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40 days to a new you pt.2
Ever wish you had your own personal spiritual trainer? For Lent we offer you 40 of them, finishing up the final 20 in Part II this month.
21. Joan Chittister, O.S.B.: A growing season
Lent is not an event. It is not something that happens to us. It is at most a microcosm of what turns out to be a lifelong journey to the center of the self.
The purpose of Lent is to confront us with ourselves in a way that's conscious and purposeful, that enables us to deal with the rest of life well. It is not a "penitential season." It is a growing season. It requires us to determine what is worth dying for in our own lives and what it may be necessary for us to become if we really want to live. (National Catholic Reporter, Feb. 23, 2001)
Chittister is an Erie Benedictine sister, author, and lecturer.
22. M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O.: A clash of wills
How often have we prayed: "Our Father, who art in heaven . . . thy will be done. . . . " We have watched the ultimate expression of our Lord's own struggle as he sweat blood in Gethsemane's garden and in his anguish cried out: "Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me, but not my will but yours be done."
We know the anguish ourselves, in varying degrees: the sudden death of a loved one, a crippling accident, an unplanned pregnancy. It is not what we want. We have heard—and struggle to believe—that for those who love God all things work together unto good. But deep down in us something cries: "No! It is not what I want. My will be done." We usually do not have the audacity to say it right out to the Lord. But we sure do not like what he seems to be saying or doing or allowing to be done. And we do not want to say: "Thy will be done."
If only we could realize how much we are loved. Then we could fairly easily believe that for those who love God all things work together unto good. If only we had the humility to realize that the all-knowing Father of infinite love does always know what is best for us. God does not want bad things to happen, but God has given us freedom. God respects the freedom he has given us. Thus God does allow bad things to happen to good people. At the same time God knows that the power of divine love is far greater than any evil. The all-encompassing compassion of divine mercy is infinitely greater than any sin.
At times we do really need to crawl to Gethsemane, to see, to hear, to enter into and let the Lord enter into our own struggle: "If possible, let this pass, but not my will but yours be done." Yes, many times in our life we glibly pray: "Thy will be done" But that deep transformation of our all-too-human spirit needs those moments or hours or days of anguish before our original-sin "My will be done" is replaced with the communion of self-giving love that is expressed so succinctly: "Thy will be done."
Pennington is a Trappist monk and a writer and lecturer on prayer. A former abbot, he now resides at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts.
23. Meister Eckhart: True conversion
Many people think that to show their sorrow for sin they must do extraordinary things such as fasting, walking barefoot, and the like. The best penitence, however, is to turn away completely from all that is not God and not divine, whether it be in yourself or some other person, place, or thing.
True repentance is approaching God in love and squarely facing up to what you have done. Choose your own way of doing this, and discover that the more you do it, the more real your repentance will become.
True conversion is like our Lord's Passion. The more you imitate it, the more your sins will fall away. (Adapted by Richard Chilson, C.S.P. in That You May Have Life: Let the Mystics Be Your Guide for Lent, Ave Maria Press)
Eckhart (1260 - 1328) was a German Dominican and one of the great Christian mystics.
24. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin: The value of suffering
It is a normal, instinctive response to run from suffering. We try to avoid it for ourselves, and we make every effort to protect our loved ones from it. Suffering is perceived as a dire threat to our life and happiness.
Our dread of suffering is so strong that we not only seek to shelter ourselves from it, but sometimes we shun others who suffer, even our friends and family, in our effort to escape its pleading voices.
Those who have been divorced sometimes report that their friends and family no longer invite them to parties. At times, those who have been fired or laid off tell us that when they encounter their former colleagues, they are met with embarrassed silence.
Cancer patients and others who suffer with serious illness notice that their former friends have difficulty looking at them, eye to eye. We don't know what to say. The pitch and volume of suffering reduces us to silence.
Jesus tells us, however, that in that silence life begins! "Whoever would preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35) . . . .
