Lent Reflection Series Session 4: Accepting the Cross as the Consequence of Discipleship

Yesterday was the final session of the Lent Reflection Series I offered this year at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.  Our first session addressed on the traditional Lenten observances of fasting, almsgiving and prayer.  In the second session our subject was sin: our need to acknowledge both our own personal sins and our participation in social sin, and to recognize our need for God’s help and open ourself to God’s love and grace.  The third session invited participants to walk with Jesus in his passion.

Our subject during this final week was Accepting the Cross as the Consequence of Discipleship.  Drawing on the writings of both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Brother David Steindl-Rast, I talked about the reality that (to use Bonhoeffer’s phrasing) we must be disciples “under the cross” as well as some of our challenges in taking up our crosses.  (After my talk, we had a great discussion of this challenge of discipleship, but that part is not recorded.)

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 22:47.) A copy of the the handout I distributed to participants, which I talk about near the end of my talk is here.


Lent Reflection Series Session 3: Walking with Jesus in His Passion

Yesterday was the third session of the four-session Lent Reflection Series I am offering at the University of St. Thomas School of Law this year.  During our first session, my talk focused on the traditional Lenten observances of fasting, almsgiving and prayer.  Last week our subject was sin: our need to acknowledge both our own personal sins and our participation in social sin, and to recongize our need for God’s help and open ourself to God’s love and grace.

This week our subject was Walking with Jesus in His Passion.  As I said to the participants at the outset of my talk, praying with the passion of Jesus has a long tradition. Although the practice predates them, both St. Francis and St. Bernard had tremendous devotion to the idea of entering into the suffering of Jesus.  For St. Ignatius of Loyola, praying with the passion and death of Jesus is an importnat part of the Spiritual Exercises.  (That is Week 3 of the Exercises.)  Pope John Paul II, in one of his Lenten messages, spoke of following Jesus to Calvary and the Cross so as to share with him in the glory of the resurrection.

Most Catholic parishes include praying with the passion in the form of Stations of the Cross as part of their Lenten observation (usually preceding or following a Friday night Fish Fry.)

In my talk, I reflected on what we seek to do in praying with the passion and how participants might do so in the coming days.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 22:43.) A copy of the the handout I distributed to participants, which I talk about near the end of my talk is here.


The Rift Between Ideal and Actual

It is hard to believe we are entering into the third week of Lent.  For some of us that realization prompts the sheepish admission that we haven’t perfectly adhered to all of the resolves about fasting, almsgiving and prayer we made going into Ash Wednesday.

The good news is that, as someone I read put it early in Lent, Lent is a journey, not a pass-fail test.  And when we realize we haven’t been doing quite as well as we might have, we can pick ourselves up and redouble our efforts.

And what is true of Lent is true of our lives in general: our life is a journey, not a pass-fail test.  As Johannes Metz writes in his wonderful little book Poverty of Spirit (another book that would make great Lent reading):

To be sure, none of us drinks the chalice of our existence to the last drop. None of us is fully obedient. Everyone falls short of the human nature entrusted to us. We are all compromised in our acknowledgment of the truth of our being and in our work of becoming human. We never fully grasp the image of our impoverished being. There is a rift between ideal and actual life, between the real thrust of our life and our actual life from day to day. We always remain a promise never quite fulfilled, an image only dimly seen through a mirror. We always stand at a distance from our own selves, never fully sounding the depths of that being called ‘I.’

We are works in progress.  That doesn’t mean we are not remorseful about the ways in which we fail.  It doesn’t mean we don’t try harder to be all we can be.  But it does mean we can approach our journey with patience and without ever feeling like we’ve blown it in a way that can’t be remedied.

Lent Reflection Series Session 2: Lent as a Time to Reflect on Sin

Yesterday was the second session of the four-session Lent Reflection Series I am offering at the University of St. Thomas School of Law this year.  During our first session last week, my talk focused on the traditional Lenten observances of fasting, almsgiving and prayer.

Since Lent is a time of renewal, a time during which we deepen our commitment to making decisions in and through Christ, yesterday’s subject was sin – our need to honestly and soberly reflect on both our own personal sins and our participation in what we refer to as social sin, recognizing our need for God’s help and opening ourself to God’s love and grace.

Sin is not something we particularly like to talk about. It is much easier to focus on God’s love for us. But we need to see ourselves not just as loved, but as loved sinners.  And we need to recognize our patterns of sinfulness in order to be able to overcome those patterns.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 29:28.) A copy of the the handout I distributed to participants, which I talk about near the end of my talk is here.

Walking Through Lent With Mark

Yesterday was the first gathering of a six-session Lent Scripture Study at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes devoted to a study of Mark’s Gospel.

