Lent / Easter, 2019
Dear Sisters and Associates,
This year, as in other years, I contemplate the twopenitential seasons on the Church calendar. Because Advent occurs in the“holiday season” we may not see it as the penitential season it is meant to be.It seems to make more sense for the Lenten Season to be perceived aspenitential. In Diarmuid O’Murchu’s book, Incarnation: A New EvolutionaryThreshold, he compares the two seasons. He says that Christmas is the greatestof all Christian feasts. He claims that salvation and redemption belong firstand foremost to the primordial birthing forth, not to the mighty act of dying.He further says that Resurrection has more in common with Bethlehem than withCalvary. Just as the birth of Jesus came through the archetypal female, Mary ofNazareth, resurrection is facilitated through another archetypal female, Maryof Magdala. Here the incarnational logic comes full circle. From the cave ofBethlehem, site of the birth of Christ, another archetypal cave, the emptytomb, releases a new wave of incarnational empowerment in the Risen Christ.Advent is a preparation to welcome Jesus back again commemorating his originalarrival 2,000 years ago. Lenten preparation is focused on the Resurrection ofJesus at Eastertime; it is a means of preparing us to welcome the hope and newlife signified in the Easter event.
In the midst of deciphering what really happened when Jesus“dwelt among us,” we are sometimes confused about the reason for his humanincarnation. Did he come to relieve our suffering, to cure all our ills, toforgive our sins, or did he come to show us a new way of living with eachother, in spite of our different ideologies? What we tend to forget is thegreat paradox associated with all of creation, the unfolding cycle ofbirth-death-rebirth or life-death-new life. Obviously, creation, includinghuman life, could not be sustained without death. With death often comessuffering. We need to understand death, not as a limitation or punishment inany sense of the word. Death is a necessary good, an evolutionary God givenimperative for the development and flourishing of all life forms. Life anddeath are intertwined with death serving as the catalyst for novel evolutionarypossibilities. In the historical Jesus, both dimensions interweave in theGospel dynamic known as the Kingdom of God. Transformation in the New Reign ofGod is the end of all meaningless suffering and death, the healing of all thathas been fragmented and broken by human deviation. Incarnation is about thefullness of life, an evolutionary aspiration always beckoning us from thefuture, in the luring awakening of the Spirit who forever energizes freshbreakthrough and possibility.
O’Murchu reminds us that we are the Body of Christ on earthtoday. It is up to us to take over where Jesus left off. Jesus came to earth toshow us the way to live, not the way to die. Jesus did not choose to die totake away the sins of the world. He was killed by Roman / Jewish imperialistsand the method they used was crucifixion, the death penalty for those who wereinsurrectionists. The incarnational mission of contemporary Christians is toend meaningless
suffering. This is depicted throughout New TestamentScriptures. This is what Jesus sought to do and this is what Christiandisciples should be about in every age. We have to move beyond believing in themission of Jesus to living it.
As once again we look to the three traditional pillars ofLenten practice, prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we may ask ourselves how weare called to observe Lent this year—2019. In private and communal prayer, wemay hear God calling us out of our safe places into uncomfortable places,revealing paths we would never have chosen to take. In prayer God revealsalternative paths of humility, justice, peace and compassion. Perhaps thisyear, through prayer, we may gain a new understanding of the second greatcommandment of love of neighbor and what it would require of us. If we engagein prayer, we will know how to give of ourselves this Lent through fasting andalmsgiving. As children, we did not talk much about fasting and almsgiving,rather we talked about what we would be willing to sacrifice during Lent. Weare reminded that the Latin meaning of sacrifice is to make something sacred,as in the Atonement Theory, not merely to give something up, as conventionallyunderstood. Still, if sacrifice is made in a more communal setting, it can bean element in empowering love. If we make a sacrifice for the benefit ofanother, it is essentially about gifting another. What can I give up for thebenefit of another, or others? Certainly, this could fit into either, or both,categories of fasting and almsgiving. Perhaps our healthy fasting could include“junk food;” and we might find a holy fast in eliminating anxiety, complaining,discontent, unhealthy anger, fear of diversity, judging others and so on. Withrespect to almsgiving, besides what we can contribute from our meager financialresources, can we consider how we support communally the use of our resourcesfor the sake of our mission. And can we stretch the concept of almsgiving tohow we use one of our most precious resources, time. How do we choose to useour time and talent to support people in our global community who are ingreatest need today?
Perhaps we can pray the second part of our Providence prayerduring the Lenten Season as a reminder of what the season calls us to:
We exalt your Providence, O God, and we commit ourselves tomaking your
Providence more visible in our world:
with fidelity, living as stewards of the earth and ourpersonal gifts
with courage, confronting the evils and injustices of ourtime,
with compassion, entering into the joys and sufferings ofyour people,
with hope. collaborating with people of good will infostering your reign on earth.
Let us support each other, Sisters and Associates in ourinternational Congregation, as we engage in prayer and find new ways of fastingand almsgiving that address the needs of today’s global society.
Sisters Mary Francis, Rosa and Liberata join me in wishingyou a grace-filled Lenten /Easter Season. One with you in God’s lovingProvidence,
Sister Maria Fest
Much of the content of this letter is adapted fromIncarnation, A New Evolutionary Threshold by Diarmuid O’Murchu, MSC, 2017,Orbis Books.