Franciscan Corner: A Well-Spent Lent

When I was a young friar new to teaching, I had a colleague, a Sister of Charity of Convent Station in New Jersey, who had been teaching more than twice the number of years I had been alive at that time.

Walking into her classroom as we were preparing for a new liturgical season I saw the following words meticulously cut out of purple construction paper: “You’ll Never Repent for a Lent Well Spent.”

A catchy bulletin board header indeed but one that still rings in my head today over 20 years later.

These last two decades, at the start of each Lent, I’ve pondered this thought about what it means to live Lent well. From a Franciscan perspective, especially, how does one grow closer to God through this season that so clearly calls us to embrace the process of conversion? What guidance do we have from Francis’ writings and life to help us explore this challenge?

Although what we have from Francis regarding Lent is anecdotal and from unknown sources, his writings on penance and abandonment to God’s Will can provide some insight about how we who strive to follow in the footsteps of Christ through the example of St. Francis of Assisi can live a Lent well spent:

Wherever they may be, let all my brothers remember that they have given themselves and abandoned their bodies to the Lord Jesus Christ. For love of Him, they must make themselves vulnerable to their enemies, both visible and invisible, because the Lord says: Whoever loses his life because of me will save it in eternal life. Blessed are they who suffer persecution for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they persecute you in one town, see to another. Blessed are you when people hate you, speak evil of you, persecute, expel, and abuse you, denounce your name as evil and utter every kind of slander against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad on that day because your reward is great in heaven. (St. Francis of Assisi, The Earlier Rule: XVI: “Those going among the Saracens and other nonbelievers”)

Francis often spent his Lenten journey alone and with little to eat or drink. Some of his biographers have noted how he instructed his brothers to let him be from Ash Wednesday until Holy Thursday, and to never check on him, for he was in the hands of the Lord during this time. Like the rest of the liturgical year, Francis was submissive to the Will of the Father so that he wouldn’t get in his own way of being God’s instrument of peace, love, and mercy here on earth. For Francis, retreating to a cave and sustaining himself on bits of food was only one part of his journey. The other (and more important part, in my opinion) was how he lived his life each day outside of this period of fasting. Was he the person God was calling him to be, so clearly described in the Gospels he fully embraced as his blueprint for life?

Admittedly I am not one who is big on fasting and abstinence. It has always struck me as superficial and temporary if someone gives up chocolate—or, now, social media—but didn’t work to change who they are as a child of God. Sure, at the end of Lent my cholesterol may be a little lower, but how will that work to build up the Kingdom of God? How will that work to support this experience of conversion we’re called to embrace?

I think Francis would agree, even alone and fasting in his cave. In his Testament, he wrote:

The Lord gave me, Brother Francis, thus to begin doing penance in this way: for when I was in sin, it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body. And afterwards I delayed a little and left the world. (emphasis added)

Let us pray:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
– 
Matthew 25:34–40

Let this Lent be well spent.

Amen.

 

Fr. Jason Lody, FCM

Fr. Jason is Minister General of the Franciscan Community of Mercy

St. Anthony of Padua ANCC (Centreville, VA)

Deacon’s Corner: The Life that Keeps on Giving

 

Forty days of thought, reflection, and prayer, capped off by the astounding mystery of Jesus sacrificing His life to redeem us!

Lent and Easter.

Growing up in the 1950s, this meant giving up chocolate or something meaningful (my mother would recommend – um, er, uh…ORDER) and then after 40 days, wolfing down all the Easter Bunny candy in as short a time as possible.

As I have grown older I have come to see my life as someone who is like a serious recreational runner. You run everyday: rain, snow, sleet, hail (life)! This season of Lent is a preparation that is more like getting in shape for an event, like training for a marathon, with one exceptional difference. Running a marathon requires preparation; then, during the actual event, exhausting oneself; and then, finished, collapsing and enjoying the event afterwards. Lent is the training period, yet Easter is the life that keeps on giving. No exhaustion on the day! No feeling of contentment and reflecting back, but a feeling of contentment and looking forward. Easter is the joyful awakening of redemption and renewal, a clear view of the present and future.

