What Did We Miss?

 

Lent, which seemed so long in the dark days of early March, is drawing swiftly to a close. As we enter into the liturgy of Holy Week, we are called to weep in community, and then to rejoice with one glorious voice. Palm Sunday is a moment of beautiful liturgical significance. It’s also the Mass most likely to find mothers and children in tears. Combine the longest Gospel of the year in a crowded pew full of children with spear-shaped branches that are wickedly sharp, and, well, good luck to you. 

In all seriousness, and with reverence for the solemn celebration, remember our Lord weeps with you. He knows the struggle to gather these children into suitable clothes and buckle them into car seats, and to try to teach them well how to behave in the constraints of the pew. He sees you suffer as you endeavor to bow your head to pray only to be distracted by an errant palm. He knows the tears that gather in the corner of your eyes as the man behind you glares disapprovingly and you feel, yet again, as if you are failing in this most beautiful and important duty. Jesus weeps, too. Please read the rest here.

 

Into the desert with our lies

Lent can be a long stretch of time for some of us. From every corner comes the call to repent — the exhortation to make a full accounting of our sins, to see our messes in the light of day. Some of us are very good at that. Some of us go to the desert with Jesus, intending to spend Lent in His company, and we get distracted by the devil.

We hear all sorts of temptations. Beginning with the simple recounting of a conversation gone awry or a stray thought of envy, we are led to evaluate and analyze each conversation of the day or every spoken word or fleeting thought this week. I should have said that differently. I should have held my tongue altogether there. I should not have spent so much time lingering in that coffee shop, clicking through Facebook. From there, we think of the to-do list with more than half its items yet unchecked. We remember the dust bunnies under the bed, the clothes at the bottom of the hamper, the fact that we called for takeout twice last week.

And now, the tempter in the desert is hissing loudly in our ears. Not good enough. Not patient enough. Not organized enough. Not diligent enough. The hissing reaches a wild, unfettered crescendo. Not enough. Never enough. Never will be enough.

The accuser is taking up residence inside our heads, and he is speaking to us in our own voices. We hear him talking; the things he’s saying — we are allowing him to say — are things we’d never say to another person. We’d never be so unkind, never be so accusatory, never be so relentless. Somehow, though, the self-evaluation of this season has given way to well-entrenched habits of self-recrimination. We talk to ourselves inside our heads in ways that would astonish people who hear us speak aloud. 

The enemy has taken up residence, and it’s his voice that is drowning out God’s. God calls to repentance along the path to forgiveness. The devil just holds us in the bottleneck of accusing. There is no progression to reconciliation. Again and again, he accuses. His voice, if we let it, grows so loud that we can’t hear our own, and we certainly can’t hear God’s. All we can hear are the dark lies of the serpent. 

The light is on for us.

 Photo credit: Christian Foss

Photo credit: Christian Foss

In the quiet of the confessional, we speak aloud the fruits of our genuine examinations of conscience. Then we hear aloud the words of His forgiveness. Forgiven. Finished. 

Stop the internal conversation. The things which are truly sins have been forgiven by the Savior on the cross. The rest of that incessant babble in our heads? The accusations that tell us we aren’t good enough for God? Not sins at all. Those are the words of the devil. 

Fresh from the confessional, we replace those words with His word. 

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new. All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (1 Cor 5:17-21)

Every time the evil one hisses lies inside our heads, we square our shoulders and speak confidently, “I am a new creation.” Every time, until it fills the spaces where the lies once festered. 

And the silence of Christ’s peace will be our Easter joy.

Waiting, watching...

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Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper, 
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power 
and that he had come from God and was returning to God, 
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin 
and began to wash the disciples’ feet 
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later.”
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him, 
“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Simon Peter said to him, 
“Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”
Jesus said to him, 
“Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
for he is clean all over; 
so you are clean, but not all.”
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

So when he had washed their feet 
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, 
he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, 
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow, 
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

 

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So they took Jesus, and, carrying the cross himself, 
he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, 
in Hebrew, Golgotha.
There they crucified him, and with him two others, 
one on either side, with Jesus in the middle.
Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross.
It read,
“Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.”
Now many of the Jews read this inscription, 
because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; 
and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.
So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, 
“Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’
but that he said, ‘I am the King of the Jews’.”
Pilate answered,
“What I have written, I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, 
they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, 
a share for each soldier.
They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, 
woven in one piece from the top down.
So they said to one another, 
“Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be, “ 
in order that the passage of Scripture might be fulfilled that says:
They divided my garments among them,
and for my vesture they cast lots
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This is what the soldiers did.
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother
and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,
and Mary of Magdala.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved
he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”
Then he said to the disciple,
“Behold, your mother.”
And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

