March 11, 2011

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Take time to slow down during this Lenten season

(Listen to the archbishop read this column)

I associate some pretty vivid childhood memories with the season of Lent.

I am sure that, like other folks my age, these memories have been enhanced by the distance of time from my youth, but the substance of them I will maintain is real.

My memories have to do with Lenten practices. One has to do with the Good Friday observance.

The scene needs to be set with an awareness of the simplicity of life of childhood in southern Indiana in the 1940s, and a certain childhood culture which we kind of developed.

When I say “we,” I am speaking of a rural neighborhood that was largely populated by first and second cousins. In some respects, we were like an extended family of sisters and brothers.

In our earliest years, we were, practically speaking, the core of students enrolled in the county public school. We received our earliest years of religious education under the tutelage of the Sisters of Providence at St. Joseph School on Saturday mornings.

I don’t recall how we got to the school, which was in town, but I have some memories of five or six of us walking the two miles home after the instruction. That sets the scene for my first memory related to Lenten observance.

Many of us had a nickel to spend for a treat after Saturday religious instructions so we would stop by Burger’s Grocery to buy some candy. It became a ritual.

When Lent came and the Sisters taught us about the idea of doing a little penance during the season, we decided we would still get our after-instruction candy, but we would not eat it until Easter. It became a matter of honor and competition to keep the candy until then. I recall storing my candy in a box under my bed—a continuous source of temptation.

When Easter finally arrived, I had a nice store of treats to enjoy. And I had begun to get a sense of what it meant to do voluntary penance—maybe not for the best motives—but it was a sacrificial experience and one that we kids owned.

My second memory of Lent was seeing the statues and crucifixes in St. Joe’s Church covered with purple cloth at the beginning of Passiontide. My mom and dad patiently explained to me why that happened. I was curious about why Jesus and the saints were hidden for a couple of weeks, but I got the picture.

My final childhood recollection of Holy Week had to do with the observance of Good Friday. This may have happened only once, but I remember it. Mom sent me to my room to be quiet from noon until 3 p.m.

That three-hour period seemed really long. But she explained why it was a good thing to do, tying the silence to doing it in love for Jesus, who gave his life for us.

I have no idea what I did during that time, but I still find Good Friday a time for quiet out of respect for the death of Jesus. In fact, I remember stopping for some soup after Good Friday services in Memphis, and was astonished that some people were having a birthday party in the restaurant that afternoon.

Now, I would never expect or even recommend that my childhood experiences of Lent should be imposed on children in our day. It was a different day and a different culture in my early years. Yet, making something special of the Lenten season can be formative, especially for our youths.

With a little imagination, I think it would be a good thing for us adults and also our youths to be introduced to the penitential spirit of the season of Lent. A bit of sacrificial fasting for spiritual reasons can be wholesome, and help us to focus on the true meaning of Christ’s Passion and death. Holy Week can be especially fruitful, leading us to the joy and beauty of the great Easter Solemnity.

I recommend the Lenten season as a time to slow down. The frenetic busyness of our present-day activism doesn’t do much to encourage us in our faith.

We need moments, extended moments at times, for at least a bit of solitary time with the Lord. It isn’t easy to be still, but the rewards are great.

I recommend some intentional time to stop and pray in whatever way is helpful. Most of us need to spend time alone and in quiet with a prayer book to keep us focused, and to help us battle the inevitable distractions that often afflict us.

Time with Jesus and his mother, even if just for a few minutes, can be a blessing for us, and a gift to the Lord and his mother. †

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