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Welcoming Lent

by Br. Michael Taffe, OSB
Imagine, if you will, that an old and very dear friend has informed you that he or she will be in the area and would like to spend a few days with you. This is a person who knows you better than almost anyone else and has been with you during the good and bad times. Though you will plan to prepare some special foods, take out the nicest guest towels, and get a nice bottle of wine, you know that all of these preparations are simply extra. The focus of your planning is to make sure you have lots of time and energy for your friend -- to renew and rejoice in your friendship. Given that this paper is meant to provide food for thought for Lent, you can probably guess where this is leading! Lent is a time for preparation, a time for preparing our hearts and minds to welcome Christ, again. Like a farmer or gardener, we need to prepare the ground of our heart. This means that we need to take some time to reflect and pray on where our relationship is with Christ. Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have both written to remind us that Christianity is not primarily a religion of ethical behavior. Rather, Christianity is a religion based on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship is what gives us life, what gives us energy and focus, and lets us see where we are going. Lent is therefore a welcome opportunity to explore our most important relationship and to strive toward greater unity with Jesus. As with any relationship, we need to take the opportunity to refresh and renew it. One of the graces that we have is the knowledge that Jesus is always ready to welcome us over and over again. In his Rule for Monks, St. Benedict gives us a few guidelines for how we should welcome and undertake Lent. First, we should do some extra reading. Though in St. Benedict’s time, this was most likely a book in the Bible, today we have many more options. By all means, we should commit to studying and reading a specific book in the Bible, but we also need to explore great books about prayer, contemplation, and practicing charity. St. Benedict also suggests that we take on an ascetical practice, such as fasting or less talking or less sleep. He wants to make sure we are prudent in our practice, so he advises us to talk about this with the abbot so as to not do something simply silly or even harmful. The purpose of these practices is to bring us into greater union with Christ, not simply to do something unpleasant. For each of us, the path will be different as we welcome Lent and deepen our search for Christ. We add something to our current daily practices, or we take something away. Each approach leads us toward finding greater room in our hearts, our minds, and our souls for Jesus. We can choose something from the great variety offered us in adding to current practices or eliminating something from current practices. Naturally, balance in important. St. Augustine tells us that knowing our deepest self is the road for knowing God. Yet, can we be too self-absorbed? Pope Francis recently wrote that, “Whenever our own interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt and the desire to do good fades” (Evangelii Gaudium). One thing to reflect on as Lent begins is where our challenges are. Do we tend to lean more toward self-absorption or toward a lack of self-knowledge? Certain practices can help in each domain. For example, if it is easier to focus on one’s own struggles rather than others, it may be a good Lenten practice to add something like volunteering to visit people in the local nursing home; to go beyond and outside of oneself to provide service to others. On the other side, a problem many people have today is that they are so connected to the world and others through cell phones and computers that there is no time to make space for God. If this is one’s downfall, commit to attending daily Mass once a week, or spending a half-hour with Jesus in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, or to some quiet prayer time at home. Welcoming Lent means joyfully making sure the spirit is fed! In the Gospel story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), the women joyfully welcome their friend, Jesus, into their home. Martha, as usual, bustles around serving, making sure everyone is taken care of. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet to listen and be in his presence. Martha gets upset and wants Jesus to make Mary help her in bustling around. Jesus does not tell Martha to stop serving, but rather not to be so anxious. In a sense, Martha is focused on the “extra” of hospitality rather than really being hospitable. We all need balance. There are times to serve others and times to sit in the presence of Christ. Cultivating an attitude of welcoming Jesus into our heart and soul will lead to this balance. In closing, we turn again to words of Pope Francis, “Whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms” (Evangelii Gaudium). True hospitality toward Jesus and others will complete and fill us as nothing else. May you encounter Lent this year with an open and loving heart.
Spiritual Reflections Spiritual Reflections

Welcoming Lent

by Br. Michael Taffe, OSB
Imagine, if you will, that an old and very dear friend has informed you that he or she will be in the area and would like to spend a few days with you. This is a person who knows you better than almost anyone else and has been with you during the good and bad times. Though you will plan to prepare some special foods, take out the nicest guest towels, and get a nice bottle of wine, you know that all of these preparations are simply extra. The focus of your planning is to make sure you have lots of time and energy for your friend -- to renew and rejoice in your friendship. Given that this paper is meant to provide food for thought for Lent, you can probably guess where this is leading! Lent is a time for preparation, a time for preparing our hearts and minds to welcome Christ, again. Like a farmer or gardener, we need to prepare the ground of our heart. This means that we need to take some time to reflect and pray on where our relationship is with Christ. Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have both written to remind us that Christianity is not primarily a religion of ethical behavior. Rather, Christianity is a religion based on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship is what gives us life, what gives us energy and focus, and lets us see where we are going. Lent is therefore a welcome opportunity to explore our most important relationship and to strive toward greater unity with Jesus. As with any relationship, we need to take the opportunity to refresh and renew it. One of the graces that we have is the knowledge that Jesus is always ready to welcome us over and over again. In his Rule for Monks, St. Benedict gives us a few guidelines for how we should welcome and undertake Lent. First, we should do some extra reading. Though in St. Benedict’s time, this was most likely a book in the Bible, today we have many more options. By all means, we should commit to studying and reading a specific book in the Bible, but we also need to explore great books about prayer, contemplation, and practicing charity. St. Benedict also suggests that we take on an ascetical practice, such as fasting or less talking or less sleep. He wants to make sure we are prudent in our practice, so he advises us to talk about this with the abbot so as to not do something simply silly or even harmful. The purpose of these practices is to bring us into greater union with Christ, not simply to do something unpleasant. For each of us, the path will be different as we welcome Lent and deepen our search for Christ. We add something to our current daily practices, or we take something away. Each approach leads us toward finding greater room in our hearts, our minds, and our souls for Jesus. We can choose something from the great variety offered us in adding to current practices or eliminating something from current practices. Naturally, balance in important. St. Augustine tells us that knowing our deepest self is the road for knowing God. Yet, can we be too self-absorbed? Pope Francis recently wrote that, “Whenever our own interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt and the desire to do good fades” (Evangelii Gaudium). One thing to reflect on as Lent begins is where our challenges are. Do we tend to lean more toward self-absorption or toward a lack of self-knowledge? Certain practices can help in each domain. For example, if it is easier to focus on one’s own struggles rather than others, it may be a good Lenten practice to add something like volunteering to visit people in the local nursing home; to go beyond and outside of oneself to provide service to others. On the other side, a problem many people have today is that they are so connected to the world and others through cell phones and computers that there is no time to make space for God. If this is one’s downfall, commit to attending daily Mass once a week, or spending a half-hour with Jesus in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, or to some quiet prayer time at home. Welcoming Lent means joyfully making sure the spirit is fed! In the Gospel story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), the women joyfully welcome their friend, Jesus, into their home. Martha, as usual, bustles around serving, making sure everyone is taken care of. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet to listen and be in his presence. Martha gets upset and wants Jesus to make Mary help her in bustling around. Jesus does not tell Martha to stop serving, but rather not to be so anxious. In a sense, Martha is focused on the “extra” of hospitality rather than really being hospitable. We all need balance. There are times to serve others and times to sit in the presence of Christ. Cultivating an attitude of welcoming Jesus into our heart and soul will lead to this balance. In closing, we turn again to words of Pope Francis, “Whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms” (Evangelii Gaudium). True hospitality toward Jesus and others will complete and fill us as nothing else. May you encounter Lent this year with an open and loving heart.
Spiritual Reflections Spiritual Reflections
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Phone (701) 974 3315 Address PO Box A Richardton, ND 58601