I like to think of life as a Charlie Brown cartoon. Good things happen, bad things happen, good choices are made, bad choices are made. Events that seem catastrophic leach pain as time goes on.

I see Lent and Easter differently now that I am older. I see them more as a noted period in our time when special emphasis is put on what our average, daily life is absorbed in. The rest of the year, we try and continue on in a healthy, loving way of living.

I hope that we are a Christian community that is spreading the joy of Jesus through our living-out of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Whether it be visiting senior centers or Alzheimer Care facilities, prisons or hospitals, or collecting and donating food or clothing for the poor, the joy with which we share our lives is all a part of what Jesus wants from us.

Especially in these days, civility, gentleness, kindness and love cry out for our answer to them. With one current political view on refugees and immigrants so arrogantly screaming for exclusion, we must not be silent. Jesus is pretty clear in teaching us to stand up for those in need of help. Let’s say “YES!” to love, inclusion and forgiveness, especially in this upcoming season of joyful hope in the Resurrection of Jesus.

And enjoy the candy!

 

Deacon Pat 

Deacon Pat Kane

St. Francis of Assisi ANCC (Glen Ridge, NJ)

Liturgically Speaking: What Gospel Are YOU Preaching?

The homily is an integral part of liturgy. But columnist Maureen Tauriello reminds us that there’s more than one way to preach the gospel.

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It was just a few weeks ago. I was sitting at St. Francis of Assisi ANCC as Bishop George Lucey was putting the wraps on his homily. He ended with the words (paraphrasing) “be careful how you live your life, because you may be the only bible someone ‘reads’ today.” I’d heard that before—in fact it’s a favorite of mine—and I mentally filed the thought away in that part of my brain where I store the thoughts that I’m not quite done with and want to re-visit when I have the time to explore in more depth. The Mass continued and I didn’t give it another thought. In fact weeks went by and I didn’t think of it again until today.

I’m not even sure how exactly I started unpacking that thought again. Maybe it was one of the stories meant to inspire us that people post on Facebook. One story was about a small town community who surprised a hearing-impaired resident by learning to communicate in American Sign Language. It showed a video of this person going through the day-to-day experiences and how all the people greeted him, offered assistance, extended kindness, and made his life better by their small efforts. His reaction was priceless when he realized what they had done for him.

Another story was one of those “pay it forward” tales, where a woman had broken down in her car. A stranger approached and offered his help. He changed her tire and when she tried to pay him something for his efforts, he refused to accept money and asked only that she keep the chain of love going when she had the chance.

Later the woman went into a diner and the waitress was young, very pregnant, and obviously had put in a long day. Despite that, the waitress gave excellent service and offered cheer and friendliness. The woman decided to honor the request of the stranger who helped her with the tire on her car, and so left a very generous tip and a note asking that she also keep the chain going. The punchline is that the husband of the pregnant waitress turns out to be the stranger who changed the tire.

My thoughts were awakened, and I pleasantly ruminated upon the gospel being preached in these stories, thus connecting back to Bishop George’s homily. But I still had the nagging thought that I wasn’t getting all that I was meant to be getting out of this. What was I missing?

I decided that maybe I was looking at this backwards. I was looking at everyone out there and missing what it might mean to me personally to “read” this version of the gospel in my life. While letting this simmer around in my mind it started to become clear. I suddenly was flooded with memories of all the times small acts of kindness, which may have been insignificant to the doer, had touched me and molded and shaped me into the person I am right now. (A person still not perfected with a lot to learn and a lot more growing to do.)

I share just a few with you now.

Back in the 1970’s Fr. Chuck Gallagher (who was instrumental in bringing the Marriage Encounter movement to life in the churches in our area) had begun to offer a similar weekend experience for all people, married or not, who desired a closer relationship with Christ and the church. Known only as a “church weekend,” my husband Peter and I signed up to go.

