Lent has snuck up on me this year - maybe because we moved and Christmas was a big blur. The tree went up and came down before I knew what was happening. And now Lent is bearing down upon us, fast and furious. What to do, what to do...?
Taking the reasons for our fasting to heart
Time Magazine (of all places) posted this article for lent last year - the gist of which elaborates on Pope Francis' 2015 Lenten Message calling us to "reconsider the heart of our [fasts] this lenten season" because "fasting must never become superficial." He goes on to quote St. John Chrysostom saying, "No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor or eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great."
Sound familiar? We just heard something similar at Sunday mass recently:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3Always good to have a reminder that love needs to be at the heart of every penance we undertake. All else is a "noisy gong".
Mercy and Femininity
Of course, you could go straight to Pope Francis' Message for Lent 2016, for this Year of Mercy. It's centered around - you guessed it - the mercy of God. One part jumped out at me, and seemed very apropos for us here at TFG:
"In the prophetic tradition, mercy is strictly related...to the maternal womb (rahamim) and to a generous, faithful and compassionate goodness (hesed) shown within marriage and family relationships."
Mercy is mysteriously, and directly, linked to the feminine gift(s) - the "maternal womb". After all, it was through Mary's acceptance that Divine Mercy could come to the world at all. Our Lady, as the pope says earlier in the message, "sings of the mercy whereby God chose her" in the Magnificat, directly after recieving the good news from the Archangel Gabriel. And all women are called to mirror those same gifts that Mary possessed within her femininity that allowed her to say yes to the Lord; gifts of love, tenderness, compassion, mercy.
What about attempting to cultivate one or more of these gifts during this lent? A friend of mine, for Valentine's Day, made a stack of Valentine cards and went out to the streets and gave them out. Generosity and compassion given to the walking wounded of today.
A Revolution of Tenderness
Fr. Jason Smith gives a beautiful reflection on a woman's role in what Pope Francis refers to as God's Revolution of Tenderness. We are called, as followers of Christ, to see the woundedness of our brothers and sisters, and to invite them into the healing of Jesus Christ - to lovingly encounter the spiritually hurting and to love the ones that are especially hard to love. These characteristics - love, compassion, tenderness, mercy - are distinctly feminine. They arise spontaneously, for the most part, in women, and in turn can be poured out for the sake of the wounded body of Christ. For "who can image the Church as mother, more than a mother?"
The good old fashioned list
And if you're fresh out of ideas for what kinds of penances to take on for Lent, Kendra gives an interesting list of things to do (or not do) for the next 6 weeks. Some of the more far out ideas: eat only soup, make the bed with throw pillows and everything everyday and don't use electricity. (Just make sure that love and mercy make their way somehow into whatever you decide to take on.)
And a few more resources I came across (always so many posts going around just before lent begins):
3 Ways to Cultivate Silence
A bit of history of Lent, within the Eastern and Western traditions written by Steve Bell
The Blessed is She sisterhood has a lenten link up and BIS also posted 6 Steps to a Deeper Prayer Life, some good info right there.
Then there is Magnificat's Lenten Companion App, or if you're so inclined, Nancy at The Cloistered Heart is taking us through the "Monastery of the Cloistered Heart" as an encouragement to prayer.
UCatholic has the Complete Guide to the Catholic Rules for Lent - which is extremely informative on the subtler details of our fasts and penances.
And my favourite - Ten lessons from Padre Pio for Lent. Can't go wrong with the Padre.
Also if you're up for it, The St. Paul Centre for Biblical Theology is doing a lenten study on Our Lady. Hopefully sign ups are still open...
May your Lent be deeply enriching and bring you all into a closer relationship with the Lord.