Less than a Week Until Ash Wednesday

There is less than a week before Ash Wednesday--one week to ponder and to pray and to petition God. What does He want from us? We have a week to seek Him and ask Him to help us plan. I've started to prepare a bit here at Real Learning. In the upper right hand sidebar is a short Lenten prayer. I prayed this prayer last year during Lent and found it to be incredibly powerful and transforming. It's short, easily committed to memory, and highly recommended.

I've got some plans for our family and we've begun to discuss them with our children. You can read them here at the Herald site this week: Before Lent, A Time to Refocus. This will also be our time for Patrick to finish his Confirmation notebook and Nicholas to make his First Communion notebook. These notebooks have become treasured family projects. My plan is to post Nicholas' notebook here as we go and to make a photo album of it for the sidebar.

On the lefthand sidebar is a list of books found in my bedside basket this Lent. I'm hoping to work through these early and have ample time closer to Easter to read The Life of Faustina Kowalska and The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska before Divine Mercy Sunday. This is quite a stack of books. I admit to having already begun--I'm reading Full of Grace: Women and the Abundant Life with a friend this week as a Lenten warmup. And I've already read some of the others.

His Suffering and Ours is a book I last read with my friend Nicole as she was dying. It has sat on my shelf untouched since her death. I remember writing to Kathryn Mulderink, the author, and telling her about Nicole. I had given my copy of the book to another friend who was suffering greatly and I needed a copy for Nicole shipped quickly, frankly, so that we could read it before she died. That's really the simplest and best recommendation I can give for this book. It was written by a close and dear personal friend who walked with me hand in hand through the lowest valley in my life and it's the book I chose for another friend when she wanted to find God in the agony of terminal cancer.Kathryn was God's instrument to bring peace to Nicole's final days. I will forever be grateful to her for her ministry.

Where will I find the time to read these books and also to sit quietly and listen for God's thoughts on these books in my life? The Lenten Prayer is a good beginning to clearing time away. A reader noticed it recently and sent me a little longer version. She writes, "It reminds me of the prayer of St. Ephrem that we, as Byzantine Catholics, pray daily during the Great Fast (Lent):

O Lord and Master of my life, keep me from the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter.  (prostration)

Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience and love.  (prostration)

O Lord and King, grant to me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother, for You are blessed now and ever and forever.  Amen. (prostration)

O God, be merciful (+ and bow) to me a sinner.  O God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy (+ and bow) on me.  O Lord, forgive me, for I have sinned (+ and bow) without number.  [Repeat 4 X]

Honestly, I believe that all the "time management" tools necessary are wrapped neatly in this prayer. A blogging friend told me recently that she only reads three blogs on a daily basis. The rest she saves for an occasional (rare?) time when she might have some unexpected downtime to sit and read a bunch at once. Or she doesn't read the rest at all. My blogs are all on my Google Reader. It's a great tool. It keeps me posted on who has something new to read on any given day. It allows me to organize my blogs according to category:  all the craft blogs in one place, all the gardening blogs in another, and the cooking blogs, and the home education blogs. It allows me to easily share with you on my sidebar any blog posts I have found especially interesting. But my friend who only reads three blogs a day says that those three are chosen because they are the blogs she includes in her prayer time. She reads them to come closer to her Creator and to better answer her call to be a holy wife and mother. This gave me pause. Can I choose just three blogs to be a part of my daily time with God?  Those had better be well worth reading.And if I did and if I limited myself to just those blogs for Lent, wouldn't I be well on my way to avoiding "the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter?"And wouldn't I clear up a considerable amount of time that I could dedicate to those books on my nightstand? Yes, I would.

Lent is a time of penance and prayer and fasting. It's a time to re-evaluate, to strengthen ourselves spiritually, to root out the "stuff" that keeps us from being who God intends us to be. Recently, I was thinking about Lent in light of purgatory. I've long struggled with the concept of purgatory, mostly because I can't wrap my mind around the "time" dimension. But I do fully see the need and the reality of purgatory and I do trust the wisdom of the Church. Puragtory is the warm hug that envelopes the saved. Mary Beth Bonacci recently wrote an excellent article on purgatory. In part, she wrote:

I will see what God’s perfect plan was for me, and how I — to the extent that I was lazy or selfish or otherwise occupied — fell short of that plan. I will see how many more souls I could have touched if I had followed Him more closely, if I had listened to His promptings. I’ll see how their lives could have been better, or even how their souls could have been saved, if I had more generously allowed the Holy Spirit to work through me.
Yes, purgatory involves suffering. But I have read that the souls in purgatory are happier than those of us here on earth. And why wouldn’t they be? They are assured of salvation. They know they are going to heaven.

Lent also involves suffering. And the goal is very similar to the one Mary Beth reflects upon above. Can the ascetism of Lent allow us to see how we are lazy or selfish and what He desires instead? Can we live Lent in such a way that we touch more souls because we listen carefully to His promptings and follow Him more closely? In our prayer and fasting, can we be generous? Can the Holy Spirit fully inhabit us so that at the end of our Lenten journey, Easter is taste of heaven?