As we begin Lent – entering into the wilderness in word and song

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about Lent:

The word “Lent” is derived from the old English word for “springtime.”

The word gives us a clue as to what Lent is all about.

Lent is about a “springtime” and rebirth of new life.

It is not so much a season in the external world but a season of renewal and new life within individuals, relationships and communities. Lent is about Christ calling you to springtime (new life) within yourself! Lent is the Church’s springtime.

Jen Gallardo In Bloom, Flickr Creative Commons
Jen Gallardo In Bloom, Flickr Creative Commons
On Ash Wednesday, ashes are placed on the foreheads of Christians.

Ashes evoke death and mortality. But ashes are also used as a cleansing agent and as fertilizer for gardens. We begin our journey of Lent by reminding ourselves of the fragility of life and of own mortality. As the old proverb goes: “No one really starts to live until he or she squarely faces death.”

en.wikipedia.org
en.wikipedia.org
Lent lasts 40 days.

The number 40 calls to mind the 40 days of rain during Noah’s flood, when evil was drowned and earth was washed clean. It calls to mind the 40 years the Hebrew people journeyed in the wilderness to the promised land. Also, Moses, Elijah and Jesus are said to have fasted 40 days to prepare them for their mission. The days of Lent are often compared to a journey. That means that at the end of Lent we should expect to find ourselves somewhere different from where we started.

Lent is not just about “trying harder” or “giving up.”

Lent is about re-awakening the presence of God in our lives. It invites us to “spring clean” our lives: throw out the rubbish and reclaim the spirit within that appreciates being alive;  letting go of the “junk” that gets in the way of loving in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Here is a song of mine you can pray with as you enter into Lent called “Lead Me to the Wilderness.”

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Some ways we can observe Lent:

Fast from TV and computer.

Television and electronic devices now absorb 40% of our free time. Take some of that time back and use it with your family or be with your friends. Go to a meeting or group where your voice needs to be heard on behalf of children, the mentally ill, the rights of the unborn, poor families, or those dealing with addictions. Volunteer where you are needed.

Fast from eating on the run.

Make eating together a priority during Lent. When we eat together, more than food passes between us. We share our lives, difficulties and delights. We create bonds and strengthen relationships. Commit to eating with others at least twice a week. Invite people who might otherwise eat alone to share lunch or dinner with you.

Fast on Fridays.

Catholics are enjoined to abstain from meat on Fridays. The point is not to simply substitute jumbo shrimp or Maine Lobster for steak!  (What sacrifice is there in that?  C’mon now!)  The point is to eat a simple meal by subtracting the meat part. Then take the monies saved and give to an organization that helps fight hunger or one that feeds the hungry like the St. John’s Food Pantry. Vegetarians can join in by eating more simply and donating what is saved to a relief agency.

Simplify your Life.

Do you have more clothes than you need? Is your attic or basement full of unused stuff? Are your children’s closets brimming with unused toys and games? Consider cleaning out part of your home and donating the unused stuff to a local charity as a Lenten project for your family. The Saint Vincent de Paul Society in Worcester accepts used clothing. The Urban Missionaries of the Poor in Worcester will use unwanted furniture to assist needy families. (Think of this: there is a scientific connection between “clutter” in your home and your stress level. De-cluttering can be a first step in de-stressing your life. There is peace in simplifying. What a wonderful way to observe Lent.)

simplify-your-real-estate-life-at-maximum-one-realtors
from maximumonerealty.wordpress.com
Reach Out.

Make life more welcoming to others . Visit a shut-in or are an elderly relative or neighbor. Offer some time to helping a family or an individual dealing with a personal loss. Run some errands for someone who can’t get out of the house. Drive someone to their doctor’s appointment. Walk the Stations of the Cross in church. While walking, think about a person who is carrying a heavy cross in life. Let that person know you are praying for them.

Examine your Consciousness.