For every follower of Christ there comes a choice, when the path veers off toward the cross. The wisdom of the world raises an alarm: Turn back, beware, ahead lies our destruction! But in our hearts a softer, firmer voice invites us, "Come, follow me, and I will show you that path of life." (From a Sept. 15, 1991 homily quoted in The Journey to Peace, Doubleday)
Bernardin (1928 - 96) was the archbishop of Chicago from 1982 until his death from cancer. He wrote about his illness in The Gift of Peace (Loyola Press).
25. St. Francis of Assisi: Peace prayer
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is sadness, joy.
Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled,
as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Although the authorship of this prayer, first printed in the early 20th century, remains unclear, it has traditionally been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (1181/82 - 1226), the founder of the Franciscans.
26. Megan McKenna: The fast I want
This is the fast that I want—a fast from violence, to do no harm, have no tolerance for war, and to resist by living with passionate devotion to the Word made flesh in all peoples' flesh. I want you to fast from all that causes disrespect, disregard, dissension and despair, arrogance, derision, scorn, and a feeling of self-righteousness. We are to remember that the word enemy is just another name for what we once were with God, but we now have been embraced in Jesus' Passion, death, and Resurrection. The death of Jesus is the ultimate and extreme expression of the peace of passion spent totally.
This is the foundation of other practices. This is the peace of Christ, pax Christi. Begin by "denying your very self" (Mark 8) so you won't deny Christ's peace or do harm or violence to anyone; instead, bow before others, bow down to your knees and serve and give your life as a ransom for many.
This is what it means to be kin to Jesus, to be a disciple. We vow to live under no sign of power but the sign of the cross. So we vow—to practice forgiveness, amnesty, reconciliation, mercy, love of our enemies, to love one another as we have been loved by God in Jesus, to live "at-one-ment," to live free from fear and hate, and to do no violence and to harm no one or the earth.
This Lent we are summoned to "lower our standards," which originally meant to "put down our arms." The cards that image the peaceable kingdom of Christmas must become reality in Lent—where the lion and the wolf lie down with the lamb and the child sits by the adder's lair (Isa. 11:6-9), the sign of the peace of God among us.
Some practical suggestions: 1) Pray for those you still name-call enemies; 2) Pray for those who insist on using war to react to problems around the world or to deal with their sense of fear and anger in retaliation to others' actions; 3) Join Pax Christi USA, the Catholic Church's international peace movement; 4) Practice regard for strangers, foreigners, immigrants, and others in our society; and 5) Sign yourself with the sign of the cross and reflect upon that power of the peace of Christ.
Let us walk in this way, the way of the cross, the way of peace and nonviolence. And then comes Easter: "Under cherry trees there are no strangers" (Kobayashi Issa), and under the cross there are no enemies, all are found to be the friends of God. We pray to live "in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
27. St. Vincent de Paul: God's mercy
Always turn your eyes from the study of your own sin to the contemplation of God's mercy. Devote much more thought to the grandeur of his love for you than to your unworthiness toward him, to his strength than to your weakness. When you have done this, surrender yourself into God's arms in the hope that he will make you what he requires you to be and that he will bless all you do. (quoted from The Saints' Guide to Learning to Pray by Louise Perrotta, Charis Press)
St. Vincent de Paul (1580 - 1660) was the founder of the Vincentians and cofounder of the Daughters of Charity. He is the patron saint of all charitable societies and works.
28. Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I.: Mourning our losses
Perhaps the greatest spiritual and psychological challenge for us once we reach mid-life is to mourn our deaths and losses. Unless we mourn properly our hurts, our losses, life's unfairness, our shattered dreams, our radical inconsummation, and the life that we once had but that has now passed us by, we will live either in an unhealthy fantasy or an ever-intensifying bitterness.
Spiritually we see an illustration of this in the story of the older brother of the prodigal son. His bitterness and unwillingness to take part in the celebration of his brother's return points to what he is still clinging to—life's unfairness, his own hurt, and his own unfulfilled fantasies. He is living in his father's house, but he is no longer receiving the spirit of that house. Consequently he is bitter, feels cheated, and lives joylessly. . . .
