with the blessing of the Easter fire from Saturday morning, and the lighting of the Paschal candle. From that, the entire church is lit up with candlelight and the Paschal candle lights all of the individual candles. It is really quite beautiful and moving as we move from utter darkness (Good Friday) to the brightest light (that of the Resurrection).
On Saturday evening, after darkness has fallen, the Paschal candle is brought inside with the chant of The Light of Christ followed by the Easter proclamation. Then seven readings and responsorial psalms, an epistle, gospel and homily and we’re ready for the renewal of baptismal vows, bringing our candidates into full communion with the church and finishing with the hymn Jesus Christ is Risen Today. Alleluia!
I come home and it’s Easter.
We do an egg hunt. Our children are twelve, thirteen, and twenty-one, and they still enjoy gathering the eggs and finding the baskets the Bunny left them. We baste a turkey, mash potatoes, and casserole green beans. For all of its significance, it is a much quieter affair, a smaller, more internal celebration. We’ll read and eat some candy. We’ll clear the table for dinner. This year, I have a small, lovely vase of flowers to add as our centerpiece.
More than anything, on this, a most sacred day is spending the day with our family, as a family.
How do you celebrate as a family? Do you continue any of the traditions you did as a child in your parents’ house?
[Beginning next Sunday, I will continue this devotional, Sundays in Lent as a Sundays in Easter with a devotional posting each Sunday through Pentecost. I hope you’ll continue to follow along, and are enjoying reading and participating with it as much as I’m enjoying writing it.]