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In his “retreat” on Mount Tabor, Jesus takes with him three disciples, chosen to be witnesses of a unique event. He wants that experience of grace to be shared, not solitary, just as our whole life of faith is an experience that is shared. For it is in togetherness that we follow Jesus.
– Pope Francis
Pastoral Letter: Lent 2023
My Dear People,
As we know the Season of Lent is patterned after Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry. The earliest mention of Lent in the history of the Church comes from the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The English word ‘Lent’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word meaning to lengthen. Lent comes at a time when the daytime hours are ‘lengthening’, as spring approaches, and so it is a time when we too can ‘lengthen’ spiritually, when we can stretch out and grow in the Spirit.
We have a beautiful play on the words, ‘sun’ and ‘Son’, which are pronounced identically. Just as the sun does the work of ‘lengthening’ the days in spring, so it is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who does the work of ‘lengthening’ our spiritual growth. During the Season of Lent we are to cooperate with God’s grace and initiative. Scripture and the early Church suggest a variety of ways in which this ‘lengthening’ might come about, a variety of ways in which we can cooperate with God’s grace.
This Season of Lent affords us the opportunity to detach, unplug, disconnect, and find an experience of desert. Pope Francis said, “Lent is a time to disconnect from cell phones and connect to the Gospel.” He said that in a world in which we often struggle to distinguish the voice of the Lord, Jesus calls us into the desert and invites us to listen to what matters.
Traditionally we have been taught that the Season of Lent is a time set aside for fasting, almsgiving and prayer. The exercise of these virtues keeps us close to God and keeps us focused on service to others. Fasting is an act of self-denial and a way of directing our thoughts away from ourselves and towards our God. Almsgiving is the act by which we give of ourselves in order to assist someone in need. Prayer should be the centre of our Christian lives lifting up our hearts in praise and thanksgiving to our God who loves us.
Pope Francis said, “If we enter the desert with Jesus, we will leave it at Easter when the power of God’s love renews life.” He said, just like those deserts that bloom in spring with buds and plants suddenly sprouting from the sand, if we follow Jesus, our deserts will also bloom. Hence under the banner of Care For our Common Home, we have a beautiful Lenten poster showing new life blossoming in the desert. May this Season of Lent lead us to renewal and new life at Easter.
Sincerely in Christ,
+ Wayne Kirkpatrick
Bishop Wayne Kirkpatrick
CCCB video series Journey through Lent
This year’s Lenten reflections are delivered by His Eminence Gérald Cyprien Cardinal Lacroix, Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, and the Most Reverend Brian Joseph Dunn, Archbishop of Halifax-Yarmouth.
Lent – A Pilgrimage of the Heart
Reflections by diocesan hermit Sheila O’Handley
Jesus did not speak of Lent as such, however in both the Gospel of Matthew 6:19-21 and Luke 12: 33-34, Jesus articulates the sentiment of Lent as a journey of the heart, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Therefore, in keeping with Jesus’ position we will focus on Lent as a Pilgrimage of the heart. Making this Pilgrimage, we will not traverse distant lands, countries, or spend money; instead, we will journey within the interior landscape of our heart, where we will encounter the Presence of God – the Mystery of Life homing in the sentiments of our own heart.
To assure a successful Pilgrimage of any kind requires planning, such as: with whom we will travel… with others or by ourselves; the financial lay out; for how long; for what purpose; what we will bring; where the Pilgrimage will begin and possibly end. And importantly, we need to ask whether or not we are open to the surprise of adventure… be the surprise pleasant or unpleasant, and also whether or not we are open to possible challenges that we might encounter along the way.
Let us then prepare for the beginning of our Lenten Pilgrimage this week by approaching the entrance of our heart in a spirit of openness:
(1) ponder the invitation that the Prophet Joel put before us in the first reading of the Ash Wednesday liturgy. “Even now, say the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rent your hearts and not you’re clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” Joel 2:12-13
(2) reflect on the symbolic meaning of the earthen compost that marks our forehead with the sign of the cross, to reminds us that suffering is a companion within life’s evolutionary process impacting our personal and collective journeys.
(3) listen attentively to know the answers to: What we will need to take with us? What will we need to leave behind? What will it cost us? How much time are we willing to give to the Pilgrimage? Why are we taking the Pilgrimage?
Suggestion: Let us keep a journal, if we are so inclined … it might prove to be an interesting adventure in and of itself as we become Lenten Pilgrims.
Pilgrimages may provide the pilgrim with moments of luminosity – new insights into old beliefs, and or creative ways of doing things anew that quicken the imagination and give birth to new possibilities.
