As we approach Lent, we tend to think about what we’re going to do this year: give something up, take on some spiritual practice, etc.
One thing that has come to me for my main Lenten practice this year is frequent praying of the Stations of the Cross. That being said, I hadn’t come to much more conclusion of how I can make this a more special time of going out into the desert with Jesus.
Nonetheless, last Sunday afternoon, further inspiration came unexpectedly. Upon arriving at the reception desk for my shift (at our home for the elderly and disabled), I took care of a few things and picked up a book I’d found in our chapel library on The Faith of the Early Fathers.
I opened, and to my delight, found that it included The Didache, a very early teaching document with which I had become acquainted years before. I thought it would be “fun” (pardon the expression) and also edifying to read something from so early in our faith, so “close to the sources,” you might say.
I hadn’t been reading long when a phrase really caught my interest. The passage sounded very familiar, echoing almost word for word the message from the gospels on love for enemies, and so on. The particular instruction that struck me was new to me, however: “Fast for those who persecute you.”
Lent is Beginning
Wow!! With the beginning of Lent just around the corner, and with myself struggling with a few people in my life, this one hit the nail right on the head!
This coincides quite nicely with the Catholic Catechism’s teaching:
Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance. (CCC 1430)
You might ask, “No one really persecutes you, do they?” and, on the surface, the answer might be “No.” However, let’s not be so fast to dismiss this…
Aren’t there people in your life, as there are in mine, that tend to “rub you the wrong way,” aren’t there some who never seem to have a kind or supportive word for you? These might be the ones for whom the ancient adage urges us to fast.
As I begin the practices of Lent, I’m sure I’ll encounter opportunities to give up things, to deny myself some simple pleasures (I make no pretense at perfection in this). However, when these opportunities come, I hope I can have the prayerful insight to embrace them, offering the sacrifice for one of my “persecutors.” I never know what grace they might be in need of at that moment.
Although I am not sure what all of my Lenten practices will consist of, I am glad for the new inspiration of offering deeds of penance for those very people who I find difficult. I think this may be a very good way for me to practice “love of enemies” and, also, perhaps to soften my attitude towards people who the gospel challenges me to love. No matter what you choose to do this Lent, I invite you to listen to Isaiah as he outlines the kind of Lenten practices the Lord loves:
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: “Here I am!” If you remove the yoke from among you, the accusing finger, and malicious speech; If you lavish your food on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom shall become like midday; Then the LORD will guide you always and satisfy your thirst in parched places, will give strength to your bones And you shall be like a watered garden, like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58: 6-12)
As I enter into this season of intense conversion, of journeying to the cross with our Lord, I remember the nails that wounded His hands and feet. I pray I may embrace this cross, embrace the nails, and cooperate with His invitation to allow annoyances to become opportunities for grace.