Thus we have a choice: We can spend the rest of our lives angry, trying to protect ourselves against something that has already happened to us, death and unfairness, or we can grieve our losses, abuses, and deaths and, through that, eventually attain the joy and delights that are in fact possible for us.
The choice is really a paschal one. We face many deaths within our lives, and the choice is ours as to whether those deaths will be terminal (snuffing out life and spirit) or whether they will be paschal (opening us to new life and new spirit). Grieving is the key to the latter. Good grieving, however, consists not just in letting the old go but also in letting it bless us. (The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality, Doubleday)
Rolheiser is a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate and writes a regular newspaper column on spirituality. He lives in Canada.
29. St. Thérèse of Lisieux: The vocation of love
Yes, my beloved, this is how my life will be consumed. I have no other means of proving my love for you other than that of strewing flowers, that is, not allowing one little sacrifice to escape, not one look, one work, profiting by all the smallest things and doing them through love.
I desire to suffer for love and even to rejoice through love; and in this way I shall strew flowers before your throne. I shall not come upon one without unpetalling it for you.
While I am strewing my flowers, I shall sing, for could one cry while doing such a joyous action? I shall sing even when I must gather my flowers in the midst of thorns, and my song will be all the more melodious in proportion to the length and sharpness of the thorns. (from Story of a Soul, cited in St. Thérèse of Lisieux: Essential Writings, Orbis)
St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873 - 1897) was a French Carmelite nun whose autobiography described the spiritual path she called "the Little Way." She has been declared a Doctor of the Church.
30. Macrina Wiederkehr, O.S.B.: Real presence
Everything can bless us, but we've got to be there for the blessing to occur. Being present with quality is a decision we are invited to make each day. It is another way to become like God.
Due to the reality of our terribly distracted, cluttered, and noisy existence, the decision for real presence is not easy. If we can make this decision and live it, it will be a kind of salvation for us. It can save us from many kinds of death: the death of apathy and mediocrity, the death of carelessness, the death of boredom, the death of selfishness, the death of meaninglessness. There is nothing so healing in all the world as real presence. Our real presence can feed the ache for God in others. (A Tree Full of Angels: Seeking the Holy in the Ordinary, HarperCollins)
Wiederkehr is a Benedictine sister at St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas, a retreat master, and author.
31. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Redemptive suffering
What a vast ocean of human suffering spreads over the entire earth at every moment! Of what is this mass formed? Of blackness, gaps, and rejections. No, let me repeat, of potential energy. In suffering, the ascending force of the world is concealed in a very intense form. The whole question is how to liberate it and give it a consciousness of its significance and potentialities.
The world would leap high toward God if all the sick together were to turn their pain into a common desire that the kingdom of God should come to rapid fruition through the conquest and organization of the earth. All the sufferers of the earth joining their sufferings so that the world's pain might become a great and unique act of consciousness, elevation, and union. Would not this be one of the highest forms that the mysterious work of creation could take in our sight?
Could it not be precisely for this that the creation was completed in Christian eyes by the Passion of Jesus? We are perhaps in danger of seeing on the cross only an individual suffering, a single act of expiation. The creative power of that death escapes us. Let us take a broader glance, and we shall see that the cross is the symbol and place of an action whose intensity is beyond expression. Even from the earthly point of view, the crucified Jesus, fully understood, is not rejected or conquered. It is on the contrary he who bears the weight and draws ever higher toward God the universal march of progress. Let us act like him, in order to be in our existence united with him. ("The Significance and Positive Value of Suffering," quoted in Human Energy, HarperCollins)
Teilhard de Chardin (1881 - 1955) was a French Jesuit theologian, scientist, and mystic.
32. Archbishop Oscar Romero: Admit guilt
Easter is a shout of victory! No one can extinguish that life that Christ resurrected. Not even death and hatred against him and against his church will be able to overcome it. He is the victor! Just as he will flourish in an Easter of unending resurrection, so it is necessary to also accompany him in Lent, in a Holy Week that is cross, sacrifice, martyrdom . . . Happy are those who do not become offended by their cross!
