Lenten Reflections by the Iona Community
A blessed season of Lent to all! As we embark on this season the Scriptures of the first week of Lent take us to two rather intriguing places: in Genesis 3:8-17 we read the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and in the Gospel we follow Jesus to the desert where he is tempted. The Garden or the desert (Lk 4:1-13)? Where would we choose to be? Which of these places best captures our imaginations? That Garden of Eden, place of lush forest and beautiful scenery, with that one tree we are instructed not to taste of its fruit. The desert – place of extreme heat during the day, cold at night, the context of encounter with demons.
The Season of Lent invites us to look within and see what we are made of, both individually and collectively. Of what are we made? It is no small coincidence that these readings are juxtaposed next to each other. Let me suggest that we are made both of the Garden and we are made of the Desert. We have a taste of the garden through our friendships, in laughter, in play, in reconciliation, in fulfilling our dreams. The Garden suggests to us: the experience of the abundance of life and possibility; the beauty of creation; peaceful coexistence, reconciliation, sheer enjoyment, and a place where dreams come true. But then we turn to the desert. We know only too well the desert: break-up, loneliness, giving up, fear, mourning, hurt and betrayal. The desert evokes in us isolation and the pain it can be sometimes to put one foot in front of the other and proceed.
Being human contains on a day to day basis the garden moments and the desert ones. Part of us simply does not want to be human at all but, like Adam and Eve, we want to heed to what the serpent tempts us to by eating of the forbidden fruit, allowing our eyes to be opened and being like gods. Oh wouldn’t it be fun, forget God for we can be like the gods… How tempting. But our faith beckons us back this season and invites us to embrace our humanity – its excellence and in its many imperfections. Aware of our humanity, let us consider three things this Lent: first, can we accept the crucial claim of our faith: that our God embraces our humanity? This astounding claim is so foundational to Christian faith. God became human to walk with us, to be with us, to laugh with us, to cry with us, to care for us in all of our humanity - desert times of our life. In the Gospel account describing Jesus’ temptation (Lk 4:1-13) we see vividly how Jesus heeded the Spirit to walk in the desert. And he walks with us in the deserts we face and teaches us that our suffering and sacrifices bring us new life. Can we accept this God – who is not far off and distant from our day to day stuff – but right there with us, suffering when we suffer? Second, as we begin Lent, we may be giving up something (chocolate, ice cream, beer, wine, oh the list goes) and participating more fully in generous acts of service and alms giving. Can we remind ourselves again and again that we don’t do these things to earn God’s love, God’s grace? We have that. We engage in these acts to help us become more aware of God’s presence here and now in our world, in our lives, in the thick and thin of it all.
Finally as we seek to know God more fully this Lent, let’s heed this famous
Native American tale:
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. “One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. "The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.” (author unknown)
May this Season of Lent be a time to feed the good wolf.
Why pray and fast?
Jesus taught us how to pray, in what we call the Lord’s prayer. Part of that prayer includes “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This opens up to us the idea that there is a kingdom of heaven that we are to pray into being here on earth. This kingdom is different, and being divine, is much greater than the kingdom here on earth. How does this happen, and how are we a part of it? We are offered a clear practical example of this in Old Testament scripture to assure us that this is a reality.
In Daniel chapter 10, we see that a bold and beloved holy man of God, Daniel, desires understanding and revelation on God’s plans in the future, and embarks on a period of time to pray, and humble himself, and fast. After he does this for three weeks without yet receiving an answer to his prayer, he receives a visit in a vision from a heavenly angel who says to him:
“Do not fear, Daniel,” he continued; “from the first day you made up your mind to acquire understanding and humble yourself before God, your prayer was heard. Because of it I started out, but the prince of the kingdom of Persia stood in my way for twenty-one days, until finally Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me. I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia, and came to make you understand what shall happen to your people in the last days; for there is yet a vision concerning those days.”
Enduring prayer and fasting helped Daniel to stay in faith, and to contend for the God given desire of his heart. This Lenten season, what God given desire of our hearts might we be asking for from the Lord? May we strengthen our resolve and our endurance to pray and fast and draw nearer to the Holy One who seeks us out and embraces us with incomprehensible and unfailing love.
Fr. Frank Dixon, O.Carm
Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. (John 12:24)
To fully appreciate Lent it must be seen as a part of the Church’s celebration of Easter. It is a season when we make certain self-sacrifices, do extra service and focus on our spiritual practices in order to prepare us for the joyous celebration of Easter. However, if our focus is on the struggle of the sacrifices we are making, we are missing the point. The passage above can give us some insight into where our focus should be this Lent. The wheat farmer does not mourn the loss of the grain of wheat or regret giving it up for seed, but looks ahead and focuses on the promise of a good harvest. So too our focus this Lent should be on the end goal of the joy of rising with Christ at Easter. Lent therefore is intended to be a solemn yet joyful season.
In the Catholic tradition participation in this process of dying to self in order to rise with Christ during the Lenten season is experienced in two different ways through Communal practices and Personal practices:
Communal practices: Days of Fast and Abstinence where we as
a community are called to stand together in solidarity:
Fast: All who have completed their 18th year (i.e. 18th birthday) until the beginning of their 60th year (i.e. 59th birthday) and are in good health are obligated to fast on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday. [One major meal for day. Two other snacks/meals are allowed but cannot together equal or surpass size of major meal]
Abstinence: All who have completed their 14th year (i.e. 14th birthday) must abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent.
Personal practices: Each individual encouraged to:
Pursue personal practices of self-sacrifice and personal spiritual practices
Use this season as a time of turning back to the Lord – focusing on the Gospels – time for change of heart [to begin/deepen relationship with God/others].