My Iona

Lenten Reflections

"Ashes and Valentines"

Ash Wednesday is upon us and the beginning of Lent. It’s also Valentine’s Day. For some people, this is a clash of sorts regarding celebrating love and a day of penance and fasting. Or is it?  On the surface, it can seem that way.  We need to go beyond what we associate with Valentine’s Day as well as Ash Wednesday (and all of Lent for that matter).  A few days ago, I saw on the internet a meme that said you can’t have Valentine’s Day without lent.  It was a play on the word regarding spelling.  In spelling the word out – VALENTINE.  LENT is part of the spelling of the word valentine.  Perhaps this is the key beyond the clash of the two days.  We think of Valentine’s Day as a time when we express our love to our spouse, significant other or someone whose friendship means a lot to us.  In a certain way, we are called to do the same on Ash Wednesday and throughout the 40 days of Lent. 

On Ash Wednesday, we will come to Church to receive our ashes and hear those words “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”  We have the invitation from the Gospel of Matthew that day regarding prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  These are the foundations for what we are called to do during the 40 days of Lent.  It is about penance, conversion and reconciliation.  But it is also about love.  The call to penance, conversion, reconciliation as well as the prayer, fasting and almsgiving are an invitation to renew and deepen our love for God, for Jesus and for each other.  Our Lenten practices help us to open our hearts and our lives to the immense and overwhelming love of God given to us in Christ.  St. Bonaventure, one of the great saints and theologian of the Franciscan Order, spoke of one path to God –through the burning love of the Crucified Christ.  Following St. Francis in his great love for the Cross, Bonaventure saw how that the Cross reveals the love of Christ in the agony and passion he endured.  To know and celebrate that burning love of the Crucified Christ is what we prepare ourselves for during Lent.  It is what we celebrate during the Pascal Triduum at the end of Holy Week.  We may see flowers, candles and gifts as signs of love on February 14, 2024. May we also see the ashes, the fasting and the prayers as signs of love.  Signs of the burning love of the Crucified.  May you have a blessed and grace-filled Ash Wednesday and Lent. 

"Into The Desert"

We have begun the journey of Lent. It is often called the great retreat of the Church. Somehow, with our prayer, fasting and other things we may do for 40 days, it is supposed to feel like a retreat. It is kind of hard to experience that with everything else going on at home, school along with everything else that may come our way. Perhaps, the First Sunday of Lent offers us an image to help us seem like we are on a retreat. It is the image of the desert. Each year on the First Sunday of Lent, the Gospel is the story of Jesus’ temptations in the desert. This year is from the Gospel of Mark which is not as detailed as the accounts from Matthew or Luke. But Jesus goes to the desert following His Baptism and before He begins his public ministry. It is a time of prayer and fasting as well as solitude. He faces temptations from the devil. It is an image that led the early desert fathers and mothers to go into the desert to lead a life of prayer and solitude. It was the way they found God and deepen that relationship with the Lord. It gave rise to monasticism and the foundations for religious life down through the centuries. With the image of the desert, we don’t have to pack a bag and go to the Sahara or the Mojave Desert. Many spiritual writers speak of going within ourselves to find that desert where we can be alone with God for prayer, reflection and communion. Below are some quotes about the desert from a book with meditations for Lent using the image of the desert. At the end, I will give the proper citation from the book if you wish to look further into it.

“For you, the desert is not a setting, it is a state of soul.” (A Monk, p. 29)

“The desert turns you inward.” (A monk, p. 29)

“I have come to the desert to pray, to learn to pray. Prayer is the sum of our relationship with God. We are what we pray.”(Carlo Carretto, p. 30)

“In the desert, you discover your true name, and God calls you by that name.” (Alessandro Pronzato, p. 84)

“The crowded bus, the long queue, the railway platform, the traffic jam, the neighbor’s television sets, the heavy footed people on the floor above you, the person who still keeps getting the wrong number on your phone. These are the real conditions of your desert. Do not allow yourselves to be irritated. Do not try to escape. Do not postpone your prayer. Kneel down. Enter that disturbed solitude. Let your silence be spoilt by those sounds. It is the beginning of your desert.” (Alessandro Pronzato, p. 95)

“From the moment Christ went out into the desert to be tempted, the loneliness, the temptation and the hunger of every man and woman became the loneliness, the temptation and hunger of Christ.” (Thomas Merton, p. 64)

All quotes are from: “The Desert – An Anthology for Lent.” by John Moses (Harrisburg, Pa. 1997)

Fr. Gerard Mulvey, OFM Cap


"Lenten Reflection" by Diana Costello

Standing on the top of a desert mountain in Jicamarca, Peru, was exactly where I was meant to be on my birthday this year. With no hot showers, no flushable toilets and not a Starbucks to be found, who would have thought? But through Iona in Mission, my fellow Gaels and I were immersed in service, walking hand in hand with the poor and opening our eyes to the ways of the wider world around us.

On my birthday, it was nearing 100 degrees and there wasn’t a cloud in sight. But that didn’t stop us from carrying hundreds of pounds of supplies – wood, sand and cement – up a steep, rocky path. Our mission that day was to build a house for a family of seven at the very top of the mountain.

At one point, standing in an assembly line of sand buckets going up the path, I couldn’t help but be moved by the experience. I threw my hands up over my head, arched my back, opened my chest, and gave thanks as the sun radiated straight through my heart. I felt so full of love and so full of gratitude for all of God’s many blessings in that moment. I was doing exactly what made me feel fully alive and fully present. I will cherish that feeling forever.

In Peru, it was also easy to see just how fortunate we are back home – which got us all thinking, “Do we live a little too comfortably?” It was amazing how quickly we acclimated to taking cold bucket showers after a hard day’s work. Which further made us think, how can we change our ways to align with what is just and right, verses what is easy and pleasing? Are the things we “can’t live without” actually holding us back from our highest selves?