I opened the session by talking about why study and prayer with Scripture is not incidental, but is centrally important to our life of Christian discipleship.  Speaking of the emphasis the Church as placed, particularly in recent years, on our mission to evangelize, I quoted Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhoratation, where he writes

The study of the sacred Scriptures must be a door opened to every believer.  It is essential that the revealed word radically enrich our catechesis and all our efforts to pass on the faith.  Evangelization demands familiarity with God’s word, which calls for dioceses, parishes and Catholic associations to provide for a serious, ongoing study of the Bible, while encouraging its prayerful individual and communal reading.  We do not blindly seek God, or wait for him to speak to us first, for “God has already spoken, and there is nothing further that we need to know, which has not been revealed to us”. Let us receive the sublime treasure of the revealed word. (par. 175)

In today’s session, I gave a brief introduction to Mark’s Gospel and then addressed Mark 1:1 – 3:3 – the preparation for Jesus’ public ministry and his early Galilean ministry.  After talking about Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the desert, I spoke about each of the three important categories of events in that section of Mark: the call of the first disciples and of Levi, several healings, and – already this early in Mark – some controversies with Jewish leaders and rejection by the Pharisees.  We had a lively discussion of each of these, as well as some time for individual reflection.

Here is the division of Mark’s Gospel as we will address it in our remaining five sessions.  If you are in the Twin Cities area, you are welcome to join us, even if you missed the first session.

Session 2 (3/1)            Mark 3:7-6:6a (Patrice Stegbauer will lead this session, while I am at a conference at Pepperdine)

Session 3 (3/8)            Mark 6:6b-8:30

Session 4 (3/15)          Mark 8:31-10:52

Session 5 (3/22)          Mark Chapter 11-13

Session 6 (3/29)          Mark Chapters 14-16 (Our seminarian Grant Theis will lead this session, while I am away giving a weekend retreat for St. Catherine’s University.)

I am suggesting to participants that they read in advance the passages we will be discussing at each session and to spend some time reflecting on these questions:

What did I hear in a new way as I read this portion of Mark’s Gospel?

What did I read that is particularly challenging to me?

What did I read that resonated most deeply? Or that gave me great consolation?

Even if you can’t join us for our sessions, these are good questions for you to reflect on.

Veronica’s Tale

Yesterday we had a retreat day for men and women at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis.  Although we began and ended the day together for our introduction and opening and closing prayer, we split up for most of the time, with Deacon Thom Winninger leading the men and me leading the women.

I divided my time with the women into two sessions, one in which we looked at models of discipleship from among the women who encountered or walked with Jesus during his lifetime and the other in which we talked about more recent women who can inspire us.

The four women I spoke about in the first session were Martha, Veronica, Mary Magdalene, and my method was one of storytelling.  As I explained at the outset, there is a reason Jesus so often used stories to illustrate truths; stories, and the truths they reveal, often touch us at a deep place. We react to them with our heart in a way that is often much deeper than if were simply told the same truth. (I gave the examples of the difference between hearing the story of the Good Samaritan and Jesus simply answering the question “who is my neighbor” by saying “everyone,” and the difference between hearing the story of the Prodigal Son and simply being told, “God is always ready to forgive you.)

Although I used material from other sources to tell the stories of three of the women, I told Veronica’s story using something I wrote several years ago.  Since several of the women afterward told me how much they were affected by it, I thought I’d share it here.

So here is Veronica’s tale, a tale of a women who ignored social norms to be present to the suffering of another, who models a discipleship of compassion and presence :

We were in Jerusalem for the Passover. My husband’s family lived here and we often made the trip to spend the holy days with them. Although many of those visits meld together in my mind, this time was one I will remember all my life. I can hardly forget it. I think of it – of him – every time I notice the veil that I never wear anymore. Continue reading

Pray For Those You Don’t Usually Think of Praying For

Most of us engage in intercessory prayer at least on occasion, if not on a regular basis.  In addition to whatever other forms our prayer takes – whether it is praying with scripture, centering prayer or something else – we pray for ourselves, others, the world.  When we are not praying for our own needs, the first thing we tend to think of is praying for the needs of our family and friends and others who are close to us.

The other day my friend Teresa shared a blog post that described a Lenten practice the author engaged in.  Before the beginning of Lent, the author takes her calendar and writes on one of the 40 days the name of someone she is “not too fond of” (a description that could cover a lot).  When that day arrives, she offers her prayers and petitions, frustrations, joys, and sufferings for the person’s intentions.