During a pilgrimage we may also be surprised to discover places within our heart that have always been there, and which we may have forgotten or put on the back burner, to be attended to at another time. Let us trust the Spirit journeying with us to lead us into both the unknown and familiar places of our heart, birthing possibilities of hope and trust in both the dark and the light of life’s evolutionary process.
Author Mark Nepo, in his book The Exquisite Risk, offers the following description of a journey, “to journey without being changed is to be a nomad. To change without journeying is to be a chameleon. To journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim”. Hopefully, during our Lenten journey, we will come to experience ourselves as pilgrims.
Last week in preparation for our Lenten Pilgrimage we spent some reflective time at the entrance of our heart, lingering there with what might have surfaced. Let us pause a moment, leaning softly with our personal reflections or journal recordings before crossing the threshold into our heart…
Starting points are important. It helps to begin in the right place. We don’t always do so, but it sure does help when we do. As with most pilgrims, we find ourselves experiencing both excitement and trepidation as we ponder where we will begin.
Our starting point this week – the First Week of Lent, will be to cross over the threshold of our heart and enter. Usually, the first question that arises within the heart seeking a response is the question Who Am I? It is not what have we done? What have we done wrong? What do we possess?
The Who am I ? question is often accompanied by the question, Why Am I Here? These perennial questions purposely keep the heart open to the flow of life, and by the way, keep us a pilgrim close to the pulse of what is recorded in our heart. What is recorded in the heart is sacred. How we go about seeking the answer or answers to the perennial questions is our response to life.
If we can stay with the heart’s inquiries long enough, the heart will answer. The
heart will answer simply because the heart knows. And so, what is it that the heart knows? The heart knows intuitively that we are the Beloved, the Beloved of the Source we name God, and God in reality, is LOVE. The key to this knowing is EXPERIENCE, not a doing, not a doctrine, not a belief statement, not a practice. The heart also knows the difference.
During the first week of our Lenten Pilgrimage, grounded in the promise of steadfast love we will cross over the threshold and enter our heart to ponder the perennial questions – Who am I? and Why am I here?
Here are a couple of suggestions of how to greet the perennial questions as we enter our heart:
(1) Sacred Reading.
Spend some time with Saint Catherine of Siena’s Prayer:
“You, eternal God, saw me and knew me in yourself and because you saw me in your light you fell in love with your creature and drew me out of yourself and created me in your image and likeness.”
And this question the Islamic mystic, Mansur AL-Hallaj asked:
“I saw my Lord with the eye of my heart, and asked, “Who are you?” and he said, “Your Self”.
(2) Silent or Centering Prayer:
Set aside a quiet time and place.
Be still and simply become aware of your breath … your breathing, not of your thoughts or of saying prayers.
Become conscious of your breath … the inhaling … the exhaling.
FOLLOW THE BREATH.
Some suggestions to help focus the breath.
Darken surroundings, not totally dark.
A lighted candle to focus your attention.
Lowered eyes, not necessarily closed.
Place your hand on your heart.
It might be helpful to choose a sacred word to accompany the breath.
Begin to breathe, gradually with time and practice you will follow your breath into a silencing throughout your whole body, experiencing only the breath…the breathing – the Breath of Life.
(3) Return to your original mystical birthing within the Trinity – a shared community of Love residing in the heart’s centre.
Last week, while pondering the heart’s perennial questions… Who am I? Why am I here? and the heart’s intuitive knowing that we are the Beloved, we may have come to realize that this is an experience within the heart that we have almost forgotten.
First experiences are foundational. They are soul-making. Let us allow this treasured learning that we are the Beloved to accompany us as we continue our Pilgrimage into the Second Week of Lent.
In the Second Week of Lent, Matthew’s Gospel 17:1-9 – the Transfiguration, Jesus invites us to walk the road of our heart with him and three of his friends, to the mountain top. We are surprised by what we experience: that a mountain is a place where Divine Presence abides, and a place where we experience who Jesus is, the Beloved of God, and who we are, the homing Presence of the Divine.
Strange isn’t it, that for some reason, we need this experience of being LOVED and being the BELOVED, reaffirmed and reaffirmed over and over again. Might it be that we judged ourselves as not good enough, whatever we perceive good enough to be, and look for Love in all the wrong places.
Might the need of being repeatedly affirmed be the result of not having trusted our own intuitive experience of the Divine. Instead, we relied on the authority of another’s experience of the Divine. Maybe what is even stranger still is that we are suspicious of the common places where annunciations of the Spirit shows up … in the ordinary, in suffering, and in the sublime.
