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A blessed Ash Wednesday to everybody!  I find the prayer for today to be a really stirring send-off into the great season of Lent:

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting

this campaign of Christian service,

so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,

we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

With its images of campaign, battle, and weapons, this prayer is an explicit and vivid call to spiritual warfare.  And it tells us exactly what we need in order to wage–and win–the battle: fasting, service, and self-restraint.  This echoes and expands upon the traditional trio of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, each of which is so important, not only for spiritual warfare but for life in general.

Is it not a tremendous blessing that each year brings this season of Lent in which we can focus on deepening and growing and maturing in our spiritual lives?  Is it not an exciting time?  A kind of adventure?  The word Lent means “Springtime,” and that is a perfect name for this season of new opportunities for flourishing.

For a long time, I always thought of Lent as a dreary season of drudgery, with nothing uplifting or exciting or adventurous at all.  I didn’t see it as the wonderful opportunity that it is.  I didn’t realize or appreciate any of the rewards it can bring.  I looked at Lent through the lens of the secular world and culture: just another way the Church crushed happiness and imposed pain upon its benighted and masochistic adherents.  I much preferred the popular modern worldview that equates happiness with pleasure and goodness with feeling good.  But that worldview leads nowhere.  Follow it long enough and you may easily find yourself in the nothingness, the hopelessness, the extreme and all-consuming poverty of Hell.  Those fortunate enough (as I was), will experience a taste of Hell before it is too late and becomes an eternal dwelling.

I don’t deny that the season of Lent and the entirety of Christian life can sometimes be difficult, uncomfortable, and uncertain.  But the rewards–especially the ultimate, eternal reward of Heaven–far outshine any of the difficult spots.  And they really are just little spots when you pause to look back over where you’ve come.  Little spots amidst oceans of joy, of love, of peace, and above all, of grace.  Lent is a powerful means of unleashing those oceans!

So, let us all dare to leave behind some of our comfort and security and complacence–which make it all too easy to be self-centered–and have a successful Lent!

Brace yourselves - Lent is comingIt’s a little hard to believe, but we are a mere three days from the beginning of Lent!  I feel somewhat fortunate that I’ve already begun thinking about it; in previous years, Ash Wednesday has completely caught me off guard.

Each year, I want to observe Lent better than I did before, and this year is no exception.  I’ve been thinking about how I wish to observe this season, how I wish to practice sacrifice and discipline, self-denial and self-giving.  I don’t want to be lax.  I don’t want to approach Easter with the least regret that I could have observed Lent more faithfully and deeply.  But each year has been better–this will be might eighth Lent since returning to the Church–and each year I have become more reacclimated to the rigors of this season.  I’m no longer quite the fledgling I was.  I feel this year will be very edifying.

One simple thing that I have found helpful and motivating is Father Jonathan Morris’s Lent Challenge, “A 46-day plan for spiritual growth in mind, body, and soul.”  For each of those three areas, mind, body, and soul, he encourages that we decide on one thing to give up and one thing to do.  He will share daily messages of encouragement via Twitter and Facebook.

I also found this quotation from Pope Benedict XIV in 1741:

The observance of Lent is the very badge of Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should men grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God’s glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe.

This quotation speaks powerfully to me; as I’ve mentioned before, I respond to nothing more readily than to a call to arms.  I am best motivated to conduct my life well when I am reminded that how I conduct my life affects the world around me–when I remember that it’s not just about me.  It’s about what, and Whom, I stand for.  More than any other time of year, it is about carrying the Cross and following Christ toward Calvary, trembling in every footstep.  Not that we are not always called to do this, but this special season exists for our benefit, to focus us and make us stronger, to amend our lives.  It’s a special journey, a special march, a special campaign.

I pray that I might enter into this season with deep devotion and dedication, together with all Catholics.  Let us pray for each other!

(Picture source)

I’ve been in a state of languor this Lent.  Partly because of circumstances beyond my control, and partly because of my own all-too-frequent indolence.  But tonight, I have remembered how I once summed up Catholicism: “There is always a new beginning.”  I wrote that in the epilogue of my conversion story.

That inspired me to re-read my conversion story–something I haven’t done in many months, or maybe years.  And I can truly say that it has given me a shot in the arm!

Mentally revisiting all those events and time periods… looking back over all that I’ve been through… remembering what a hard-fought battle it was… recalling junctures where things could have gone terribly wrong…

All of this has brought me back to my senses, back to myself.  It has rekindled my fires and restored my sense of purpose.  It has raised my eyes back up to my goal–nothing less than God Himself, for eternity, in Heaven.

That’s all I really want.  And there’s no surer way to attain to that goal than to just keep on being what I am–a practicing Catholic.

So.  Here I go again!

A blessed Lent to you all.