At some point each day sit still. Turn off the devices. Tune out the noise. Breathe in, and breathe out. Allow yourself to be still for a while. Savor the quietness. Ask yourself how God may have been teaching you something this day. What have I learned today? Do any regrets surface that I could act upon? Am I holding on to any negativity? What am I grateful for? What could I change within myself to face tomorrow with more energy and hope? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you with this.

Listen Attentively.

Give to a spouse, a child or a friend 15-30 minutes of undivided attention. No cell phone interruptions. No texting. Make no comments, positive or negative; give no advice. Just give the gift of listening. Ask questions to clarify only. Attentive listening can help a person sort out a problem or recognize a desire or a direction by simply hearing it aloud. Pray regularly for the grace to be a good listener.

Reflect and learn.

my life with the saintsjesus a pilgrimageTake the time to reflect on the scriptures proclaimed at Mass. Participate in a Bible Study. Or,  go to www.sacredspace.ie for a daily reflection on the scripture from your computer. Or, read a bestselling book like My Life With the Saints or Jesus: A Pilgrimage both by James Martin. Or, take some of the Lenten materials available in the vestibule of the church and use them daily. Participate in our Jewish Passover Seder Meal on March 6th and learn about the Jesus’ faith and the Jewish roots of our Catholic Mass and understand the Mass more deeply

Contemplate Beauty.

The media bombards us daily with images of violence and corruption. Entertainment is often focused on what is most “shocking” in order to attract attention. Have you neglected to incorporate “beauty” into your daily regimen? Go to a lecture, hear a concert, see a play, visit a museum.  Gaze upon the beauty of human creativity. Go outside. Take weekly or daily walks and look around..really look around. Take in the beauty of creation. Be grateful for being able to take it in. Sit quietly in church. Look at the beauty of the artwork. Think about all the people that have prayed there before you.  Open the hymnal before Mass. Prayerfully read the lyrics of the hymns for Mass. They are inspired poetry. What might they be saying to us? Go to Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer and listen to calming chant of the monks there.

These are but a few ideas on what you might incorporate into your Lenten practice this year.

Everyone is in a different place in life. So the practice will be different for each person.

What matters is that we dare to do something that will open us more deeply to the presence of God and the gift of life so that we may grow more deeply in faith, hope and love.

If we have grown, even a little, to live in the Spirit of Jesus our  Lenten ‘springtime” will not have been in vain.

May Lent lead you to an Easter of new life. Amen.

Visit the Lenten Resources Page

Be sure and check out the Lenten Resources page with videos, podcasts and songs for your meditation. I will be posting material periodically throughout Lent – keep the page bookmarked for your convenience.

Be sure and check out the Flow Lessons; they are also wonderful exercises for your Lenten reflection.

May you have a blessed and fruitful Lent!

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Christós Anésti! Christ is Risen! Happy Easter

To all of you, a blessed and happy Easter. Here are some scenes from last night’s Easter Vigil at St. Luke the Evangelist in Westboro, MA, my home parish.

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A simple prayer reflection for Good Friday

This is from my latest column on Catholicmom.com. It is taken from the Mary, Queen of Peace Meditation Guide & Sung Rosary booklet.

5th-sorrowful-betania-II-for-web-294x400
photo taken at Betania II, Medway, MA – from the Mary, Queen of Peace Meditation Guide & Sung Rosary

Much has been said by wiser minds on all that took place on Good Friday. As I cannot add anything to enhance these insights, I thought instead to offer you a simple meditation on the crucifix as a way of honoring and learning from our Lord’s great suffering for us.

Gazing upon the crucifix, begin by reciting or chanting “Lord, have mercy” five times (you can chant the phrase by just singing the same note for each word). Each time it is recited, focus on a wound on Christ’s body.

For example, recite “Lord, have mercy” and meditate on Christ’s feet. Recite it again and focus on the left hand. Recite it a third time and meditate on the right hand. Recite it again and gaze on the wound in his side. Then recite it a fifth time and focus on the head.

