February 19, 2010

The Joyful Catholic / Rick Hermann

Lent is a time to live our faith joyfully

Rick HermannAfter journeying late into the night to reach my destination, I awaken before sunrise in one of my favorite places on Earth.

The clanging of the bell in the steeple rouses me from my slumber. It is 3:30 a.m., time for the first prayers of the day at this monastery. My tired body protests, but I insist.

I am greeted with a bracing kiss of cold air upon my cheeks, and my legs are unsteady beneath me yet I smile in quiet anticipation.

Shuffling down the dim hallway, I dip my fingers in holy water and slide into a pew in the dark chapel. I am glad to master my rebellious body.

I bend my knees, fold my hands and bow my head.

Shadowy figures gather around me, shrouded in hoods and silence. Surrounded by these quiet friends, my breathing grows easier and more natural.

Suddenly the light comes on, blinding my tightly closed eyes, and I command myself to stand.

The ancient chord is played, and I join my voice with the others and chant, “Oh Lord, come to my assistance, make haste to help me.”

Thus, I find myself at peace in the early mist surrounding the Trappist monks at Assumption Abbey, a monastery deep in the secluded hills of southern Missouri (www.assumptionabbey.org).

For me, it is a welcome relief from a noisy world. A chance to decompress, recollect and reflect. It helps me find that extra grace to kick free of all those hungry habits that have intruded between me and my Lord.

I must confess that at other times of the year I am more prone to accept suffering grudgingly. I typically avoid picking up my cross.

Lent is different, a special time when I voluntarily decide to die to myself, to pick up my cross daily and follow him.

As I imitate Christ, my spirit soars. In my own small way, I am following in his footsteps, sharing his 40 days in the wilderness.

In Lent, I discover that, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

At other times, I am not quite so brave, not so holy.

I think of you in heaven, Jesus, that you did not have to come to Earth or suffer indignity and death. You could have called all the angels to rescue you. But you chose to condescend to Earth, to live humbly with your beloved children, sharing all our joys and sorrows.

Can I do less? I would like to do more. For your sake, for my sake, for the sake of the whole world, I would like to do more, like these holy monks.

These men, who have set themselves apart from the world, are inexplicably some of the most joyful men I have ever met.

They spend their lives in work and prayer for you and me and all souls.

They harken back to ancient times when the world was lit only by fire. By candlelight, they kept the sacred words of our Lord alive with pen and ink and voice and song.

They also herald the future when everything will be illuminated by our Lord and made new by his holy presence.

They are living signs of that glorious future which is our heritage and destiny.

I find it a privilege to share their life and bread for a time, especially during Lent. They show me how wonderful it is to fast, pray and die to myself, as Christ did, in order to live more joyfully and help redeem the world.

Lent is one of my favorite times of the year, and it can be enjoyable for you, too.

(Rick Hermann of St. Louis is a Catholic author and career coach. His e-mail address is RH222@sbcglobal.net.)

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