Even now says the Lord, return to me withyour whole heart, with fasting, weeping and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments andreturn to the Lord your God. For God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, aboundingin steadfast love, and relenting in punishment. Joel 2:12-13.
Dear Sisters and Associates,
Once again, we begin the season ofLent/Easter close on the heels of the Advent/Christmas Season. This year we may have been more reluctant togive up the Christmas season because circumstances of our times prevented usfrom celebrating the season as in the past – in our usual way of gathering withour Sisters, Associates, friends and family. While in Advent we were invited to see beyondthe joy of His coming to the adversities accompanying the birth of Jesus – adversitiesin poverty and powerlessness, as we know that Jesus was born into one of themost violent years in the history of the world. Perhaps, in the Advent/Christmas season we get more caught up with thewonder of God’s abundant life and grace, that He comes down to dwell among usto show us the way. In contrast, Lent isabout the public life
of Jesus and His ministry to the people He encountered, some accepting what He preached,others rejecting Him. It is paradoxicalbecause it anticipates both the death of Jesus and His resurrection inEastertime; it is a means of preparing us to welcome the hope and new lifesignified by the Easter event.
The first reading for AshWednesday, from the prophet Joel, tells us “Return to me with your whole heart!”It is God, begging Israel who has strayed from God, to return to God’s mercifuland gracious love. What a startlingthought – that God should plead for our return rather than that we would ask Godto return to us. We have all in someways strayed from our original commitment (and last year’s Lenten resolutions). Lent affords us the opportunity toexamine our hearts and rekindle our fervor. And in the Gospel for Ash Wednesday, Jesus speaks of the threetraditional Lenten practices: givingalms, prayer and fasting. Joel says in the first reading: “Rend your hearts, not your garments.” Our Lenten penance should not be superficialor perfunctory. It must be tailored toour own real needs. Lenten practices arepointless if they do not turn our hearts around, back to God and back to thepeople in our lives. The garment withwhich we must be clothed is different for each one of us, because human failureis so individual. Whether these failuresare serious or not, they tend to eat away at our relationship with God and withothers. Yes, Lent is an invitation to adeeply personal transformation, not just for the six weeks of Lent, but foryears to come.
In his many letters to the earlyChristian Community, Paul urges us to be reconciled with God and with eachother. He suggests that love is what stitcheseverything together in perfect harmony. In his letter to the Colossians 3: 12-15, Paul tells us:
Clotheyourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another, forgive whatevergrievances you have against another as the Lord has forgiven you. Over all these virtues, put on love whichbinds everything together in perfect harmony. Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts because as members of one body,you have been called to that peace.
Sisters, we are living inchallenging times. We are living in atime in our religious life that we may have never imagined would be ours tonavigate. But it is here and we must embraceall that it calls us to: agingcommunities with fewer members and few, if any, new entrants. Can we develop into a new international,intercultural Community which is “less homogeneous, less Euro-centric, morediverse, more colorful, more like God’s creation”? (Teresa Maya,CCVI) Can we adapt our charismto meet the new or current needs of our times? How do we deal with the pandemic and the needs of so many people – new challengesto the families and people we serve? We are also witnessing incredible challengesin our world and the sufferings of so many in our global community due, notonly to the pandemic, but to racism, civil unrest in some of our countries, andunimaginable devastation of our land due in large part to lack of climatecontrol. Is it possible to forgive ourenemies in a world torn by wars, insurrection, economic disparity andexploitation of the vulnerable and of creation? Yet, “we bear the image of the heavenly one,” and we are called toforgive and not retaliate. We are calledto be compassionate, not only to the victims of these disasters, but even tothe perpetrators. What does it mean tobe compassionate to people who have caused so much pain even as we hold them accountable?
In this season, let us don our “mantleof loving kindness” so that all our interactions and encounters reflect God’sloving mercy and compassion. I am surewe will find new ways to pray, fast and give alms. Let us keep each other in prayer in thesechallenging times.
Sisters Mary Francis, Rosa andLiberata join me in wishing you a grace-filled Lenten/Easter Season.
One with you in God’s abundantProvidence
Sister Maria Fest
Sr. DianeBergant, “Rend Your Hearts”, America, February 16, 2004
Sr. JoyceRupp, Out of the Ordinary: Prayers,Poems and Reflections for Every Season, 2000. “Clothed with the Qualitiesof Christ”
CarrollStuhlmueller, CP, Biblical Reflections for Lent, 1978,Ash Wednesday