This past Wednesday, the entire Church throughout the world entered into the season of Lent. At each of our various Masses and Scripture services from 6:00am through the final Spanish service at 7:30pm, row after row of people approached the altar for ashes. There were familiar faces, our regular parishioners. There were our young people, their parents and their teachers at our Grade School Mass. There were parents carrying infants and senior citizens walking with canes. There were business people going to or coming from work. There were visitors from other parishes. No matter the age or the condition, all were seeking to respond to the call of Lent. The encouraging thing is that we are all in this season together. Even though our Lenten penances may be individual and personal, there is no such thing as a “private Lent.” All of us are seeking to change, to make a course correction in our lives. All of us, young and old, short and tall, male and female, are observing this season together. It was a very encouraging moment as we acknowledged our sinfulness, our need to change and entered this season together.
As encouraging as all that was, last Wednesday was only a beginning. Today’s Scripture readings invite us again to enter into this season of change. In all three cycles of our Sunday Readings, we are presented with the various accounts of Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert following his Baptism. This year we heard the account from Mark’s Gospel. We are invited to enter into the emptiness of the desert with him. I suspect that this invitation is not as welcome as the invitation to present ourselves for ashes last Wednesday. There is something about silence and emptiness that makes us very uneasy or even fearful. I wonder if we are afraid that if we really carved out some silent time in our day to allow God to speak to us, we might hear something we don’t want to hear.
The famous speaker and writer, Matthew Kelly, makes some very interesting observations in his book, Rediscovering Catholicism. In speaking about “The Classroom of Silence,” he points out that the ability to listen is essential if we hope to grow in prayer. And silence is an essential ingredient of the spiritual life. In silence, we will find God. In silence we will find ourselves.
He goes on to address our present day difficulties when he speaks about the practice of contemplation. He rightly observes that our modern world is spinning out of control. A chief contributor to the chaos is noise. “Today, we wake up to clock radios, we listen to the radio while we shower, and we watch television while we eat breakfast. We listen to the radio in the car on the way to work or school, we listen to music all day over the intercom, we get put on hold and we listen to the radio. We have Gameboys, pagers, cell phones, Walkmans, Discmans, even DVD-mans. Most homes have multiple televisions, and we leave them on even when nobody is watching them…”(pp. 182-183). We can’t even walk home from the train without having ear buds in our ears. Our world has been filled with noise and as a result we can no longer hear the voice of God or notice God’s presence all around us!
Why do we fill our day with noise? Why do we overload our schedules with too much activity and find ourselves running out of breath as we rush from one thing to the next? Or when we do find an empty space, we panic until it is filled? Again, could it be that if we actually carved out some time each day for quiet prayer so that we can hear the voice of God, we are afraid that we might hear something we don’t want to hear? Or that God might point out our sin to us?
The late Bishop Ken Untener in his “Little Black Book” for Lent invites us to take six minutes a day to “spend some quiet time with the Lord.” Matthew Kelly challenges his readers to spend ten minutes a day in silent, listening prayer. Whatever the actual amount, Lent calls us to come closer to the Lord, to deepen our relationship with our God. Accepting ashes last Wednesday was only the first step, a personal witness that we are really going to try to grow and change this Lent. As we enter Lent 2015, I suggest that each one of us carve out a small segment of time that we give back to God in listening prayer. A few minutes a day can change our lives. Let’s let Lent be Lent this year and not run from it by surrounding ourselves with excess activity or noise.
Copies of “The Little Black Book” for Lent 2015 are available in the Narthex for your Lenten prayer. This year’s book for Lent gives us six-minute daily meditations on the Passion according to Luke. The six-minute program began last Sunday and continues each day of Lent. They are available in both English and Spanish.
Thank you to all who have already pledged to the 2015 Joliet Diocesan Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal, and especially to those who responded to Bishop Conlon’s homily and pledged at last weekend’s in-pew “Commitment Weekend.” This Appeal is the major source of funding for all of our Diocesan ministries and charities. Your generosity is deeply appreciated.
And another thank you to all of you who offered your prayers last weekend during our St. Isidore Parish Kairos #11. Thanks to all who added their signatures and written messages on the Prayer Banner that was in the Narthex throughout the weekend. You touched the hearts of our retreat participants when they saw it. Fathers Matt and Josh joined us at the Carmelite Spiritual Center in Darien on Sunday night to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They brought the banner with them when they came to Darien. It was presented to the retreat participants later that evening. I assured them that they were remembered in the Prayers of the Faithful at each parish Mass over the weekend. It is one thing to tell them that people are praying for them and it is a totally other thing for them to see the names of the real, flesh and blood people who are doing the praying! The retreat was a very powerful experience for all of our participants. Over the course of the weekend, each one was able to take the next step in responding to God’s love in their lives.
Additional things are happening in our parish. All are described elsewhere in the bulletin and in our parish “Lent 2015” brochure recently inserted in the bulletin. Please take time to read about them.
Our season of Lent has begun well. Let us support each other in our common preparations for Easter. May God continue to bless us with all that we need, and more.
Father Jim Murphy