Lent, then, is a call to celebrate our redemption in that difficult complex of cross and victory. Our people are very qualified . . . to preach to us of the cross; but all who have Christian faith and hope know that behind this Calvary of El Salvador is our Easter, our resurrection, and this is the hope of the Christian people.
How easy it is to denounce structural injustice, institutionalized violence, social sin! And it is true, this sin is everywhere, but where are the roots of this social sin? In the heart of every human being. Present-day society is a sort of anonymous world in which no one is willing to admit guilt and everyone is responsible. We are all sinners, and we have all contributed to this massive crime and violence in our country. Salvation begins with the human person, with human dignity, with saving every person from sin. And in Lent this is God's call: Be converted! (From "A Pastor's Last Homily" in Sojourners magazine, May 1980, quoted in Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings by Marie Dennis, Renny Golden, and Scott Wright, Orbis Books)
Romero (1917 - 80), archbishop of San Salvador, was martyred for his defense of the poor and the powerless.
33. Phyllis Tickle: Spiritual season
The 40 penitential weekdays and six Sundays that follow Mardi Gras and precede Easter are the days of greatest calm in the church's year. Since by long centuries of custom the date of Easter is annually determined from the first Sunday after the full moon on or after March 21, the intertwining of physical and spiritual seasons is virtually inevitable. The resulting union of deep winter and holy preparation makes reflection, even penitence, a natural activity. . . .
Lenzin our German ancestors used to call this season, and since then we have called it "Lent." It is a time when Christians decorate stone churches with the sea's color and wrap their priests in the mollusk's purple. It was once a time when all things passed through the natural depression of seclusion, short food supplies, and inactivity, a time when body and land both rested. It is still, in the country, a final sanity before the absurd wastefulness of spring.
It is Lent once again, and for one more snow I can luxuriate in the isolation of the cold, attend laconically to who I am, what I value, and why I'm here. Religion has always kept earth time. Liturgy only gives sanction to what the heart already knows. (Wisdom in the Waiting: Spring's Sacred Days, Loyola Press)
Tickle is contributing editor in religion for Publishers Weekly and the author of more than two dozen books. She lives in the rural community of Millington, Tennessee.
34. Thich Nhat Hanh: Mindful consumption
The Buddha said that we cannot only talk about doing what is beneficial, we have to put it into practice. By practicing [the Five Mindfulness Trainings], we gain more awareness of the suffering caused by the violence in our thoughts, words, and actions. . . .
The Fifth Mindfulness Training is mindful consumption: Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society.
I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest food or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations.
I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing mindful eating for myself and for society. (Creating True Peace, Free Press)
Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and world-renowned writer, poet, and scholar.
35. Madeleine L'Engle: Repentant lambs
How often the image of the good shepherd is used throughout scripture! The good shepherd goes out into the wilderness after the one lost sheep and brings it home, rejoicing. There does seem to be more excitement over the return of the lost sheep than there is over all the good little sheep who stayed home. There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
That may seem a little unfair to all the good people who have never done any wrong and have nothing to repent about, but since I am not one of them (and neither is anybody else I am close to), it really isn't much of a problem. I never get through a day without needing to repent over something, and I think that's true of most of us. Mostly what we repent of isn't enormous—we don't push drugs, we don't murder, we don't commit adultery. What I need to ask forgiveness for is usually lack of sensitivity to another's need because I am too tired or too busy to hear. Or I lose my temper without adequate cause and say sharp and hurtful words. Or I fall for the lure of the media and think that life should be fair and growl when it isn't . . . .
I believe that when I do wrong, God is hurt, as I am hurt when someone I love does something wrong or unworthy. I'm not sure about anger. Jesus did get angry on occasion, but he never stayed stuck in anger. Instead, he felt the pain of compassion, of understanding, of wanting the best from people and often getting the worst. And he told us that all our heavenly Father wanted was for us to say, "I'm sorry, Daddy. I want to come home," and God would promptly give a big party, rejoicing that the strayed lamb had returned. (Penguins and Golden Calves, Shaw Books)
L'Engle is the author of more than 60 books, including the popular children's book, A Wrinkle In Time (Farrar Straus & Giroux).
