By Lorraine V. Murray, Commentary | Published March 7, 2019
Lent often begins with fervent promises about making sacrifices that will draw us nearer to Christ. The first two weeks usually go fairly smoothly, but then come the Lenten doldrums when wine, steak and rich desserts start calling our names. Here are some tips that might help.
Choosing a martyr. Reflecting on the stories of martyrs can help us remain true to our promises. For example, St. Stephen, a deacon of the early church, was stoned to death, which is a gruesome, slow way to die. First he was buried up to his neck, so he was immobile and totally defenseless, and then the bloodthirsty crowd hurled rocks at his head. His parting words were: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
In the third century, St. Perpetua, a young, beautiful noblewoman and the mother of an infant son, was thrown into jail for being Christian. She and St. Felicity, a slave, were martyred together in an amphitheater, where they were wounded by wild animals and then beheaded. They could have avoided this horrific fate had they given up Christ.
Being silent. Many homes are filled with the chatter of television, radio news reports and computerized voices, while outside there’s the deafening din of leaf blowers, lawn mowers and tree trimmers. Then comes Lent, when we yearn to hear God’s voice within our hearts.
We needn’t take a vow of silence, but instead can add quiet time to our day. Some busy parents get up an hour before they awaken the children, and this is their prayer time. Some folks take a walk without being plugged into an audio book, while others pray the rosary on their commute to work.
We can follow the example of Jesus, who was quiet when he was scourged and mocked. In his book “The Seven Last Words of Jesus,” Father Alfred McBride writes about the Jewish practice of killing lambs for Passover, saying how emotionally difficult it is to slaughter these creatures.
You see, as he puts it, “the lamb does not run, does not cry out.” Instead, it just stands there, looking right at you. This heart-rending image calls to mind Jesus, the Lamb of God, looking at us with eyes of love.
Paying attention to God. We often claim that we love God, but then ignore him the entire day. When Lent rolls around, maybe we promise, “I’m going to pray more,” which is pretty vague, like saying “I’m going to be nicer to so-and-so.” Instead, it helps to make a specific commitment to pay attention to God through prayer.
We can get down on our knees each morning, thanking God for another day, and offering him whatever joys and sorrows come to us. St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “Does your mind and your heart go to Jesus as soon as you get up in the morning? This is prayer.”
The apostles were with Jesus all the time, yet they struggled with prayer as we still do today. Somehow, we become intent on discovering the right formula, as if we were performing a chemistry experiment in a lab.
St. Josemaria Escriva has a different perspective on the matter. “You don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!’ you can be sure you’ve already begun.”
At Mass we say, “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” May reflection, silence and prayer help us keep our promises to the Lamb—and may we know his merciful love and peace each moment.
Artwork is by Jef Murray. Lorraine’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org