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Every Day Catholic - March 2012

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Are We There Yet? Life as Lenten Journey
By: Kathryn Begnaud

We’ve taken umpteen road trips with our five boys when they were young. The question most heard on those trips is the title of this article. Close in age (all born within a seven-year span), our sons were extremely noisy, occasionally obnoxious and easily bored. They just wanted to get there.

That’s the sentiment that best describes my attitude toward Lent; my eagerness to jump ahead to Holy Week often results in wearing blinders for six weeks as my eyes search constantly over the next hill for Jerusalem and my ears  are attuned more for Alleluias than Kyries. I am resistant to the wearing of purple, and I often want to eat dessert first.

When I hear the opening words from the 21st chapter of the Gospel of Matthew on Palm Sunday, about Jesus and his disciples approaching Jerusalem, I am struck by the idea of “drawing near” and am reminded that the richness of our lives is gleaned more from the journeys than from any actual outcomes. Process over product. Spiritually, this ought to come as good news for all of us.

Generally, I love road trips, though my expectations are always unrealistic. When the children were young, their father and I enjoyed the scattered conversations, arguments and joking that went on inside our van. We all sang along with the three audiocassettes we owned (Paul Simon, Chuck Berry and Bruce Springsteen), pointed out new sights and consumed mountains of junk food.

We fantasized aloud about what we might find at our destination, and, deep in our hearts, we considered how wonderful our lives would be once we finally arrived. Real joy was always just ahead and over the next hill, never in the immediate moment.

On the Road
I like to imagine Jesus and his followers as they drew nearer to Jerusalem—taking turns walking next to him, getting better acquainted with one another, reminiscing and sharing food. I suspect that, as they lifted their eyes when crossing each hilltop, some raised their hands and pointed to the horizon: “I see our destiny! I see Jerusalem!”

As they neared the city, they were undoubtedly filled with anticipation. Was there also foreboding? Hadn’t the mission also grown in clarity? Were they tempted to settle on a lesser village, an alternate destination? Did they ask, plaintively, “Are we there yet?” When some complained of exhaustion, did Our Lord place his hand upon their backs and whisper, “I will give you rest. Trust me. I have called you and I love you”?

I heard those very words whispered to my battered soul when I first “visited” Jerusalem—a trip taken to deal with my father’s alcoholism, but one that, instead, taught me that all of life is Lenten. For many months I prepared for the “journey” by planning a family intervention. I drew near through prayer, by reading anything I could find on alcoholism and by talking with experts (whom I believed knew the only fail-proof route).

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I fantasized that my experience would mirror the success of others. Ah, but there’s the rub! Expecting to encounter God precisely how others have is a trap. We must each walk the journey with our own feet.

Haven’t there been times in our lives that we’ve listened so intently to others’ experiences of God that we’ve become disappointed in our own? Have we allowed the joy-filled stories of others to become a condition by which we measure the validity of God’s presence? Though we are communal, we also walk individually with Jesus. While side by side, we are all still approaching, still drawing near.

Broken and Mended
My own family intervention was a disaster, in part, because I had so closely studied others’ tales of Jerusalem that, confident of the route, I raced ahead of Jesus. My family hadn’t the chance yet to draw near. They hadn’t even known there was a map. They were being yanked through the city gates, and I was doing the yanking, not God.

At the time, I turned to Jesus and said, “If I’d known it would be this painful, I wouldn’t have followed you here.” Many times I wanted to turn back, but I couldn’t remember the return path. I couldn’t un-see what I had seen. I couldn’t unlearn new wisdom.

Exhausted, I decided to start over and, instead of hurling blame on my poor father, I began loving him. Pure love: nothing more, nothing less. In short, I followed Jesus. I secretly reasoned that things couldn’t get much worse anyway, and, even with that attitude, the Lord still took me along.

Drawing Near
It’s been nearly 30 years since my first true Lenten experience, and today my family is healthy and whole. My father, whose sobriety is regarded as a gift, has become our spiritual leader.

Drawing near to Lent is always a journey of truth, and the truth is always about us. It’s not only the most grueling journey of our lifetimes, but also the most exhilarating. My only advice is to enter in. Draw near. God is calling.

My husband and I still take road trips and still play Paul Simon’s Graceland (we’ve graduated to MP3) because the music rewards us with swells of memory. Like Lent, honoring our traditions
reminds us of earlier journeys, those of both suffering and joy.

