Lent begins today. This is a sacred and prayerful time for the Church. Catholic Volunteer Network has partnered with Catholic Apostolate Center to bring you a reflection guide that looks at the Lenten season through the lens of our four pillars of spirituality, social justice, simple living and community. Each reflection is written by a different contributor, and each offering their unique insights and experiences. Many of the contributors are also former volunteers who are actively working to keep service and prayer as integral components of their lives. Some will provide you with thought-provoking reflection questions, while others share practical suggestions of how you can apply the virtues of the four pillars to your Lenten observance.
You can come back to this blog every Sunday to read the new reflection, or download the entire reflection guide here.
Ash Wednesday Reflection
“When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
By Katie Mulembe, Catholic Volunteer Network Staff and Franciscan Mission Service Returned Missioner
Every Ash Wednesday for the last eleven years, I’ve found myself reflecting back on that one time in 2004 when I did Lent right. I gave up chocolate, television, the internet, shopping, alcohol, talking on the phone, and wearing makeup. I didn’t get into a car even once, instead I walked everywhere I needed to go. I wrote letters to my family and dearest friends and was sure to tell them how much I loved them. I spent time every morning and evening in prayer, and I journaled every single day. I didn’t even cheat on Sundays. It was amazing.
Okay, okay, I will come clean – I didn’t actually choose to do all that for Lent, it just sort of happened that way. At the time, I was starting my mission experience, and was taking language courses in a small, remote village in Northern Zambia. I had to travel light because I only had room for one backpack on the long and crowded bus journey to the village. Life was simple out there. My days were spent taking language classes, making new friends in the village, learning how to wash my clothes by hand, and tasting new foods (sadly, there was no chocolate to be found). But every day the sun would set promptly at 6 p.m., and I was left to myself in the quiet darkness, most often only lit by the dim glow of my kerosene lamp. It was just me and God then, and I found myself experiencing a closeness that I had never known before. Through the long silences, I learned how to open up to God and share about my fears and needs. I took comfort in God on those nights when I felt especially homesick. I finished up language school on Palm Sunday, and moved back to the big city just in time for Holy Week. That year, Easter seemed to take on a whole new level of meaning for me.
I have tried to replicate that 2004 experience by giving up or taking on small things here and there. None of it seems to have the same effect. I haven’t yet regained that intense awareness of God’s presence that I felt during those simple days. Of course, it would be nearly impossible to give up all that I did in 2004, but today’s Gospel got me thinking that maybe it’s not what I do to observe Lent, it’s how I do it. Jesus reminds us that when we do good deeds, or give to charity, or fast, we should not boast about them. We should do them in the quiet. So, maybe it is the quiet part that I’ve left out of my recent Lenten observances. As I strive to live more simply, and love more deeply this Lent, I am also taking up the challenge to carve out room for silence to hear how God is speaking to me through this Lenten season.
Focus on the Four Pillars:
Spirituality: If you struggle with silence, Lectio Divina may be a great way to ease it into your life. This practice involves careful and repetitive reading of a particular passage in order to gain new insights. It is a quiet and introspective way to pray. Consider spending time with Psalm 139:1-18 to reflect on the constant presence of God. Want to learn more? The Carmelites provide a helpful guide to Lectio Divina here: www.ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/what-lectio-divina.
Social Justice: During his first Mass of 2015, Pope Francis urged us to take action on behalf of those who bear the burden of slavery. “All of us are called (by God) to be free, all are called to be sons and daughters, and each, according to his or her own responsibilities, is called to combat modern forms of enslavement. From every people, culture and religion, let us join our forces,” he said. Statistics indicate that nearly 36 million people are experiencing enslavement today, most of them suffering in silence. Take some time this week to learn more about modern slavery, and determine which steps you would like to take to stop it. Visit www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/human-trafficking/index.cfm for more information.
Simple Living: Have you decided to live more simply this Lenten season by giving up a favorite food or activity? Consider saving the money you would have spent on that item and making a donation to a local soup kitchen. If you are giving up an activity, carefully consider how you would like to use some of the free time to give back to your community.
Community: You do not have to walk this Lenten journey alone. Sharing the experience with your community will help you stay committed to this important time of prayer and fasting. If you live in community, suggest a weekly meeting when you can all support one another throughout Lent. If you do not live in community, consider reaching out to some friends to form a supportive prayer group for this time. You may consider starting out by taking time to reflect on past seasons of Lent and recalling how you have grown through those experiences.