Although Lent is a very sombre season, it doesn’t have to be devoid of music.  In fact, some music can help us to enter more deeply into the season.

One Lenten hymn that always comes to my mind is the Stabat Mater Dolorosa.  It is a Medieval hymn about the suffering Mary underwent during the Passion and death of Christ.  At my parish, we sing the verses in between the Stations of the Cross on Fridays.

There have been a number of very beautiful settings of the hymn.  Here are links to a couple of my favorites; these are both first movements (there are different movements for each stanza).

This one is by the late-Baroque composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736).  As you see he died very young, and this year’s 4 January was his 300th birthday.  Pergolesi is one of my favorite composers, and one that I enjoy introducing people to!  His Stabat Mater is probably his best known work, and considered one of the finest musical settings of the hymn.

This one is by the 20th-century composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), another one of my favorite composers.

Although written in different eras, both have a sublime, sombre, timeless, and haunting beauty.  I find they really open up my soul, no matter how busy I may be or how absorbed in mundane affairs.

Hence, I think that listening to these and other Lenten musical works will play a big role in this year’s Lenten Lesson!

Please feel free to comment on some of your favorite Lenten music!  I will try to feature some throughout the season.

I went to the early-morning TLM today.  I wore my veil for the first time.  I was a little self-conscious, but not nearly as self-conscious as I felt being one of the only ladies without a head-cover!  It made me feel beautiful… but not in a showy, prideful way.  A hidden, private way, between God and me.

I love the early-morning Mass so much that I’ve changed my work schedule!  I’ve rediscovered how peaceful the morning is.  And I find I have lots more energy during the day when I get up early and go to sleep early.  Or maybe that’s just what happens when you start your day with Mass and Communion.

This evening I returned to church for Confession.  While I waited, I was enchanted by the visual and auditory beauty withing the church.  It was near sunset, and the stained glass windows had a beautiful, rosy-gold glow.  One of the choirs was rehearsing a beautiful arrangement of O filii et filiae.  I felt like I was in another world… or rather beyond any world.

Next week is Holy Week!  Time for the final push to make the most of this season!  Time for greater vigilance than ever, vigilance against sin and vigilance for our Lord!  Now is the time to get your precious immortal soul into a state of grace.  If you’ve already done that, then do your utmost to keep it there.  Let’s show the devil that we are the light of the world, as our Lord said.  Let our souls be lights shining in the night, purer and more radiant than sunlight.

Let us prepare ourselves.  Let us prepare the way of the Lord.

Oh, I’m so excited!  But I must get to sleep now!

What a wonderful close to the work week!

I did attend the Stations of the Cross at Church, followed by Adoration and Benediction, followed by a beautiful concert!  It was a beautiful, peaceful evening.  The concert was a great delight!  Several of Hugo Wolf’s beautiful Mörike Lieder, followed by a premier performance of a brand new Requiem composed by a young man named Thomas Schwan, a very gifted SMU student.  It was gorgeous–elegant, gentle, and ethereal.  In addition to the organ and a soprano soloist, the Requiem also included a cello.  I absolutely adore the combination of organ and cello–I fell in love with it when listening to Duruflé’s Requiem.  Plus, the cello holds a special place in my heart because my sister plays the cello.  :)

Also, my veil arrived, and it’s even more beautiful than expected!  :D  I’ll post some photos when I am feeling more photogenic.  I did try it on and experiment with different ways of wearing it–it has ties so that you can tie it underneath or behind your head.  But I actually just like wearing it draped loosely, in the mantilla style.  It does not slip at all!  I was a little worried about keeping it in place, but it turns out that it will not be a problem.  I am glad I opted for the cotton eyelet, instead of lace.  Not just because it doesn’t slip, but also because it has a very simple, crisp look–not frilly, but still very pretty and feminine.  The lace trim does give it a little bit of softness.

For now, at least, I think I will wear it just to the TLM.  However, last night when I went to the Stations of the Cross, I sort of wished I had worn it.  For one thing, the statues in the church had been draped in violet, which gave an especially sombre feeling to the space… and for some reason, that just made me wish I had my veil with me so I could cover my head.  And then I realized there was to be Adoration.  That also struck me as an occasion when one should cover her head.

All of this made me think that I might also wear the veil to the Triduum Masses.  I would like to do something a little special on those most solemn observances and most sacred nights of the year.

I think my Lenten discipline usually starts flagging in week 4.  That’s been very true this week.

I usually arrive at the end of Lent thinking, “Gosh, I really slacked off–I wish I had done more!”  Lots of shame.

The good thing is that this year, I’ve got enough experience behind me to recognize it and head it off.  And rather than getting discouraged, I just want to get back on track!