I long to rewind the clock, to travel again with my children when they were young. I would answer differently when they ask, “Are we there yet?” I would now say, “We are drawing near.” They wouldn’t know what to make of that. It’s always wise to throw kids a curveball. Keeps them on their toes.

Imprimatur was granted for this article, “Are We There Yet? Life as Lenten Journey,” by Kathryn Begnaud, from Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 9-22-2011.

Kathryn Begnaud, the oldest of 11, was born in Ontario, Canada, and raised in Minnesota. After raising five sons, she began merging her passions for writing and spirituality, winning a Catholic Press Association award for her article, “The Miracle of Amber” (St. Anthony Messenger, March 2008). She lives in Minnesota with Blake, her husband of 40 years.

Making Connections

■ Do you prefer the company of others on your Lenten journey or going it alone? What are the advantages and disadvantages to both?

■ Which do you prefer: giving something up or doing something extra?

■ How do you stay centered and focused during this holy season?

Movie Moments

The Way
By: Frank Frost

Life as a journey is a primal metaphor that, in the cinema world, has inspired the road-trip movie. In that genre, the trek is generally an outward manifestation of an inner journey, in search of self, understanding or reconciliation. One such movie is The Way, written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father, Martin Sheen. The film is successful because it’s entertaining, it’s funny and it has characters we come to care about.

Tom (Sheen) is a California doctor whose son, Daniel (Estevez), dies in an accident while beginning a 500-mile pilgrimage to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela along the northern coast  of Spain. When Tom arrives to claim Daniel’s body, he decides to carry Daniel’s ashes on to Santiago to complete Daniel’s pilgrimage. Along the way, the pilgrimage becomes uniquely his own.

One of the lessons he learns along the way is that we must each walk the journey for ourselves, but we can’t do it without others. The others that Tom reluctantly accepts as fellow pilgrims
include a Canadian woman, a Dutchman and an Irishman—with very different backgrounds and reasons for making the trek. All of them turn out to have hidden hurts they hide behind social masks. But as they pick at each other over the question, “What makes a real pilgrim?” they begin to unburden themselves of old baggage and barriers. In the end, each arrives at a healing truth about himself or herself and a love for each other.

Sheen, in an interview, says of the pilgrim experience, “As we go along, we begin to shed some of the excess weight that we’re carrying exteriorly, and then something interesting happens: transcendence—the journey inside.”

Not a bad message for a Lenten sojourn.

Next time you watch The Way, ASK YOURSELF:

■ Throughout the film, the characters ask one another why they are making a pilgrimage. How do their early responses differ from their apparent motives at the end of the trek?

■ Does this say something about the unpredictability inherent in an interior quest?  

■ What pilgrimage have I taken, perhaps without calling it that?

Putting Shoes on the Gospel

Mark Mossa, SJ
By: Christopher Heffron

Lewis Carroll, author of the beloved Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, said it best: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” With GPS so ubiquitous in cars and in smartphones, getting lost is getting harder. But one exception might be the journey we take during Lent. Often during this holy season we lose direction and focus. Our spiritual GPS just stops working.

Mark Mossa, SJ, a doctoral student in theology at Fordham and a teacher at the CURRAN Center for American Catholic Studies, urges us to slow down during this holy season and take inventory.

“Lent is an opportunity to look back on the events of the year—to stop and look where we’re at in relation to God and celebrate our lives with God,” he says.

“It’s a penitential time—a time to take inventory of our lives rather than beating ourselves up. Personally, Lent is a time for me to look at how I might have failed in my life and my ministry. I try to find some way to keep myself conscious of the fact that I’m working through this season while preparing myself for Easter.”

And good news for chocolate lovers everywhere: Mark believes that giving something up isn’t our only option. Doing something extra can feed us spiritually, too.

“If you want to give something up, first ask yourself why you’re doing it. Is it something meaningful? Often by the time you figure out something to give up, Lent has already passed by.”

Instead, he suggests we take an alternate route along our Lenten journey. “Sometimes it means committing yourself to something extra. Come up with different and creative ways of sharing the grace of Lent.”

As a Jesuit, Mark falls back often on his own customs during this season.