36. C. S. Lewis: The risks of love
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside heaven you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love is hell. (The Four Loves, Harcourt.)
C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963) was an English author who wrote fantasy, science fiction, and Christian apologetics.
37. Diana Hayes: Dying on the cross
Alone, abandoned, forsaken. No one to turn to, no one who cares. The most awful feeling for any human being is to feel completely alone, especially in the midst of suffering. Is there no one who will even try, who will walk with me this sorrowful way? His faithful disciples have abandoned him. Peter, the Rock, crumbled like wet sand and denied him three times. The others ran or simply watched as he was carried away by the soldiers. Only John and the women —his mother and the two Marys—remain. They have been stalwart and steadfast. Jesus in his dying agony cries out, "Father, O Father, why have you forsaken me?"
There are so many hanging on crosses now, needlessly hanging. Jesus dies on the cross. Children die in cross fires. Young adults die in too many ways to count. Mothers smoke crack, and fathers languish in jail. It is God who is alone, who has been abandoned, who has been forsaken. We have walked away, turned our backs. Jesus overcame his fear, forgave those who had participated in his death, and died. Jesus will not abandon us if we turn to him. If we forget, he always remembers. (Were You There? Orbis Books)
Hayes is a womanist theologian and an associate professor of theology at Georgetown University.
38. Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O.: Give it time
If we really want prayer, we'll have to give it time. We must slow down to a human tempo and we'll begin to have time to listen. And as soon as we listen to what's going on, things will begin to take shape by themselves.
This is what the Zen people do. They give a great deal of time to doing whatever they need to do. That's what we have to learn when it comes to prayer. We have to give it time . . . The best way to pray is: Stop. Let prayer pray within you, whether you know it or not. (Seeds, edited by Robert Inchausti, Shambala)
Merton (1915 - 1968) was a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. He was a peace and civil rights activist, spiritual writer, and one of the most influential contemplatives of the 20th century.
39. Richard Rohr, O.F.M.: Being prayer
Prayer is one of those words that needs revisioning. We tend to think of it as something we do, but it is much more something we are. When we live in union we are a prayer, and everything we do becomes conscious, willing, and free...
We still sin, but our sins do not destroy us or allow us to destroy others. So holiness is not a moral issue nearly as much as it is an ontological issue. Not doing but being. To pray is to live consciously inside of God. That's all. Sanctity does not mean being pious or perfect, but doing for God’s sake what you used to do for your own sake. That makes all the difference. It is the still point of the turning world and creates a different kind of human being whose center is outside of himself or herself. These are the only people who are really free because they are free from themselves.
When we stop confusing holiness with morality and recognize that it has to do with transformed identity and a new center point, we will have gone a long way toward understanding what is happening in prayer and what the true goal of spirituality actually is. Morality—and transformed and mature responses—will then follow as certainly as night from day. (Radical Grace, July-September 2002)
Rohr is a Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
40. Mary Lynn Hendrickson: Turn off the technology
We can spend time away from our spouse but not our cell phone. The VCR giveth and taketh away: taping Dr. Phil one minute and chewing up treasured family memories the next. Taking a day off from our love/hate relationship with technology can be a valuable spiritual experience. It can help keep our frustrations at bay, our expectations in check, our priorities straight.
Just because I can be in touch with my office at all hours doesn’t mean I have to; I can toss the Palm Pilot in a drawer to really watch my kids at soccer practice. Choosing to do the dishes by hand or walk to the store with somebody teaches us to enjoy a more leisurely pace and another person’s company. Taking a break not only from our jobs but from our e-mail boxes entirely, on weekends, can be a freeing and refreshing way to honor the Sabbath.
Nor do we have to be monks to profit from a vow of silence. By designating a "quiet night"—no clatter from TV, stereo, phone, or Xbox—we can actually hear ourselves think. We free our minds to pursue our own creativity and dreams, and to hear the quiet musings God is speaking to us.
Hendrickson is editor of At Home with Our Faith, a family newsletter from Claretian Publications. This article appeared in the March 2004 (Volume 69, Number 3: pages 26-31) issue of U.S. Catholic.