Pilgrimage can be a time of apprenticeship where we learn that the nature of God is Love, and that we are born from within this Love, to be loved and to love.
This God of Love longs for us and seeks us out in the light and in the darkness of both the uncommon and the familiar places in our heart.
Since God is Love and we are all ONE in this Love, have we ever given some thought to the possibility that in God’s seeking us, God is actually seeking for God ‘s Self. In the seeking for us God finds God-Self.
This week let us linger on the mountain top:
- Recall our personal mountain experiences.
- Be present with those who have loved us.
- Wrap ourselves in the arms of being loved.
- Recall the moments when we experienced the surprise of the Spirit’s Presence in uncommon places.
- Ask ourselves do we trust our own experiences?
- Listen, did we hear… “ this is my beloved daughter listen to her… this is my beloved son listen to him.”
- Give some thought to the possibility that in the seeking for us, God is seeking God’s Self.
- Record in our journal something of our experience. Or
- Compose a poem about an experience we had while lingering on the mountain.
Life is a pilgrimage. Life makes pilgrims of us all, no one is excluded. What is important to emphasize here is that being a pilgrim requires our continual attention to the reality that life is a constant work in process. Life cycles through endless movements of becoming – births, deaths and resurrections. It is the largeness of our heart that nurtures trust in life’s cyclical rhythm of constant change.
In silence we begin our decent from the mountain. There is a leap in our step, and a skip in our heart. At the base of the mountain, we notice a number of people gathered in a kiosk. As we approach the gathering, we discover that they are listening to an unknown poet, so we decide to stay awhile. We are heartened by the words of the poet:
will I go or will I stay?
places of the heart.
It is about noon now, and we are somewhat tired and thirsty. We begin to seek for a resting place to retrieve ourselves and to satisfy our thirst. We notice in the distance a well. At first, we do not notice the two individuals seated near the well, so preoccupied with our thirst are we.
The Gospel of John 4:5-42, for the Third Sunday in Lent: The Samaritan Woman – the Woman at the Well – introduces us to the world’s best storytellers, one a Jewish man from Galilee and the other an unnamed woman from Samaria. This particular Gospel story is one of the most heart-touching and therapeutic stories in the New Testament.
Wells are an archetypal symbol. They speak of the deep unconscious desires that thirst within the bedrock layers of our heart. Drawing the variety of desires from the waters of our unconscious – the bedrock of our heart is both courageous and humbling work. This dark deep-down water collecting, retrieving, and hauling, is not for the faint of heart.
As we approach the well, we are drawn into the shared storytelling of Jesus, the man from Galilee, and the unnamed woman with a listening stillness. We are struck by the giving and the receiving of each to one another, as they shared their stories. We also come to understand that this receiving and this giving, is far more than information about who each is; it is heart bonding, and it is the foundation of all relationships.
Listening to the depth of the sharing between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, we begin to get in touch with unlived, unloved, and unaddressed desires hidden in the bedrock of our heart. We also come to realize that the unlocking, the retrieving, and the collecting of the unlived, unloved, and the unaddressed desires of our heart is work that we must be brave enough to begin.
As evening fell upon us, we reflected on our experience at the WELL. So powerful was the shared storytelling of the Samaritan woman and Jesus that we found ourselves sharing our own stories with one another. In an atmosphere of music, and of bread and wine, we shared with one another how we experienced an expansion of our heart as if a healing medicine of self-acceptance, which had been there all along, was released. It was indeed a COMMUNION.
During the Third Week of Lent, let us rest awhile with this most touching story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. In many ways their story is our own story waiting to be told, and waiting to be received.
- What are the unlived and/or unaddressed desires of our heart?
- With whom might they need to be shared.?
- With whom have we bonded in friendship?
- What new stories ache within the deepest lining of our heart, waiting to be born so that we might fall in love all over again?
Listen to the song The Rose composed by Amanda McBroom and song so beautifully by Bette Midler.
Pray for self-compassion.
Pray Psalm 139
Storytelling is an art form, a gift of our creative imagination. It is a container that narrates both personal and collective pilgrim-like stories which are passed on from generation to generation. Storytelling feeds the soul, and the soul responds, as did our soul in the exchange of stories between the Samaritan woman and Jesus.
As we enter the Fourth Week of Lent gathered at the entrance of our hostel, we wonder where the time has gone. We also notice that a crowd is gathering outside on the hostel grounds. It seems as if some sort of a commotion is taking place. The commotion is about a man who was born blind and who has been cured by the man Jesus.