“In my Ignatian tradition, a lot of what our spirituality is about isn’t just reading the stories of Jesus Christ or journeying with Jesus Christ, but using our imaginations to think what it would be like to be one of his disciples, to be in his presence, to watch Jesus struggle and suffer.”

While the Lenten journey can be exclusively inward, Mark believes that it is best made with a community of fellow believers: your parish, co-workers or family.

“Maybe it needs to be about how we journey together as a community. In what ways are we experiencing what Christ experienced? Are we preaching the Gospel? Are we visiting the sick or helping the poor? Are we being present to people with their needs and bringing about healing?

“That is an important thing that we can do to make Lent better and have a better sense of the journey. It’s important that we take it away from the individual and focus on how we’re journeying as a community.

“Lent is how we, all of us together, travel with Jesus on the journey of his life—a life that came to save each of us.”

Passing On the Faith

Lent 101
By: Jeanne Hunt

Q.  My whole life feels like Lent right now. Am I wrong to skip those extras we’re asked to do in Lent—just for this year?
A. If those extras include “giving up,” then, by all means, you are excused. However, in the spirit of the season, why not try doing more instead of less? Perhaps you could visit a lonely soul once a week, write a note of encouragement to a struggling single mom, curb your tongue and try to speak positively and avoid gossip. Spend some time creating your own list of 40 kindnesses that you can perform this Lent.

Your soul is quite tired of denial, fasting and doing without. But I’ll bet you are ready for the amazing grace that comes from small acts of love in the name of our Savior.
Q.  We want to help our children switch from “giving something up” to “doing something extra” for Lent. What are some practical things we can do as a family?
A. Your first stop is the local homeless shelter. Every shelter needs underwear and socks. Save your spare change throughout Lent and take the children to buy socks and undershirts. Deliver your gifts during Holy Week and give your children a tour of the shelter.

The next stop is right in your neighborhood. Find an elderly neighbor who could use help with spring cleaning or just routine maintenance. Finally, give away your free time to Jesus by attending the parish Way of the Cross, reconciliation service and Holy Week liturgies as a family.

Q.  In these tough economic times, what can my parish do to “give alms” that’s not just a monetary contribution?

A. I don’t believe that Jesus intended for Lent to be as easy as writing a check. He wants us to serve as he did with the basin and the towel. In fact, a great parish project could be called “The Basin and the Towel Project.” Each week the parish calendar would offer an opportunity to serve one another.
Here are my suggestions: Week One: Take the seniors on a pilgrimage to a local holy spot. Week Two: Watch the parish preschoolers while the young parents take the day off. Week Three: Soup and Salad Supper: Everyone contributes a part of the meal followed by the Way of the Cross. Week Four: Super Service Saturday: Work crews spend Saturday morning doing spring cleanup at the parish. Week Five: Wine and cheese meet-and-greet with the RCIA team and participants. Week Six: “Whose Stinking Feet Are You Washing?”—a youth retreat for Holy Week.


Lenten Journey Prayer Service
By: Jeanne Hunt

Preparation: Small pieces torn or cut from a road map, pens and a basket

Opening Hymn
“Deep Within” by David Haas

Opening Prayer
Jesus, I see you walking toward me  extending your hand to invite me to join you. But I am too worn for the journey; my heart is not in it. You say, “Come anyway, put one foot in front of the other. Keep your eyes on me,” but I’ve walked this Lenten path before, and it didn’t seem to go anywhere. Lord, help me follow you.


John 14:22-33

Jesus, I am willing to take this Lenten journey with you. I want to keep my eyes on you and not sink below the surface. I want to walk, but I need your strength and your single-minded purpose to stay on this path of holiness. Amen.

You are invited to take a piece of the map and a pen. Spend some time praying about where you are on the spiritual journey: right on the path, wandering off course or hopelessly lost. Write something on your piece of map that will help bring you closer to Jesus this Lenten season (e.g., “make a weekly holy hour”). Place your paper in the basket when you have finished. As we sing our closing hymn, we will pass the basket. Take a map piece other than your own and follow its directions this Lent.

Closing Hymn
“Deep Within” by David Haas

Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Heavenly Father, I am sure there are frequently tiny miracles where you protect us and are present to us although you always remain anonymous. Help me appreciate how carefully you watch over me and my loved ones all day long, and be sensitive enough to stay close to you. I ask this in Jesus's name. Amen.

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