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After this, aware that everything was now finished, 
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, 
Jesus said, “I thirst.”
There was a vessel filled with common wine.
So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop 
and put it up to his mouth.
When Jesus had taken the wine, he said,
“It is finished.”
And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

Now since it was preparation day,
in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath,
for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one, 
the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken 
and that they be taken down.
So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first 
and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus.
But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, 
they did not break his legs, 
but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, 
and immediately blood and water flowed out.
An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; 
he knows that he is speaking the truth, 
so that you also may come to believe.
For this happened so that the Scripture passage might be fulfilled:
Not a bone of it will be broken.
And again another passage says:
They will look upon him whom they have pierced.

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, 
secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, 
asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus.
And Pilate permitted it.
So he came and took his body.
Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, 
also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes 
weighing about one hundred pounds.
They took the body of Jesus 
and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, 
according to the Jewish burial custom.
Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, 
and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried.
So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; 
for the tomb was close by.

 

 

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When God Picks Your Lent

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Lent has begun. Every year, I sit quietly before it begins and I make a private list of how I will observe Lent. I try to find the right balance of “give something up” and “do something extra.” And more often than not, God has other ideas. It’s not that He objects to or overrides my grand plans, it’s just that He provides more. God plans Lent. I just have to show up.

The first week of Lent, I watched a young man die of cancer while my eldest son, his dear friend, stood helplessly in an ICU. The second week of Lent began with death come too soon. The third week of Lent will find me at two funerals—one for a very old man and one for a very young man, My little girls balk when we read Easter stories. They want me to skip the pages that hold the crucifixion and the burial in the tomb. No one really wants to look at death. But sometimes, God picks your Lent.

Lent has a way of forcing us to consider the ends of our lives. It has a way of asking us to answer essential questions. Every year, Lent comes along and makes old men and women of all of us. In a way, Lent is an annual practice for the twilight of life. St. John of the Cross writes about that time, “In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possession and human success, but rather on how much we have loved.”

So, too, in the Lent of the year, as the earth starts to warm soft and damp beneath our feet and there are the faintest stirrings of new life in the trees, we stop and reflect and look to our souls. How much have we loved? How well have we loved? Is there giving yet to give? It is not yet over. We are not yet to the close of this life.

Lent asks us to closely examine the way we live in light of the way we want to die. This Lent, a man will be put to rest just a couple weeks after his thirty-second birthday. I assure you, we know not the hour or the moment that Jesus calls us home.

What we do know is that for today, for this season, He gives us Lent. He beckons us, with the Universal Church, to draw closer to Him, to truly see the plans He has for our lives. He wants us to surrender our plans—our plans for Lent and our plans for next summer and our plans for next year. He wants us to leave them at the foot of His cross and to see that He has a better plan.

We can’t skip the pages with the crucifixion and the burial in the tomb. We have to hang there with Him and to see from His vantage point the sick and the hurting and the poor and the grieving. We have to understand that He hung there to bring them mercy.

Your hour has not yet come. Walk down from Cavalry’s hill. Be the hands and the feet of the crucified Lord and extend His mercy. You only have one life to offer. Make it count.

 

 

Notes before Lent Begins

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In the atrium, right before their first confessions, the children gather with their parents and meditate on the  the true vine. It is my favorite of five preparatory meditations. I will never tire of watching the "ah ha" in the eyes of children (and, frankly, their parents) when they see that God is the sturdy vine that supports healthy gowth and He also prunes so that they will bear much fruit.
Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.
John 15: 4-9
 

Lent is a time of pruning. Before the rapid growth of springtime, before the burst of joy at Easter, He prunes. I have been blessed in Lents past. I have been blessed with a gracious God who cares so much for me that He  made clear to me what I must do lest I wither and die. One year, He showed me clearly how to prune away the branches in my life that were keeping me from spending time in Him, from remaining in Him.It was excruciating, that pruning. And scars remain even today. He showed me that there is a difference between talking about religion and being drawn into the very being of Jesus Himself. I don't ever want to forget.

That Lent, in a most alone sort of way, I turned to the timeless prayers of the Church, to scripture, and to the wisdom of the saints of old. I went again and again and again, with the rhythm of a well-practiced monk, to the Liturgy of the Hours. And there, I lingered, remaining in Him. Easter found me clinging to God.

Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.

~G.K. Chesterton

Lent is a gift. A grace. An opportunity. Lent calls us to Him.

