This post falls on Ash Wednesday, so we are sitting here with ashes on our foreheads, thinking about the meaning of Lent and its call for repentance and personal growth. We would like to first share with you a reflection written for high school students by our friend, Dr. Deborah Scerbicke, Dean of Students at St. Viator High School. We will follow with some ideas for using the Lenten season in service of your marriage and those who are affected by it.
Open Wide Your Heart!
“Rend your hearts, not your garments” is what the prophet Joel called for us to do! To “rend” is to open wide –not your garment as is part of the Jewish tradition when one is in mourning or confessing a fault. We are called to open our hearts this Lent to see what God has in store for us. What is God calling you to do in your life? Are you willing to listen? Joel reminds us that hearts are fragile things–that God is “slow to anger, rich in kindness.” How will you be a reflection of God’s kindness this Lent?
St Paul reminds the early Christian community in Corinth as well as all of us right now that now is an acceptable or good time to turn to God. St Paul calls us to remember that we are ambassadors of Christ–through how we live our lives with our friends, family and within our Viator community. How can you be better representative to your friends, family and strangers of God’s love and mercy? Will you accept the invitation to God’s love and mercy because now is a good time?
Jesus in the Gospel reading from Matthew reminds us that a heart that is wide open to God is giving to others and is grounded in faith and prayer. The service to others that you do each year at Viator as well as the everyday kindness reflects God’s love and presence in the world. We are reminded to be God’s light in the world. The best way to help us grow or cultivate our unique gifts is to seek God through prayer and reflection.
So the question is not what “you will give up” this Lent –the question is how will your prayer, giving to others “open your heart” so you better shine your unique light into the world.
2 Cor 5:20-6:2
Mt 6:1-6; 16-18
Dr. Deborah Scerbicke, Dean of Students
As Deb reminds us, Lent is a time to open our hearts in prayer, fasting and good works. Since we are focused here on marriage and couple relationships, we would like to explore some ideas that can lead to being a better spouse, a better couple and better in service to others.
On Facebook this morning we saw Lent referred to as the season to be morose and also as the season to give up something good to be something better. The common idea of “giving up” something can be approached either way. The first reminds one of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples that one cannot grow in favor with God by public displays of giving up and being sad, for others to admire. The second suggests doing good works, with a smile on your face and joy in your heart, but without showing off. This reminds me of one of the best Lenten seasons I ever had. I decided that I had not been showing enough appreciation to Rita for all her love and all the things she does for me. Without saying anything to her, I started to plan a small thing every day that would in some way let her know my love and appreciation. I might offer to watch the kids while she went to our bedroom to nap or read. Sometimes I would leave her a little note on her pillow. I think that one day I brought her flowers. But I probably enjoyed most the day I printed a big banner that said “I Love You!”, and taped it on the shower door in our bathroom. When she went into the shower she found two eyes staring at her. This may sound frivolous, but it forced me to think about Rita every day and kept me aware of my love for her. It let her know that she is loved, and it was good for keeping us closer to each other.
In keeping with the call to repentance, you might try each day as you are preparing to go to sleep, to hold your spouse’s hand and ask forgiveness for any sins against him/her that day and then offer forgiveness to the other. For many years we have been holding hands during the Our Father at Mass. When we get to the words by which we ask to be forgiven as we forgive others, we squeeze each other’s hands as a request to be forgiven and an offer of forgiveness. I always find that a moment when I feel close to Rita.
Giving up something can be good for us, but its effectiveness comes from making us aware of ourselves and leading to productive behavior. Giving up some “vice” or excess and using a benefit, like sending saved money to a good cause is a way to do that, but I like to be creative and find ways to make it joyful for me as well as helping me become a better person. It occurred to me today that it would be fun to prepare a very nice meal with all the trimmings, one that is a favorite of mine, then give it to someone in need. I would eat peanut butter and jelly with water.
We have had some discussion about the possibilities of using the Lenten period to do some shared activities that can help us to grow in our relationship with each other and with God. We are considering praying together more. We like to share the readings of the day and have some discussion about the message in them for each of us, separately and together. Volunteering to work together for a charity is a way to open our hearts to God and all God’s children. Choosing a good work or activity together is another opportunity to be creative.
