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Praised be Jesus Christ and His Holy Mother! I’m looking forward to my second Lent in the monastery. What a wonderful surprise was in store for me before Ash Wednesday — three days of more solemn and lengthy Eucharistic Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. You remember from our brochures that we do have Exposition every day, but this was special with a capital “S.” So many hours of prayer and adoration.
You may wonder what Lent is like in an Order that already keeps a perpetual Lenten fast and abstinence even outside of the liturgical season. Believe it or not, we do make a few changes that reflect even more the austerity of this season. Beginning with Ash Wednesday, the organ is silent. The Liturgy of the Hours and Holy Mass are sung a capella except on Laetare Sunday and Solemnities. You remember that there is no correspondence or visiting until Easter. The community prays an offering of the Precious Blood together nine times a day and on Saturdays we pray the chaplet of Our Lady’s Seven Sorrows, just to mention a couple of Lenten practices. Meals are simple without many condiments but, I assure you, healthy and quite sufficient. Oh, and so much more to tell you, but I’ll have to do that some other time!
Until next time, I am off to the Lenten desert!
Sister Mary Neophilus
Or so says St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), the founder of the Redemptorists and renowned Doctor of the Church. I heartily encourage our readers to check out his essay entitled, “The Advantages of the Religious State.” This essay is really nothing other than a profound meditation on these words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), another Doctor of the Church, concerning consecrated life:
“Is not that a holy state in which a man lives more purely, falls more rarely, rises more speedily, walks more cautiously, is bedewed with the waters of grace more frequently, rests more securely, dies more confidently, is cleansed more quickly, and rewarded more abundantly?”
These words may seem controversial–and decidedly undemocratic–to contemporary ears, as they unabashedly extol the excellence of a life completely consecrated to God. May many have ears to hear.
As we’ve now begun the Lenten journey, and have recalled our own mortality (“Remember man that you are dust . . .”), those contemplating their state of life do well to consider St. Alphonsus’ wise admonition:
“Some are deterred from entering religion by the apprehension that their abandonment of the world might be afterwards to them a source of regret. But in making choice of a state of life I would advise such persons to reflect not on the pleasures of this life, but on the hour of death, which will determine their happiness or misery for all eternity.”
For the entirety of St. Alphonsus’ essay, click here.
I was just browsing through www.vocation.com, one of the finest vocation sites that I’ve visited lately, and discovered a “Discernment Library,” with vocation-related meditations that are sorted by Gospel passage, liturgical year, and theme.
One way to more deeply enter the Church’s liturgy this Lenten season would be to take the time to use the weekly meditations on the Gospel, which contain thought-provoking (and prayer-provoking!) reflection questions at the end.
Here is a short excerpt from the meditation for the First Sunday of Lent:
“There are two dimensions to life: our life here that depends completely on ‘bread’ and our life in eternity, for which we need another food, ‘the Father’s will.’ So bread alone will not suffice, at times it will have to be set aside for the food that gives eternal life. We have to learn to set our hearts on eternal life, so as to use every moment of this life to take another step toward it and not away from it, often giving up material goods for spiritual goods, like when we fast and do penance in Lent. If we continually look at Christ we will never be afraid to leave anything behind to follow after him.”
But first things first. Have you gotten your ashes yet?
I remember well my first Lent in a religious community in the 1980s. Most of us seminarians, like many people out in the world, gave up sweets for 40 days. The one time that this penance really came into play was during the afternoon coffee break. The nearby Au Bon Pain restaurant donated day-old pastries to the seminary, and these were typically brought out to give us a little sugar boost to get us through metaphysics and epistemology.
So, while the rest of us were wistfully looking at the full tray of Au Bon Pain goodies, one delightfully chubby seminarian walked up and started munching on a big chocolate croissant. In between bites (barely) he told me, “This year I decided to do positive penance, so I’m just going to be charitable.”
The seminarian was joking, but this did illustrate how our image of ”Lenten penance” can become skewed. With Ash Wednesday just around the corner, I thought I would point out four approaches to Lent that seem a little disordered. Read the rest of this entry »
This week the Vatican released the 2011 Lenten Message of Pope Benedict XVI. The message’s title is taken from St. Paul: “You were buried with Him in Baptism, in which you were also raised with Him” (Colossians 2:12).
The message in its entirety may be viewed here. (Scroll down for the English translation.)
As the title suggests, this year’s focus is on the relationship between Baptism and Lent. The Holy Father writes:
“The fact that, in most cases, Baptism is received in infancy highlights how it is a gift of God: no one earns eternal life through their own efforts. The mercy of God, which cancels sin and, at the same time, allows us to experience in our lives ‘the mind of Christ Jesus,’ is given to men and women freely. . . .
“Hence, Baptism is not a rite from the past, but the encounter with Christ, which informs the entire existence of the baptized, imparting divine life and calling for sincere conversion; initiated and supported by Grace, it permits the baptised to reach the adult stature of Christ.
“A particular connection binds Baptism to Lent as the favorable time to experience this saving Grace. . . . Read the rest of this entry »