Repeat this cycle eight times, thus reciting or chanting the prayer forty times in total.

In my meditations I found, for example, that as I focused on the nail marks in His feet, I thought about where those feet had traveled. I studied the wounded hands and wondered whom they had healed. I thought about his heart, pierced and yet so full of love. I thought about the head and the emotional and mental agony he went through, and yet also marveled at all the wisdom and knowledge that resided in that head. I recalled his teachings, exhortations, and words of comfort.

These are just some of the places where this meditation can take you. May the Spirit of the Living Lord guide you as you gaze upon his wounds and contemplate his love.

For a further Good Friday meditation in video and song, click here.

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Taking advantage of the season of Lent through a notebook and a chunk of time

For many Christians, the late winter/early spring signifies a time of stepping back and examining how we are practicing our faith. It is a time of assessing our failings and sins: how have we strayed from God as the center of our lives? How have we forgotten the needs of family members, friends and strangers? How can we come back home to God?

The season of Lent

In my Roman Catholic tradition, this time of assessment is known as Lent. In my childhood I recall purple cloth (signifying penance or, being sorry for your sins) all over the church, covering the statues. It was a time to give up chocolate or some other treat as a symbol of penance.

lent statues covered in purple

Lent is so much more

As an adult, Lent can offer so many wonderful opportunities if we can get beyond our preconceived childish notions and misunderstandings. The words “penance” and “sacrifice” and even the color purple can denote negative thoughts and feelings when in fact, they offer chances for healing and purification. The word “repent,” often misunderstood, brings reconciliation and wholeness. Just as the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)

The true meaning

I like to think of the Prodigal Son, despairing and destitute, falling into the loving arms of his Father. Coming back home prompted merrymaking on the part of his father rather than judgment. This is such a beautiful illustration of turning around and coming home, the true meaning of repentance. It is a moment of sorrow that leads to celebration.

from http://goinswriter.com/prodigal-son/
from http://goinswriter.com/prodigal-son/

Searching your soul

The Prodigal had to do a lot of soul searching to humble himself and come back home to his father. After all, in essence, he told his father to “drop dead” by taking his inheritance money early. We can learn from his example.

Tools for soul searching

Keeping a journal, whether you are a writer or not, is a wonderful way to search your soul. I took up the practice again a couple of years ago and find it especially helpful for sorting out confusing times in my life. A block of quiet time and a notebook can help you connect the past with the present in powerful ways. It can even be life-changing.

lent purple journal
from http://yourhighestself.com.au/why-journal/

Tough times make for good soul searching

Since writing things down was not done in the Prodigal Son’s time, he had sort out his life without that tool. He had the other essential tool however: time. As he was feeding pigs and longing to eat his fill, he had plenty of time to recall his past life (which he realized had been quite good), his past behavior (taking his inheritance and squandering it) and his current situation. He realized in the end it was worth the price of killing his pride to come back home to his father.

My soul searching

We are lucky because we can write things down. Of late I have been exploring in my journal why I feel the way I do about losing my singing voice and music in general (a series of posts for another day) and have made some important discoveries about how I have treated (or mistreated) this special gift that God gave to me. It has shone a glaring spotlight on past sins which I am now bringing before God, asking for forgiveness.

I am using my Lenten journey to focus on how I can too return home to my heavenly Father, make peace with past actions, and learn again to embrace my gift for his people and his glory. Through taking the time to be quiet and write down my thoughts, I have been able to navigate through murky waters and come to understand what I did, how I feel, and how everything can be made right again.

Connections and healing

More than one author I know has told me they see writing as a spiritual experience, even as prayer. I am beginning to see this too. I do know it helps me connect the fragments of my life, bring them together and make sense of them. This is the beginning of wholeness and healing.

How are you taking advantage of Lent this year?

Share with us what you are doing.

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