As a child Lent was easy. My parents participated in the spirit of Lent and I was encouraged to do the same. Looking back it was an interesting experience. I gave up candy although I didn’t have a lot of candy ever. I was already going to mass nearly every day and yet there was something special about the Lenten Masses. I remember participating in The Stations of the Cross at least once if not twice a week during Lent. I didn’t give up television watching because we didn’t have a TV. Lenten meals were different as well. They were simpler and we didn’t have dessert. I saved what little money I could and put in the Lenten boxes to feed the starving children in Africa and China. It was a time of searching. Frequently, our parish had a Mission. We attended the talks each night and the priest who gave the Mission also spoke to the school children each day. As I reflect back, those childhood Lenten observances helped form me with a lot of values that I have today.
But as we begin Lent today it is a different experience for me. What am I /are we to do, at this point in my/our life/lives so that our hearts can be more open to God and to God’s service? What does prayer, fasting and alms giving mean for us? Before I give up things and time that I spend doing things I have to ask myself what will I do with the time and what does the giving up of things allow me to do? As we were walking home from Mass this morning we casually talked about this and some of the things we have done since we’ve been married to celebrate Lent. Fasting is less important to us since many years ago we simplified what we eat, although I do have a couple of favorite things that I cling to that I will let go. For the past few years I have decided that I don’t drink anything but water and a little orange juice for breakfast during Lent. When I have the desire for something else to drink I try to pray for someone who is likely thirsty physically or spiritually.
The following are some thoughts on what you might, along with us, consider doing this Lenten season. Fasting is bigger than refraining form eating although in our culture many eat and drink all the time. So perhaps for some that might be a good penance. However, others might consider fasting from all the electronic gadgets that so many have become accustomed to and think they can’t live without. Still others might consider fasting from some of the things that so easily come out of their mouths as a reminder to love others as Jesus would love and to show kindness and mercy to all we meet. But before you consider this, think about what you are going to do to replace these things. Too often we just fill it with something else and we still don’t serve those we love or those in need. Perhaps have a discussion today of what you could each give up so that you can have more time with each other, your children or others.
Since we have been in Florida the past 6 weeks we have attended daily Mass. It has been a wonderful way to start the day. The scripture readings and homily gave us things to think about and receiving the bread and wine renewed our commitment each day to walk with those who are suffering and in need. We also met people that we never knew and have begun some relationships that may continue when we go home. We are going to try to attend daily Mass several days a week when we return home. Our parish is not as convenient as the several block walk that we have enjoyed here. As I continue to work on my prayer reflections for married couples it will challenge me to continue to open my heart to what it is that God wants of me and to try to live each day in our marriage the words I write. For some of you it might be as simple as eating dinner together, with your children if they are present, saying grace and adding petitions for the things or people for whom you would like to pray. Or some days if not every day during Lent, begin the day together with a little prayer time or ending the day together with a short prayer. It will put a positive spin on your life together.
Perhaps you can begin today by reading at least one of the scripture readings from today’s liturgy (they are listed above) and then think about the Lenten journey you have been on all your life but especially through your marriage. Hopefully you will find time with your spouse if not today but some morning or evening this week to plan a Lenten journey together. It will likely need to include fasting of some kind, more time in prayer together and an effort to give to those in need. As I reflect back on my journey of Lent throughout my life. I can honestly say that it has been more about giving rather than giving up. Perhaps as you celebrate Easter this year you will be able to look back and see that your hearts have been open and you have lived forty day of kindness and mercy not just in your relationship with each other but with all you have encountered.
We have found that approaching even difficult things with gratitude for all we are given and with a joyful heart brings to life these words we heard in our wedding ceremony: “Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy and perfect love can make it a joy.”
We pray that you will grow in repentance and joy this season.
Please share with us something that has been a good Lenten activity or penance for you.
Bob & Rita’s book: Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime, is available on Amazon.com. Also available for Kindle and Nook. Check out our Marriage Enrichment Programs at readabookpress.com.
Retirement can be a time of stress for marriages. Has your parish or group considered an enrichment program for seniors? Check out our program: Aging Joyfully Together.