John’s Gospel 9:1-41 of the Fourth Week of Lent makes it quite clear that it was not enough inconvenience, suffering, and endurance that this man born blind had to live with; following his sight-healing encounter with Jesus, he also had to contend with harassment, questioning, disbelief, and cynicism by friend, foe, and authority.
As we listened closely to the details of this man’s story of blindness, healing, and its aftermath, we were impressed by his fidelity to his own experience and to Jesus. Never, not even once, did he deny his healing experience nor did he refuse to acknowledge the source of his healing – Jesus. He truly was a truth-teller.
What it was about Jesus that captured our attention, since he also endured suspicion and ridicule for not upholding the traditional rituals of the Jewish Sabbath, was that he was an agent of change.
We were spontaneously filled with both compassion and joy for this man’s new-found experience – the richness of new sight.
And with deeper self-reflection, what both surprised and shocked us was the scene and scent of both invited and uninvited darkened spaces of inner blindness occupying the chambers of our heart. Actually, we became aware that we can veer off course at any time being capable of any of the human blunders, even unspeakable atrocities that intersect our human maturing process, and that linger at the gateway of the heart, awaiting entrance.
This awareness created not only an experience of discomfort and an experience of uneasiness for us, it underscored a spiritual erosion of the heart’s purposefulness which is – LOVE – to love and to be loved. It called for a cleansing of the heart.
In response to this most profound reflection of the inner darkness of our heart, let us gather in this Fourth Week of Lent and pray:
The Cleansing Power of Spittle, Clay, and Water
O Mystery residing in spittle, clay and water, awaken us to our unjustified judgments of self and others. We pray, awaken us.
O Mystery residing in spittle, clay and water, heal us of our projections not owned. We pray, heal us.
O Mystery residing in spittle, clay and water, reveal to us our self- perception which prevent us from being authentic truth-tellers. We pray, reveal to us.
O Mystery residing in spittle, clay and water, release us from blocked fear that prevents us from showing up as agents of change. We pray, release us.
O Mystery residing in spittle, clay and water, forgive us for the times we set aside compassion and justice in favour of corporations’ capitalistic agendas. We pray, forgive us.
O Mystery residing in spittle, clay and water, free us from ego’s self-embellishment and entitlements. We pray, free us.
As our Lenten Pilgrimage moves closer to its final weeks, we begin to appreciate that we are all pilgrims experiencing life as an unfolding Mystery of the Heart. Pilgrimages change us. The Endings of Pilgrimages are possibilities for New Beginnings.
We might ponder in what way or ways our Lenten Pilgrimage of the Heart’s changes, shifts, or challenges us, offers new insights, new attitudes, and even gives rise to some difficulties, or touches familiar places of the hearts’ joy, sorrow, silence, reconciliation, and affirmation.
At this junction in our pilgrimage the one thing that we are certain of is that the inner soil of our heart has been tiled and irrigated. So it is with a deeper sense of ourselves, and of gratitude for the Mystery of Life embodied in our heart, that we move forward into Week Five of Lent.
The Gospel for the Fifth Week of Lent, John 11:1- 45, profiles Bethany, the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Bethany, a small Palestinian village about two miles southeast of Jerusalem on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, was conveniently located, not too far from nor too close to the city of Jerusalem where Jesus sought repose either before or returning from his visits to this city, or maybe both. It was this home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus that welcomed Jesus and became for him his home away from home.
The community of John’s Gospel explicitly gives witness to the fact that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus”, this affirming that there existed between Jesus, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus a friendship that was personal, intimate, and loving.
HOME is another example of an archetype, as was the Well in the Gospel narrative of the Samaritan Women. The ‘home’ archetype is profound. It homes the original spiritual, religious, pschological, cultural, cosmological, and personal grounding experiences of the heart. These grounding experiences are formative experiences. They may be positive and or negative wounding experiences that impact and summon our response into life’s journey.
It was the home of Martha, Mary,and Lazarus that warmly welcomed us on our visit to the village of Bethany. There was a depth of wisdom and of love about this home, and their experience of the life and death issues surrounding their brother Lazarus’ illness and death, that spoke to us.
The atmosphere housed in this home aroused within us not only feelings of longing for home, and our loved ones, it also sparked homing signals of our heart. One particular homing signal of the heart that surfaced for us was the religious impulse or religious instinct of MYSTERY. The religious instinct became especially moving when our tour guide mentioned that the actual meaning and purpose of the religious impulse was to bind, to anchor, and to home us together into Mystery. In other words the religious instinct is to home us into a gathering Community of One.