So, this morning I got out of bed before 6 and went to Mass at 6:30!  The Latin Mass!  I had actually set it as a Lenten goal that at least once, I was going to go to the 6:30 AM Latin Mass.  And I’ve done it!  That got my day off to an excellent start and revived my determination and will to persevere!

This afternoon I will have ample opportunity to discipline my eating–our library dean is holding one of her afternoon teas, and there is always sooooo much good food.  It’s going to be hard to resist going wild.  But I can do it!

I’m planning to attend the Stations of the Cross this evening.  In previous years, I have only attended on Good Friday afternoon.  I’m usually so worn out by Friday night.  But I know it will be of great benefit to me if I make it a more frequent practice.

I am referring to the humble pretzel.  One of my favorite snacks at any time of the year, but it seems to have been traditionally associated with Lent!

According to Wikipedia:

Within the Catholic church, pretzels are regarded as having religious significance for both ingredients and shape. Pretzels made with a simple recipe using only flour and water could be eaten during Lent, when European Christians were forbidden to eat eggs, lard or dairy products like milk and butter. As time passed, pretzels became associated with both Lent and Easter. Pretzels were hidden on Easter morning just like eggs are hidden today and are particularly associated with Lent, fasting and prayers before Easter. The classic pretzel’s three-hole shape begins to take form. The three holes represent the Christian trinity of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and pretzels are thought to bring luck, prosperity, and spiritual wholeness. The wedding phrase “tying the knot” got its start when a pretzel was used to tie the knot between two prominent families. The pretzel’s loops stood for everlasting love.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to switch gears when liturgical seasons change.  Here are a few good resources I’ve found on the Web, from some of my Dominican brethren.  First, from our good brethren Across the Pond:

godzdogz-lenten-retreat

And Father Philip Powell, OP has some really nice, evocative posts over at Hanc Aquam:

Thanking the Devil

The Devil Preaches on Lent

As you can see, Father Powell gives us a… very different perspective on Lent.  Which is really good at making us pay closer attention and keeping us from complacency.

He also gives us this beautiful Lenten Prayer that he himself wrote:

Merciful and loving God, you give us* this Lenten desert for our purification, for our chance to become your faithful friends.

Because we are wearied by our sins and exhausted by the weight of our guilt, the devil seeks to tempt us further away from you.

Let us hear his false promises with your ears and see his counterfeit prizes through your eyes. With your Word in our mouths, we reject his poisonous gifts and run to you for our salvation.

With our every thought and deed, you give us the grace to turn temptation into witness, to make an enemy of the devil, and grow in your love.

Lord, grant us hearts bound in obedience to your Word and freed in your love. And even though we may suffer for a little while, we know our purpose is fulfilled when we offer you thanks and praise for the gift of your Son.

Purged of sin and guilt by your desert, we walk to his death on the cross; we watch for his resurrection from the tomb; and we await his coming again in glory!

In his holy name we pray. Amen.

(written by Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP)

__________________________________________________________________

*Change the plural pronouns to singular for a more personal prayer.

Father Dominic Holtz, OP is a fine homilist for all seasons, including Lent.  You can read his daily homilies at The Specious Pedestrian. I found today’s especially moving and edifying, as it casts a new light on the act of abstaining from meat.

Alan Phipps at Ad Altare Dei and the dear sisters at Moniales OP point out the Church Fathers Lenten Reading Plan.

It’s been a wonderful day.  I got up early and went to morning Mass at my parish.  Our priest gave a wonderful homily about how Lent is our opportunity to honestly appraise our lives and our sinfulness and to pledge ourselves anew to growing closer to God and surrendering to deep conversion.  He told us that the only reason we should receive ashes upon our heads was that we were willing to make that pledge–that we shouldn’t just receive them just because, or in order to draw attention to ourselves.

I was able to resist the temptation to eat even a little bit during the day.  I put myself and my weakness into God’s strong hands.  I think I was right about my Lenten Lesson this year!

Another sign of confirmation about the Lesson came unexpectedly, during what would have been my lunch break.  I went into our quiet reading room and began reading Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation; we’re reading it in our book club.  The first essay, “What is Contemplation?” ends on this note:

Hence contemplation does not simply “find” a clear idea of God and confine Him within the limits of that idea, and hold Him there as a prisoner to Whom it can always return.  On the contrary, contemplation is carried away by Him into His own realm, His own mystery and His own freedom.  It is a pure and a virginal knowledge, poor in concepts, poorer still in reasoning, but able, by its very poverty and purity, to follow the Word “wherever He may go.”

Emphasis mine.  Because I think that phrase sums up part of my Lenten Lesson: to follow the Lord wherever He may go.  Sort of like… a sheep following its shepherd.  Yes?

I think Merton’s essays will be good Lenten reading!

I intend to make this Lent an especially austere and sacrificial one.  There is just so much in our world that needs our prayer and fasting.  So much to offer up!

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(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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