The below reflection was written by Walter Forcatto, Co-Field Director of Word Made Flesh Argentina. It was originally posted on GodSpace blog in 2010 as a contribution to the Lenten blog series, “Walking with Jesus Toward the Cross – How Do We Follow?”
This year’s GodSpace Lenten blog series, “Following Jesus: What Difference Does it Make,” can be found at http://godspace.wordpress.com/.
This year the community I am a part of will take time to reflect upon the themes of Lent, which are the 40 days prior to Easter, and incorporate them as part of our community rhythm. Together, we live and serve among vulnerable and excluded youth in the metropolitan city of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In light of Christine Sine’s question and challenge “How Do We Follow Jesus?” I’d like to look at 5 Lenten practices proposed by St. Benedict in his Rule (Brother Victor-Antoine D’Avila-Latourrette, A Monastic Year: Reflections from a Monastery).. These practices are aimed at helping discover renewed and fresh meaning and experiences in Lent. Or as Christine Sine has said, “Lent is a time for “confrontation of the false self (Thomas Keating) when we reflect on the responses and behaviors we exhibit that are least Christ like and seek God’s help in rededicating ourselves to God and God’s purposes” (Christine Sine, GodSpace Blog, January 16, 2009).
But how do we discover renewed meaning during Lent and rededicate ourselves to God and God’s purposes and still avoid falling into an individualistic practice of faith? How do we follow Jesus during Lent without isolating and insolating ourselves and the communities we’re a part of which are found in contexts of exclusion, vulnerability, extreme poverty, invisibility, loneliness and violence?
One of the most crucial theological questions posed by theologians in solidarity with the poor in South America is How can we speak of God’s love to those who suffer? And in this case, how can confrontation with the false-self during Lent also lead us to see and confront falsity and evil outside of ourselves in social and cultural constructions that directly or indirectly cause suffering? How can the application of a hermeneutic of suspicion to these Lenten beliefs and their corresponding practices further lead us live truthfully as followers of Jesus of Nazareth?
These 5 Lenten practices and principles in St. Benedicts Rule can therefore be seen not only from the perspective of our personal faith and spirituality but also through lenses that allow us to contemplate how the practice of these principles can also lead us to reflect upon a following of Jesus that leads us to a life of solidarity on behalf of and with poor friends and neighbors in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
1. Refraining from sin – “Lent should be a time for us to do battle, a time to fight not only the great temptations but, perhaps more importantly, our subtle faults, the seemingly small habitual sins we consent to every day…[Lent is a propitious time to take inventory and a close look at our bare selves,] to see the obstacles on our journey to God, things which should be eliminated from our lives.” The challenge presented is to look at sin as not only having a personal dimension but as systemic and structural evil as well. What is it that we consent to every day that implicates us, directly or indirectly, in actions and attitudes that destroy community, solidarity, compassion and resurrection hope? As we examine our bare selves may we pray to refrain from those things that veer us off the path of following the One who was deeply concerned for and drew near to the vulnerable, the excluded, and the forgotten.
2. Prayer with tears – “Our Lenten prayer, like the publican’s, ought to be a humble and tearful prayer of compunction, a prayer of simplicity and trust, not in ourselves, but in the loving-kindness and tenderness of God.” Our tearful prayers should also flow from our oftentimes lack of compassion and solidarity with our vulnerable and suffering sisters and brothers of humanity. I believe our weeping would demonstrate God’s tenderness and draw us closer the heartbreak of God over the slow death of poverty many experience every day.
3. Holy reading – “for through the Scriptures the Holy Spirit never ceases to speak and educate us…Lent is this wonderful, particularly well-suited time for reading and listening to the voice of God in His word.” Holy reading during Lent can take on a certain newness as we attempt to apply God’s Word to today’s challenges and opportunities. Let’s pray that the Spirit of God challenges us to read Scripture with fresh eyes and hearts in light of the massive suffering and plight of our brothers and sisters around the world. May our holy reading lead us to contemplate and discover in Scripture God’s special and deep love for and solidarity with the widow, the orphan and the immigrant.
4. Repentance – “Repentance, the work of the Holy Spirit in the innermost part of our hearts…It is true that conversion and repentance are lifelong tasks, but Lent provides us with an exclusive period to work in it intensely. Lent is indeed a “school of repentance”. During Lent let us allow the Spirit of God to lead us to repent not only of our personal sins but also for the ways in which our collective history may have been complicit in the suffering of others. In repentance, let us seek to believe in the Gospel that is good news to the poor, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed and actively seek justice, hope and joy in the Spirit which is what the Kingdom of God is all about.
5. Abstinence from food- “Christ used fasting and encouraged his followers to practice fasting…when carried out under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it becomes life-giving and a source of powerful grace in our individual lives.” Abstinence from food during Lent becomes life giving to us as we reflect and realize that God is our source of life and all that is good in our lives. Yet abstinence from food during Lent can also bring us in closer in solidarity with so many of God’s children that abstain from food, not voluntarily, but who are forced to by extreme poverty and vulnerability. This fasting can become an opportunity to practice compassion and solidarity with the suffering and vulnerable. It can become a catalyst in creatively exploring how to live simply so that others can simply live.
Looking at these 5 Lenten practices not only through a lens of personal faith and spirituality but also with a posture of solidarity, identification and compassion towards the suffering and vulnerable, we can continue to discover our real selves on our faith journey or, as it is said in Spanish, en el camino. And in this journey Lent provides a focused season to follow and align our life-choices and options in relation to a God who is concerned for and acts on behalf of God’s vulnerable and excluded sons and daughters.