That struck me as a wonderful Lenten practice, indeed a practice for all year.   In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, chiding us that loving and caring for those who we love or are good to us is not enough.

Whether it is someone who has hurt you, someone who has done something to irritate you, someone who rubs you the wrong way, someone you are just “not too fond of”, why not find some time to pray for their wellbeing during this Lent.  I know I plan to do so.  I suspect that we may, as the author of the blog post does, find the practice to be a transformative one.

What Are You Going To Read During Lent?

The three traditional Lenten practices are prayer, almsgiving and fasting.  But those are not the only three practices from which we can benefit, both during Lent and during other times of the year.  One of the other practices which can enhance our discipleship is spiritual reading.

I read a lot.  I always have.  But lately most of my reading, while often spiritual in nature, is directly tied to projects I’m currently working on: an academic presentation I am making, a particular upcoming retreat I’m preparing for, a course I will be teaching.  Among other things, that means that it has been a while since I’ve read a work of fiction.  And yet there is so much fiction that can be spiritually and theologically formative.

I came across a post the other day titled 12 Fiction Books that Will Shape Your Theology.  The list includes some books I’ve read and others I have not, some I have heard of and others that were new to me.

One of the books listed – indeed, the first on the list – is Silence by Shusaku Endo, a Japanese author who converted to Catholicism when he was eleven years old.  Silence is considered by many to be his masterpiece and it has been sitting on my shelf for a while waiting for me to get to it.

So my spiritual reading during Lent will include  Silence.  It will also likely include some selection from The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor.  It will also include some nonfiction, and top of that list is Elie Wiesel’s first work, Night.

What will be your spiritual reading during Lent?



Lent Reflection Series Session 1: Fasting, Almsgiving and Prayer

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day that begins Lent, the 40-day period preceding our commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Lent is a special time in the cycle of the Catholic Church and in some Protestant churches and so each year, in addition to whatever other retreats or programs I am giving in various other locations during Lent, I offer a Lent Refelection Series or Lent Retreat in Daily Living at the UST School of Law.

Yesterday was the first session of the four-session Lent Reflection Series I am offering this year.  The focus of my talk was on the traditional Lenten observances of fasting, almsgiving and prayer.  For some of the Catholics in the group, the talk offered, hopefully, a broader way of understanding practices they are familiar with from their youth.  For some of the non-Catholic Christians, it was an introduction to a season they did not know much about.

Following my talk, we had a good general discussion of some of the ways people have in the past marked Lent, and we talked about resources that might provide some ideas for how they might practice during this Lent.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 33:09.) A copy of the the handout I distributed to participants, which I talk about near the end of my talk is here.

Here Comes Lent

I don’t know about you, but to me it seems like Labor Day and the beginning of a new academic year was just yesterday.  Then all of a sudden it was Christmas and somehow, we are ready to begin Lent!  I don’t quite know how this all happened, but here we are.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40-day period preceding the death and then resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lent is a very special time of the year for Christians, a time in which we are invited to focus in a special way on our life with God – to see where we’ve been and to refocus our energies.

The traditional Lenten practices are fasting, almsgiving and prayer. That doesnt’ mean these are not disciplines that should be part of our daily life, but during Lent we refocus, and we try to intensify our efforts along these lines.

As I did last year, I thought I’d post some resources to deepen your prayer during Lent:

I will be offering a Lent Reflection Series at UST Law School on four Tuesdays during Lent.  I will post the podcasts and prayer material from those sessions here the day after each of those sessions.  Additionally, if you go to the Podcast link along the top of the page here, you will find links for the podcasts and prayer material from Lent Retreats I’ve offered in prior years.

Amy Welborn has made available for free the out of print Power of the Cross: Applying the Passion of Christ in Your Life, written by her late husband, Michael Dubruiel, which you can find here.

Creighton University Online Ministries has a host of Lenten prayer material here.

The American Catholic website also has a variety of material for Lenten prayer, as well as general information about Lent here.

The Sacred Space website has has an online Lent Retreat this year on the theme Women of the Passion, which you can find here.

The Ignatian Spirituality site has Lenten resources here.  More here.

Loyola Press has daily prayers, thoughts and other inspirations for Lent here.

Last year, Nadia Bolz Weber wrote a blog post on the Patheos blog with some great ideas for simple Lenten practices, which you can find here.

You can also get daily Lent reflections from Fr. Robert Barron here.

Last, but not least, you can find Pope Francis’ Lent Message here, which suggests several passages for our Bible reflection.

Whatever else you may say during Lent, you can’t say you lacked for great resources to support your spiritual growth during this period!

If you have suggestions about other good sources of Lenten prayer, please feel free to share them in the comments to this post.