Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"A Lenten challenge"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Feb. 26, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Once again Lent is upon us. Most of us look upon this time with hopeful expectation as an opportunity for renewal, a period of special prayer and devotion in preparation for the Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the and the Easter Vigil, the high point of our liturgical year. Daily Mass, Stations of the Cross, holy hours, novenas, and educational and formational experiences are just some of the opportunities available.

I still remember as a child attending two Stations of the Cross during every Lent. One was with my mother when we went to St. Genevieve Parish in Twisp on Wednesdays, and a second one later in the week, when the pastor would pick me up on the way to Brewster for the Stations there (which, of course, was long before the charter for the protection of youth and children). The fact that I went to two wasn’t my extraordinary prayerfulness – an altar server was needed.

Several years ago I came across a wonderful little book of reflections for everyday, Journeying with the Lord, by Cardinal Martini, then Archbishop of Milan. In one of the daily themes, he offers a reflection on the fundamental characteristics of the mature Christian. They are three, and personally I find them challenging and very helpful points of reference in my own spirituality. I suspect you will also find them helpful, and perhaps even a challenge to address for Lenten growth.

The first is a positive attitude. This is a characteristic of our daily lives that can assist a person to become a bridge builder, who strives to patch up difficult situations, and always looks ahead. In his famous reflection on love in Chapter 13 of First Corinthians, St. Paul writes: “There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure.” Again, in his Chapter 12 of his letter to the Romans, he writes, “Never repay injury with injury … if possible, live peaceably with everyone … do not avenge yourselves.”

Neither animosity, resentment, nor negativity are part of the Christian life. Sometimes I have to wonder if our culture isn’t addicted to negativity. We can almost relish the worst in others. We can trash others in a negativity that demeans, isolates, or perhaps even tries to destroy. Bullying would be one example. That quality, whether in youth or, in a more sophisticated form, in us adults, is so contrary to the spirit of the Gospel and to being a disciple of Jesus.

A positive spirit lived faithfully and genuinely demonstrates an exemplary Christian example. A positive spirit is also a leaven in the world in which we live that can address genuinely what St. Paul tells us: “Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” The mature Christian tries to make the best of every situation.

The second characteristic is a sense of being conflicted. We live in a complex world and we live complex lives. We are created for goodness and beauty, but the reality is that we have to deal with our shadows and darkness of life. That challenge can be considerable and demanding. This condition of the human heart demands that we stay close to the Lord on our Earthly journey and use every means at our disposal to keep our spiritual lives on track.

None of us is a stranger to the cross, but accepting the cross means that we travel as Jesus traveled. Being conflicted can be a tremendous source of spiritual growth and strength, knowing that the Lord is always with us. We do not have to cave into the world of darkness, but appreciate always, as St. Paul tells us, that the grace of the Lord is sufficient. Paul well knew that himself.

The third characteristic is a profound sense of oneness. The Christian who is mature in faith sincerely tries to be like Christ in his everyday living. The implication of loving neighbor as self, remembering that what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters we do to Christ, should always be the source of strength and resolve to see every person as one made in the image and likeness of God.

As we gather around the table of the Lord, Eucharist calls us constantly to this sense of unity with the Lord and with one another. The first sentence of the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World is profound: “The joy and the hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially the poor and vulnerable in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.” Those indeed are powerful words, and place before us a powerful challenge. We are part of the human family, linked with one another, profoundly connected through our Creator.

So if you want a challenge for Lent, you’ve got it! May we all strive to be more mature as disciples of Jesus.

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