In Your Midst
Lenten Journey
March 2006

This year's Lenten journey is the very heart of our Year of Prayer and Renewal

Dear Friends,

    Journey is one of the most persistent metaphors for the life of faith. With good reason. Faith involves moving from one place to another. Sometimes the journey is physical (think of Abraham, or Moses and the Chosen People, or St. Paul and the other apostles, for starters), but whether physical or not, the journey of faith always takes a person from comfortable certainties into the great unknown.

The way of the cross ends, not on Calvary, but at the gloriously empty tomb of Easter

    The season of Lent is an important stretch along the journey of faith, one that always takes us to some wonderful new places. In six short weeks Lent takes us into the desert of prayer and fasting where Jesus came face to face with God; then it takes us to the mountaintop where Jesus tasted his coming glory; after that it lets us linger at Jacob’s well where we meet Jesus who alone can satisfy our thirst; then it plunges us into the waters of Siloam where our eyes of faith begin to see as never before; following that it frees us from the grip of death as Jesus once freed his friend Lazarus from the tomb; and, finally, it takes us along the way of the Cross that ends, not on Calvary, but at the gloriously empty tomb of Easter. Quite a journey to travel in six short weeks!

    Of course, Lent in this year of 2006 should have special meaning for all of us at St. James Cathedral. We are in the middle of our three-year Centennial celebration and this is our all-important Year of Prayer and Renewal. This year’s Lenten journey should be the very heart of our Year of Prayer and Renewal and it will be if we take seriously the church’s time-tried Lenten program: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.

    Prayer. Sunday Mass goes without saying, but what about weekday Mass, daily Midday Prayer, Sunday Vespers and Benediction, Friday evening Taizé Prayer—and, of course, our own personal prayer at home? Fasting. A wonderful way to deepen our hunger for God and at the same time to grow in solidarity with those who have no food. Almsgiving. We gain by giving away. The Lenten Rice Bowl program of Catholic Relief Services is one very fine way to reach out in love to the world’s hungry.

    Read on, now, as four of your fellow parishioners share their thoughts on what Lent means to them. May their thoughts stimulate some of your own and fire you up for the demanding but most rewarding journey to Easter!

Father Michael G. Ryan

* * *

    For many kids my age, Lent is just the month where we have to give up chocolate and can’t eat hamburgers on Fridays. Personally, it did not seem to affect my life very much, except at church, where everything seemed somber and mysterious. I understood the rules of Lent, but I did not understand Lent itself, and I certainly could not connect it to my everyday experiences. This vague acknowledgement of Lent lasted for awhile, until middle school, where I began to learn about Lent in the classroom, and shape my own ideas about it. I found a new way of looking at Lent, through the guidance of my parents, teachers, and church. Lent is somber and quiet because it is a time to reflect on ourselves and what God did for us. It reminds me and everyone else of God in our lives, makes us feel His presence and act upon it. It unifies our conscience, and through sacrifice helps us grow closer to God, accepting Him in all His mystery and thanking Him for His own great sacrifice. And most importantly, it prepares us for Easter, the coming of Jesus Christ and our redemption. I have found that if you take Lent seriously and really try to keep it present in your life, Easter becomes more of a celebration and more filled with awe and rejoicing than it could ever be if there was no mental and spiritual preparation for it. That is exactly what Lent is. A time of mental, spiritual preparation and cleansing, reflecting and growing. It can be a blessed relief from the terrific speed that our world moves at, and at its very least, it reminds our impatient society to slow down and talk with God.

Siobhan Corrigan is a student at Holy Names Academy
and serves as a youth usher at St. James

* * *

The Scrutiny of the Elect calls down special blessings on those preparing for the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil

    An uninformed visitor to St James Cathedral during Lent might think the Elect are the saintly elite of the Catholic Church. After all, the Elect get reserved seating, they alone get to wear brown robes which make them look like medieval monastics, the whole cathedral watches them as they are dismissed to meditate on the readings and homily, indeed the readings often allude to them, and the priests pray over them and give them special blessings.

    But appearances can be deceiving, very deceiving. In reality, the Elect are those who are preparing to receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. Thus, far from being saintly elites, the Elect stand in extra need of prayer during Lent.
For the Elect, as for all Catholics, Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. But for them it is also a time of solemn resolve to turn away from sin and strengthen their faith in the Holy Trinity. God is Love, and so strengthening one’s faith in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit may be seen as strengthening one’s faith in Love. And sin may be seen as anything that weakens one’s faith in Love.   

    Jesus declared that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12: 28-31). Jesus also told his followers to love their enemies (Matthew 5: 44). This is all a pretty tall order, but one that no Christian can ignore. Our sin may weaken our love, but we nonetheless try to love as best we can. As I prepare for Lent as an Elect, I have been reflecting on love, especially love of oneself, love of our enemies, and love of God and neighbor.

    Jesus seems to imply that we need to love ourselves. That may seem like a call to arrogance and selfishness, but I don’t think it is. I suspect that most people don’t really love themselves as much as they might, and instead of learning to love themselves they fill their lives with things of little value. I think most people want love, but instead fill their lives with things that don’t satisfy their desire for true love. Maybe loving oneself means to live simply for and in satisfying love.

    The last line in the Lord’s Prayer is: “But deliver us from evil.” I first thought of evil as Satan or some outside enemy who was trying to destroy me. The evil enemy was always someone outside of me. But through prayer, I have come to realize that my greatest enemies are within my own heart and mind; they are my own sins.

    Sacrifice has been defined as exchanging something of lesser value for another thing of greater value. Perhaps Jesus alluded to sacrifice in the parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-6). I decided that I would lovingly sacrifice my sins, that is, I would exchange them for something of greater value. I decided to exchange my sins for a greater love of Jesus.