What dawned on us at this poignant moment in the home of Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus was that LOVE is the moral imperative of any home or of any community. It is Love that welcomes, binds, and anchors us to one another. Together we become a Community of One grounded in a loving relationship of equals. Love does not make choices of one over the other… rather it unifies, nurtures, and respects the differences and uniqueness of each individual person, race, religion, and nation. LOVE makes equals of us all.
Reflecting further on this understanding of the religious impulse and the moral imperative to Love, we sensed what looked like, at least on the surface, Jesus setting up a conflict relationship between the two sisters, and between Doing and Being. But in reality these two human activities – Doing and Being – are two companion-energies necessary for the heart’s maturation toward wholeness, and toward doing the right thing – to Love. To Love is to choose the better part.
During the Fifth Week of Lent let us spend some time in the Bethany of our own heart, pondering:
- What might the homing signals of our heart look like…feel like…sound like?
- Make a collage, choosing what best describes the homing signals of the heart.
- What is it that we love?
- Is there a welcoming hospitality space for the poor, the outcast , the victims of war and of violence in our heart and in our home?
- Express some gesture of welcoming hospitality to ourselves, and to someone in need this week.
Upon leaving the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus , we make our way into the final week of our Lenten Pilgrimage. In the Christian tradition, the final week of Lent is celebrated as Palm Sunday, and/or Passion Sunday,of Holy Week.
Shortly after our departure from Bethany we come upon a Passion Play – an enactment of Jesus’ final journey to the city of Jerusalem for the Passover Meal and his impending death.
Since the next performance will be shortly, we decide to wait for the next performance which will be an outdoor affair.
As the actors and actresses are introduced, the gathered crowd hush to a silence. The atmosphere of silence evokes a stillness within us. As the performers move deliberately and mindfully through each scene of Jesus’ violent death, our heart, in its stillness, is aroused with emotion. It also surveys and conducts a thoughtful interior dialogue with the realities that: Death shocks ; Suffering affirms our vulnerability; Evil is real. No one is exempt from these moving life experiences. Death, Suffering, and Evil are the deepest of Life’s Mysteries. They are the longest and most piercing journeys that the heart ever embarks upon.
Following the Performance of the Passion Play, and still immersed in silence from what we had just experienced, we felt the need to share with one another, so we slipped into a near by cafe for a refreshing beverage, and for some finger food.
As we began to share, we heard personal stories of death, of suffering, and of the enormous expressions of evil ‘s presence in today’s world of inequalities.
Then one of our group spoke of how she was touched by the Director’s opening remarks, that Jesus’ death was The Confrontation of Love with Evil; and that the Power of God – incomprehensible Mystery – acted in Jesus on the Cross, reconciling the world and us to our original person hood – which is original blessing, original goodness , as is all of Creation.
Then another spoke, “Yes, these words of the director spoke to me also, and they touched me in this way – Jesus tells us what God as Mystery is like, and how God loves“.
“Wow!“ A man’s voice was heard, “Well, if Jesus tells us what God is like – LOVE – and what God’s Love is like, and what this Love has done for and to us, then we also have this Love Power alive within us”.
Another woman spoke up, “The message that the Passion Play brought home to me is this: The Passion continues today. It was not a ‘ once upon a time’ event. It, the Passion, continues today. The Passion continues today in the plight of war, in the plight of the poor and homeless, is present in mass shootings, and is present in institutions – both secular and religious – in their need for power and greed. We also hear the cry of Mother Earth… will we be moved by her cries… I could go on with an unending list of the manifestations of outright evil. I’ll stop now and let others express their thoughts, insights, and or feelings about their experience”.
“Now”, said a voice, “We have all heard touching personal stories, some wonderful insights, and maybe for some, new understandings. We all have been moved in some way or another. If we have become true Pilgrims on this Lenten Pilgrimage, and because of the Passion Play that we have experience we must act. We must take hold of God’s active Love within us, and make something new and beautiful of this world for all of God’s creation, including us. We, the women and men arriving within creation’s becoming, have been gifted with consciousness – the wherewithal to activate this transforming , and transcending LOVE. This LOVE is our moral imperative, keeping alive the original Passion – The Confrontation of Love with Evil.
During this week of Holy Week we might:
- Retreat to more silence within ourselves and our surroundings
- Read one of the Gospel’s presentation of the Passion
- Listen to George Frederick Handel’s – MESSIAH
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Imagine what it must have been like for the women who arrived at Jesus’ burial place and who were told.
“He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would.” Matt. 28:6
Let us imagine a world community instilled with Resurrected Love.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Sister Ilia Delio, O.F.S. Video used with permission.