It was a beautiful and very moving experience. The summit was a moment when we were broken up into small groups and were encouraged to share with each other things for which we needed forgiveness. In the moment, there was an older Irish Priest who got on his knees in front of each one of us with tears streaming down his face who begged us to pray for him and forgive him for the times he may have not responded to people in a kind or Christian way.

The outgrowth of this weekend was that we all exchanged phone numbers and committed to each other that we would reach out to each other and send words of love and encouragement every now and then. For years following this retreat, I would occasionally get a phone call and it would be Fr. Kevin with his lovely Irish brogue saying “Have I told ya lately that I love ya, me darlin’?” It’s been nearly 40 years and I can still hear his voice as plain as day. Sometimes I would call him too, and we’d have a brief chat and check in on each other. I always felt so uplifted following one of our conversations. I don’t know how or why but through the years the calls got less frequent and eventually we lost track of each other. I am glad to have “read” that gospel according to Kevin.

My memories were on a roll. As I began thinking of all the times I was blessed with similar gospel messages, the floodgates were opened and I found myself smiling and enjoying the comfort they gave. Sometimes the lessons were given by people who remain nameless to me. I think of the “lollypop” lady of St. Mary’s church who, having no children or family of her own nearby, would always show up with lollypops in her purse so that when a child became cranky or squirmed around, a lollypop would be passed through the crowd to the parents to give to the child. The comfort she gave often meant the difference between being able to stay and enjoy the Mass and having to leave because the child was too disruptive.

Times were not always easy in the Tauriello household. When our children were young we struggled to pay all our bills and keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. We survived by clipping coupons, and eating far more franks and beans and macaroni and cheeses than we would have liked, but it was how we got through.

One night a couple whom we knew through Marriage Encounter, invited us over for dinner. It was a delicious, wholesome meal with meat, vegetables, and salad for us and our two oldest children, both under age 4 at the time. Although nothing was said by us about our financial struggle, I guess we didn’t exactly have poker faces. As we got ready to leave that night, the couple got very serious and told us how they believed in tithing and that every month they tithe 10% of their money and decide each month on where they would spend the tithe. They told us that they wanted us to have it that month, and would not even listen to any protests from us. They told us there would be no strings attached and that if we ever could be able to help someone else down the road that would be all the payment needed.

They handed us an envelope and frankly we were embarrassed, and uncomfortable to have anyone know that we were having a hard time. We didn’t open the envelope until we got home. There was $600 in it! At the time, that was enough to pay our mortgage and to stock up on some good groceries with even a little extra for some other bills. That one month’s relief was enough to put us back on a more even keel and catch up. Since that time, we have tried whenever possible to tithe at least something and to designate the money for a charitable purpose.

I remember yet another incident. I was at a table in the back of church one weekend, selling tickets for a parish fundraiser, when a mother and daughter came in and asked for help. They had been evicted from their apartment with nothing more that whatever meager clothing and possessions that they could gather and take with them. Obviously in need, they sought help in the only place they knew to go, our church.

Feeling the urgency of their situation, I called the priest over and let them explain their plight to him. To my shock and dismay the priest was unwilling to do anything for them. Then from the mouth of babes, I heard the voice of our youngest son say, “but what about the corporal works of mercy?” At that moment my son was getting a much different gospel message than intended. While he had learned about mercy and compassion in his religious education classes, what he encountered in the initial reaction of the priest was the complete opposite. We adults all looked at each other and one by one emptied out whatever cash we could from our own personal purses and wallets. By pooling our resources, we were able to get enough money to put the woman up in a hotel for the night and to be able to buy a meal. I hope the actions of the adults in this case helped confirm that we are meant to care for each other.

(Note to self: remember to check with son to see what if anything he remembers about this experience.)

This business of preaching the gospel is a two-way street. Sometimes we are the preacher and sometimes we are the recipient. In the spirit of Lent, when we think about sacrifices and good deeds to offer, it might be a good exercise to spend some time in thought about this. I plan on it!

 

Maureen Tauriello

Maureen Tauriello

St. Francis of Assisi ANCC (Glen Ridge, NJ)