    Jesus seems to imply that love of God is the hardest love to develop. It is easy to love God when God’s will seems to correspond with our wants. But how can one love God when God seems to allow bad things to happen to good people? I don’t have a good answer for that. Saint John gives us a clue, when he asks, “How can you love God whom you do not see, if you cannot love your brother whom you can see?” (1 John 4:20) Maybe we will be able to understand what it is to love God only after we have become better lovers of ourselves, our enemies, and of our neighbors.

    Perhaps it is true to say that Lent is a season for true love.

Beaton Brown is an Elect preparing for the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil

* * *

Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday

    Lent is my favorite liturgical season. It’s not about sacrifice; it’s about growth. It’s not about loss; it’s about renewal. I long to grow. I long to be free. On Ash Wednesday that journey begins at St. James Cathedral. The path leads to Starbucks, to work, to Bartell’s –where everyone can see my prayer for humility written on my forehead. It’s the day I show the world that I am proud to join Christ on his journey to Calvary.
Like an Israelite making a bold move centuries ago, I take risks for an unseen source’s promise. Am I willing not to control outcomes: of how my office needs to function; of dictating to God how my family members need to behave? God is at least as smart as I am. So I try to use the time these obsessions occupy to pray and meditate instead.

    And as the Israelites had captors, so I have mine. At Lent I take a look at a few false idols – the things I think I really, really need, even as miniscule as the Chardonnay and Pepperidge Farm cookies. I let those go and donate the proceeds on Holy Thursday, as so many of us do.
I meditate on Mary’s huge leap to believe that God knew what was best for her Son. So at Our Lady’s Shrine, I’ll ask her for new ideas and the strength to act on them, and for freedom from everything that blocks my usefulness: chains of regret, worry and judgment. Then I light a candle for me.

    Holy Week at St. James almost defies description. The stark stillness of Tenebrae makes it feel as though God is loving me in the darkness. The barren holy water fonts of the Paschal Mystery remind me that empty times prepare for fullness. And Morning Prayer and Compline (my favorites) begin and end each day in the silent awe of our cathedral, which seems to wait in expectation of the fullness of God’s love, just as I wait for that love to fill me.

    On Good Friday during the singing of “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” I look around at the family of man standing at the foot of the cross. A homeless man shuffles through with his backpack. A young man who’s just been “downsized” sits in the next aisle. My neighbor whose husband wants a divorce is close by, too. They have their captors, too, so I whisper a prayer for each of us. “God embraces us with outstretched arms.”

    But Easter day brings every hope, every sound, every smell and every vision of the Lenten season to wholeness. The incense, lilies, and roses; the flickering Pascal candle; the sounding trumpets and rising choral voices. “Alleluia, Christ has risen!”

    I thank God for this life-giving community, and for our pastor, Father Michael Ryan, asking God’s blessing on him, our choir and the other pilgrims with whom he will journey this Lent. When he celebrates Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, he will mark forty years as a priest. Imagine the countless pilgrims whom he has accompanied on their journeys!

    God loves us so much, that he gave us his only Son. Jesus loved us so much that he was willing to die for us. I love this season, because Lent reminds me that none of that is past-tense. Redemption is now!

    So what am I willing to do for forty days for a promise that’s bigger than anything else in my life?

Helen Donnelly Goehring serves as a reader and a Cabrini minister at St. James

* * *

Our Lenten journey concludes with the joy of Easter.  At the great Easter Vigil on April 15, fifteen adults and children will be baptized.

    Ah, morning: just a few days ago, once again engaged in the familiar work of making coffee, I was shaking some roasted beans out of the bag and into the grinder when a few of the little fellows escaped. My eyes followed their dash for freedom, the path of each of the beans as they bounced off the counter and scattered across the kitchen floor; interestingly, though, my apprehension of their chaotic trajectories was immediate, direct, not mediated by intellect or analysis. The work of God seemed plainly evident in all this, reinforced even further by a peculiar sense of timelessness, that I was seeing this from outside the ordinary context of temporal events. I was in an instantaneous eternity in the presence of God while making coffee.

    Such experiences are not uncommon in my life. It seems to me that they are a kind of mystical experience—”ordinary mysticism” is a term I use, seeing as they are not accompanied by visions or celestial music or any other such exalted stuff. They simply carry a sense that the ordinary world is actually quite extraordinary. But even more than that, they are informed by an inescapable awareness of the presence of God in every single thing I see, or hear, or touch.

    It also seems to me that such experiences are a form of contemplative prayer: I empty myself, quiet myself, knock ever so lightly, and the door is opened to me.

    One of the primary reasons I am so drawn to the austere beauty of Lent is that, with its traditions of simplification, purification, and sacrifice, it is directly conducive to this kind of prayer. While most prayer is associated with some sort of utterance—be it petition, thanksgiving, an expression of penance, whatever—the kind of prayer experience I'm talking about is, if anything, characterized by wordlessness, is coaxed forth by silencing my mind and will, by dismantling the verbal bulwarks which sometimes separate me from God. It is also characterized by a sort of freshness, a sense that I am seeing even familiar things in a way I had never seen them before. “I make all things new,” says Jesus; and in this way such prayer is renewal, an intentional, continual reawakening to Christ (and to my eternal, divine self) and likewise a continual renewal of my baptismal promises. I think also of these words in the quintessential Psalm of Lent, Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me…”

    So in this way Lent itself is practically synonymous with prayer and renewal; and I would pray that even every moment of my life be a moment of prayer and renewal, throughout this Centennial Year and beyond.

Ward Johnson serves as chaplain for the Cathedral Choir and as an altar sever

Back to the March 2006 Issue of In Your Midst