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Monday, February 15, 2016

Get Cleaned Up Before the Party!

Years ago all I knew to be true about the season of Lent was that on Ash Wednesday I got ashes on my forehead, I can’t eat meat on Fridays, I have to give up some vice I enjoy, and I have to feel guilty for my sins.    It wasn’t until I returned to the Church and learned more about my Catholic faith that I finally "got it!" ..... Lent isn’t about “me, myself and I,” it’s about Christ’s life, death, and resurrection!       

Let’s face it, if there was no resurrection, what would be the point!  If Christ had not suffered death and rose from the dead, then He was nothing more than a moral teacher with suggestions for living a good life.   If Christ had not conquered death, then every one of his faithful apostles (except for John) was martyred for their belief in a mere man.   Who would give their life for a mortal man?    Who would endure extreme torture for an ideal or philosophy?  As Christians, we believe that Jesus is God and Easter is the most Holy day in the Catholic Church.    

If Easter is the most important celebration in the life of any Christian, I know, as a sinner, I need to get cleaned up before the party!     Change is good and necessary for spiritual growth, but change is no picnic for this bipolar woman.    This year, I am no longer a Pastoral Assistant and my role has changed from facilitator to participant.   How do I navigate the season of Lent without my Liturgical Desk Calendar?  

The following are some of the things I will be doing this year to prepare for Resurrection Sunday in my new role as a participant.     

1)  Improve my Prayer Life:    

I’m no angel and I can slip back into old habits and old ways of thinking pretty quickly if I don’t do a daily Exam.    During the next forty days,  I’m going to practice “The Examen” daily.      The Examen is a spiritual exercise developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola some five hundred years ago.     There are many variations of this ancient mediation but I prefer to use the one below.   This simple tool, helps me to stay centered and find God in all things.    

The Daily Examen
  • God, I believe that at this quiet moment I am in Your presence and You are now loving me.  Come Holy Spirit
  • God, I acknowledge Your love for me in the various gifts for which I am very grateful.  Thanks be to God.
  • God, help me now to review the events of this day in order to recognize you in all parts of my life.  Lord, I want to see.
  •  God, please forgive the times I have fallen short, and strengthen my attempts to follow You.  Lord have mercy.
  • God, enlighten me so that my future choices praise, reverence, and serve You above all else.  Show me Your Way.
  • Conclude with an Our Father.
To learn more about the Examen, I suggest either downloading the free app “Jesuit Prayer” or visit the Jesuit website at     
2)  Get Active in my Parish:   

As you all know, I recently joined a new Catholic Parish and I was excited to learn of the Lenten activities and prayer services available.   My new parish offers a Stations of the Cross service every Friday at 9 a.m.and Lenten Simple Suppers and Prayer on Wednesdays.   I’m going to make it a point to attend as many of these events as possible.   

For the past four years, I have participated in the Stations of the Cross and it has enriched my Lenten experience.       For those who may not be familiar with this Catholic Tradition, I’ll give you a little Catholic 101.   Most Catholic Churches have a series of icons, painting or artwork on the walls of the church which depict fourteen events in Jesus’ last days on Earth as a man.   The Stations of the Cross or “Way of the Cross” service begins with an opening prayer followed by a musical verse.    A priest or prayer leader then stands before each Icon, reads a reflective prayer unique to that particular event, a short response is recited and a special verse sung by the participants and then there is a pause for reflection before the journey continues to the next station until all fourteen are visited.  

 The individual Stations of the Cross are as follows:
  •  1st Station: Jesus is condemned to death
  •  2nd Station: Jesus carries His cross
  •  3rd Station: Jesus falls the first time
  •  4th Station: Jesus meets his mother
  •  5th Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross
  •  6th Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
  •  7th Station: Jesus falls the second time
  •  8th Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
  •  9th Station: Jesus falls a third time
  • 10th Station: Jesus clothes are taken away
  • 11th Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross
  • 12th Station: Jesus dies on the cross
  • 13th Station: The body of Jesus is taken down from the cross
  • 14th Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb

The musical verses sang between each station are usually sung to the tune of Sabat Mater.    Lyrics vary depending on the version of the service.  Below is the version my parish used on Friday.  

Hymn for Stations of the Cross 
Jesus, Lord, condemned, defiled,
May we too be meek and mild
As we tread your holy Way.

May we feel no bitter hatred,
When we too are persecuted,
Left alone to walk with you.

Now the cross as Jesus bore it,
Has become for us who share it,
The great cross of victory.

Weakened, prodded, cursed, and fallen,
His whole body bruised and swollen,
Jesus tripped and lay in pain.

Jesus met his grieving Mother,
She who made the Lord our Brother;
Now the sword her heart has pierced.

Simon stopped in hesitation,
Not foreseeing his proud station,
Called to bear the cross of Christ.

Brave but trembling came the woman,
None but she would flaunt the Roman,
Moved by love beyond her fear.

Prostrate on the dust he crumbled,
Flogged in body, he resembled
All our people poor and scorned.

May our sympathy for Jesus
Turn to those who here now need us,
May we see Christ bruised in them.

Jesus fell again in weakness,
Stumbling as we do, to lead us
Through our sorrow and our pain.

Stripped and jeered by his own nation,
Jesus stood in desolation,
Giving all he had to give.

Pierced the hands that blessed and cured us;
Pierced the feet that walked to free us,
Walked the hill of Calvary.

Life eternal, death defiant,
Bowed his head -- the world was silent,
Through his death came life anew.

Stunned and stricken, Mary, Mother,
In your arms was placed our Brother,
"Full of grace" now filled with grief.

Jesus, Lord, your gift accepted,
In three days you resurrected;
You did first what we shall do.

Jesus, risen, be our lover
In your food and in our brother,
Lead us home to heaven with you

3)  Read and Reflect:   

Last year, I incorporated a new tradition to my Lenten journey:  I read “The Mystical City of God” by Mary of Agreda.   This book changed my life and deepened my devotion to our Blessed Mother.  There are several translations of this book,  but I prefer the "abridged" version because it is easier to read.   

In 1627 at the young age of twenty-five, Mary of Agreda was appointed abbess of the Immaculate Conception Convent in Spain.  During the first ten years she held this office, she received a command from the Blessed Virgin Mary to write the history of her life.      In 1637, while her spiritual director was away, Sister Mary of Agreda finished her writing and presented it to the "acting" director.   The acting director instructed her to burn all of her writings, as women should not write in the Church.   Now, remember this text took her ten years to write.   In 1637, there were no typewriters, copy machines or flash drives; she wrote this account, by hand with a feather and an inkwell!  Being obedient to her superior she did as instructed and burned all of her writings.   When her regular priest returned, he immediately told her to rewrite the history.   She resisted at first but then received guidance from our Blessed Mother to re-write the history.    She wrote the book in three volumes and it tells the history of the first fifteen years of Mary’s life; Mary’s life with Our Lord; and Mary’s life after the resurrection.      

At first,  the writing was a little difficult for me to understand because it was written almost four hundred years ago, but as I moved through the story, the language became easier to comprehend and it read like a novel.  Never before had I cried while reading a book, but when I read the chapter about the Passion of our Lord, I was moved to tears.

Well, this gives you an idea of what I will be doing over the next forty days to “clean up” before the celebration of Easter.    I'm beginning a new chapter in my life; I'm no longer in "charge" of a Lenten program.  I'm not under the gun to create program flyers, send out mass mailings, facilitate Adult Faith Formation programs or prepare RCIA candidates for the Easter Vigil.   This year, I am simply a participant, and the worry and stress of the season are gone; the focus is where it should be, on our Lord.

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