Throughout our mission, we reflected daily upon themes central to Lenten journey. Questions of service, sacrifice, prayer, the cross and the life and love of Jesus. Lent gives us the perfect opportunity to continue these reflections – and to put our faith into action.

Many of us are familiar with the concept of “giving up something for Lent.” Yet as anyone who has committed themselves to the process before knows, when we make such a “sacrifice,” we really do end up getting so much more in return. Of course I don’t mean to imply this is about seeking a selfish outcome. The Lenten journey can be arduous. But it is through this sacrifice that we come closer to God, and that is the greatest reward of all.

This year, I have chosen to fast during lent. As I go deeper on this journey, I continue to learn new things about myself, my faith and my connection to God. Fasting has provided a much clearer window through which I can see the underlying nature of my thoughts, emotions and how I can further surrender to the mysteries of faith. No one will ever be perfect. But so long as I strive to do better and be better every day, I know I will continue to grow closer to God, and nothing could be more beautiful or fulfilling than that.

My thanks and prayers to the entire Gael community; may we all live with purpose and be renewed by God’s infinite love this Lenten season.

3/4: "Lenten Reflection," by Liam Myers

While I’ve typically viewed Lent solely as a season of fasting and a time to give something up, this year I’m thinking of what I can take on, in community, for Christ’s sake. In addition to teaching adjunct in the Religious Studies department, I live in a community called Maryhouse Catholic Worker in New York’s Lower East Side. Each day we attempt to live out and embody the works of mercy. As we feed the hungry we cook with what we have, oftentimes it’s fresh salad and potato or split pea soup. We joyously share our food knowing that there is enough for all. Providing hospitality to those experiencing homelessness or who are food insecure, I’m constantly confronted with the glaring wealth disparity in our neighborhood.

I was greeted with a wonderful invitation during an Ash Wednesday sermon to allow my authentic self to shine forth. I’m wrestling with what it means to be true to myself in the midst of this suffering world. How can I be an authentic light, shining for God, while my neighbor is suffering?

The spirituality of the Catholic Worker recognizes that we encounter Jesus Christ among the least of these in our world (Matthew 25). Right now the least among us, who are my neighbors, are simply seeking to survive. Whether I consider my neighbor on my block or across the globe there are many hungry, naked, sick and imprisoned people in need. Thankfully, in light of the ongoing genocide in Gaza, where our neighbors are suffering, Pope Francis has called for a ceasefire numerous times since October 29. Recently he shared a heartfelt plea calling again for an immediate ceasefire: “Enough, please. Let us all say: Enough, please! Stop the war.”

Even though I know at the end of the story that Jesus will be raised from the dead, and we will be joyous on Easter, I’m left questioning the authenticity of this joy in light of the violence in our world. How can we celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter when the least among us in our world today are suffering? Can we dare to sink into our soul’s longing leading us to linger with the least of these?

Though I am left pondering, rather than answering these questions, I know my response involves standing with my neighbor in the recognition that our lives, our very authenticity, are inextricably linked together.


We all do it, don't we?; we put crosses around our neck, call some Franciscan crosses or celtic crosses; hang them on church walls, or generally feel that they now symbolize the key element of our Christian faith. But why?

Despite our familiarity with the cross and especially the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, during this Holy Week, Christians often forget exactly how disconcerting and abhorrent the cross once was.

For the average pious Jew at the time of Jesus, and even at the time of St. Paul, the cross represented a brutal murder of someone who had sinned and who was powerless. It's therefore not a surprise that the theological Donald Senior in his book “Why the Cross”, suggests that it took the early church quite some time before the cross began to symbolize salvation and victory in the face of death and hopelessness. It was a long process. But once it did the cross took on a holy status to the degree that in the early Good Friday liturgies guards had to stand watch in case some of the worshippers would bite pieces of the cross and take it home for private veneration.


The question remains: why would a society take a symbol of execution and failure and turn it into a powerful symbol of hope and victory? A partial answer is found in St Paul’s personal journey to seeing the cross as a gift for his conversion and the cross of Jesus as the key symbol of his salvation. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:8, that the crucified Christ, the same one who died in disgrace on a cross, like a criminal, has become the cornerstone for faith since he appeared to him. After that Paul's long journey to rethink the cross from something so disgraceful to a symbol of strength and victory, finally begins

The cross is not first and foremost a jewelry object like countless others. Rather, for Christians, especially those who gather to recall the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter, the cross begins to take on a victorious meaning when we see people or nations formally condemned and suffering being able to find power in their condition. Even today understanding the cross in this way is highly countercultural in a world where military might, wealth, a huge Facebook following means power and influence. Despite so many Christians in the USA at present wanting to assert a more overt Christian identity, the cross should not be used to encourage an undiluted march of power, political might and exclusivist Christian spirituality. It would be far more correct, historically, to see the cross as a dangerous reminder that so many peoples, nations and individuals who have suffered, have eventually found victory in discovering that their suffering was not in vain.

Finally for St Paul, the cross could not be owned, bought or sold as an object. The victory of Christ over death, the transformation of the cross, from an object of disgrace to a symbol of victory, is a message that is worth sharing. It is best shared with all those who suffer now, all those who find themselves in hopeless conditions: the message then of the cross shared to all people is that death does not have the last say and that what appears hopeless and powerless in the eyes of the world, may not be the same way numerous Christians have come to embrace the cross. Good Friday and the crucifixion of Jesus is not the end of the story: Easter and the resurrection has a power all of its own: it is ultimately the power of indomitable hope.

Fr. Vaughn J. Fayle OFM, Ph.D. Cox Colbert Scholar in Residence, Deignan Institute, Iona University.