Lent is a chance for a Love Dare like no other. It's a chance to let the God prune and then to water us with His grace. It's also a chance to rest in Him, to stop trying to struggle under our own strength and let His love be sufficient be more than enough. It's a time to surrender to the love of God. A woman cannot have a love affair with a stranger. She cannot have a love affair with someone she knows only through the teaching of other people.

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In order to be in love with God, she has to remain in Him. But how? How to remain in God? How to know Him so well that she rests in Him, abides in Him? How to be always with God?

To be ignorant of scripture is to be ignorant of God.

~St. Jerome

“The Gospel,” they explained, “is to be understood not as a book or a doctrine, but rather as a person: Jesus Christ, the definitive Word of God, who made himself a man.”

~drafters of the preparatory document of the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization

 

To know God as a person--to have a relationship--she must know Scripture. And not just a little, not just as read from the missal. Not just on Sundays. But really, really know it. Know it so well that she rests in it, that it is the background music to her life, every minute of her life. Know it so well that it abides in her and she in it.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you..

I want to breathe the Word of God to the point where I don't know where I stop and He begins.

Have you ever met someone like that? Someone truly united, truly remaining in God? It's an amazing thing to behold. She walks in grace. She blesses with her smile, with her gestures, with her words. She lives the life for which she is created because she is the genuine image of God He intended her to be.

I want that.

So, yes, this Lent is about Scripture, with the sure idea that this is not a temporary Lenten habit but a lifetime habit.

I know that in order to make time for Him, I will have to again prune away those things rob time, waste time. I will have to quiet the voices that do nothing to bring me closer to God and nothing to help me hear Him. And then I will make some conscious choices.

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Quiet time is the pillar of my day. I admit freely that this is not a heroic sacrifice. I am wired to get out of bed easily in the morning. I am never anything but happy to settle into a chair with the Word of God in total silence. The sacrifice is putting it all away and getting on with my day. Morning breaks beautifully here. It's keeping that melody of His voice playing throughout the day that is tricky.

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There will still be that Lenten Spring Cleaning List. And then there's Forty Bags in Forty Days, but I really don't think I have stuff for forty bags. I don't know; maybe I do. I'm going to give it a go. Regardless of how many bags I fill, systematic spring cleaning always benefits us all spiritually. Easter in a clean, uncluttered home is a beautiful thing!  God will accompany me as I clean. I've downloaded an amazing audio dramatization of the RSV Bible to my computer and my iPhone. I can listen as I deep clean corners, as I fold laundry, as I clear clutter. And if my children happen to be with me, all the better. They can listen, too. I start the day's listening every day with John, because I promised a friend I'd memorize with her and I'm woefully behind where I should be by now. And then, I move on to Matthew.

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I'm focusing on the Gospel of Matthew because that's the Church's focus this year. So, it's Matthew again and again in my listening, until it's a part of me. The children and I are memorizing large chunks of the Gospel of John together, using a simple system, maybe two simple systems;-) So that might not be simple--but it's effective;-). I fully admit that I have exploited the ridiculous competitive spirit in this family to motivate some major memorizing. Whatever it takes. I think this gift of the Word could be the greatest gift we ever give our children.

The books baskets have been stuffed with Lenten story books, Bible story books and children's Bibles. And I will make time, several times a day, to read them aloud in unhurried, joy-filled moments with my own dear loves. (I hope to make a list of New Testament story picture books to share with you very soon--feel free to email me with your favorites.) Everyone over ten has been spending about an hour every day for the past few months going slowly through Fr. Barron's Catholicism. We watch together, talk, look up scripture references, use the study guide, and then journal privately. It's bearing tremendous fruit--really, this time is every good thing I ever imagined when I first considered homsechooling over 20 years ago. I'm grateful beyond words for it. 

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There are Bibles in nearly every room of my house and we've recently begun to consult severaltranslations and commentaries and a Bible dictionary whenever something comes up in conversation. These moments of discovery are joys with older children.

 

And then there is that lovely electronic version on my Kindle. A Bible everywhere I go.

Lenten reading this year? Oh, it's so much more than just Lenten reading.

It's Jesus.

The Word of God.

More On Lent

Hiding the Alleluia (tutorial, sort of)

Talking with Your Kids about Lent

Lent is a Good Thing

Prayer Rule for all of Lent

What to Give Up?

Remain in Him

Thoughts on Fasting

Family Lent Project: Counting Blessings

~ This post is a reprise from the archives, because this plan worked and it's well worth repeating.