Lenten Audio Conversations

Transcript of First Four Days of Lent Conversation

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M = Maureen McCann Waldron
A = Andy Alexander, S.J.


A: This is the second in our series of conversations about Lent. The last time, we looked at preparing for Lent, and now, we are going to have a conversation about the first four days of Lent:  Ash Wednesday, and then Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. They form a kind of prelude to get us started with Lent, to take a look at the four themes of Lent, before we get to the first week of Lent.

M: And we’ll start with Ash Wednesday, which is really one of the most powerful days in the church year, I think. Ash Wednesday– the readings are so rich, people pack the churches on that day.

A: Why do you think that is?

M: Well, I think for one they want to come for ashes, I mean, my kids always loved going to Ash Wednesday. There’s that public sign of the ashes, and a public sign of being who we are, but I think there is a deep human need as we mature in our faith. We want to make things right with God. It’s a chance to start over again, and to really be grateful for God’s mercy for us and to be aware of how much we need that mercy.

A: Yeah, and it’s a symbol, I think we are a sacramental symbol human Church and something as tangible as putting ashes on our forehead is that humble acceptance of being placed with Jesus as we are in baptism. And then, that deep understanding that we are getting ready to prepare for the paschal mystery. We are going to die, we are ashes, flesh, human, vulnerable, woundable, and the words that go with it are wonderful, you know, remembering who we are, and the invitation to turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel. That’s a wonderful pledge to start with.

M: Let’s look at the readings.

A: It begins with the Prophet Joel.

M: This is such a wonderful, vibrant, poetic reading. It’s so powerful.  

A: It’s a kind of reading that you’d hope the lector would say the way Joel said it, gathering an assembly, calling people together.

M: It starts out with these great words: “Return to me with your whole heart”, return, because that’s what Lent is about. We return to God, God turns to us, although I don’t think God ever turns away from us.

A: It’s that conversion in which we ask God: “Look at me in my need, help me” and God of course does, like the Prodigal Son’s father, and it’s the beginning of the theme Jesus is going to give us this very first day, “rend your hearts, not your garments”. This is not something artificial, or self-righteous. This is real.

M: And Joel is calling together this community, you can feel the excitement, he’s saying “gather the people, notify the congregation, bring together the elders and the children, the infants at the breast, the bride and bridegroom” should leave where they are and come out and listen to this, and everyone should hear this, because what we want to say is “Spare us, O Lord, spare your people”, and it’s very stirring.

A: It’s followed by Psalm 51 – the great penitential psalm: “Have mercy on me, O God, in your Goodness”, with the response “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned”. To say these powerful words, create a clean heart in me, a steadfast spirit renewed in me. This is a season of renewal, a season of asking for it, and so it’s a day that begins not only with this excitement and request, it’s a day in which we fast and abstain, in which we ask for the graces we need. By abstaining and fasting, so we are really alert with this, we can talk about that more, but there is a sense we really want to be alert when this is happening.

M: And I love the line in this psalm: “Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit to sustain me”.

A: Beautiful.

M: It’s again that sense of renewing and bringing me back, let me start over again and do it right.

A: And Paul is so frank in his Second letter to the Church in Corinth. He is saying that we are ambassadors for Christ. We represent Christ. People find God in us, and therefore, we’ve got to take this seriously because we have a mission, and so, he implores us to be reconciled with God. We can’t do that mission when our heart is divided.

M: And he emphasizes it with that quote from the Old Testament: “In an acceptable time, on a day of Salvation, I have helped you” and he says now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation. We start now.

A: You can get a feel of what this day is like, whether we go to mass, early in the morning, before work, or we catch a mass at the noon hour, or at the end of the day. There is a sense of excitement here that something is beginning and it’s real and it’s not “Oh my goodness, I have to go through Lent now”, but it’s a time of opportunity - the acceptable time, the right time, the perfect time, right now, when something is being offered me.

M: And I think the gospel is simple in many ways. It is Jesus talking about - how do we open ourselves up to penance, how do we do fasting -and it is the same gospel every year and it sets the theme - don’t be like the hypocrites, don’t’ look for applause - this is between me and God, and so

A: This is not a time to either show God how strong I am and what I can endure, or to show off for others how holy I am. This is something that God knows and will understand, but it’s a time to use grace and all the opportunities to be open, perhaps opened. And it’s wonderful. It says do it in secret, and your Heavenly Father who knows what you do in secret will reward you.

M: We have only two fast days a year now, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, so this isn’t the day to say “I’m so hungry, I’m so..”

A: Besides, what are the official rules for fasting? It’s just … one full meal a day.

M: Right. So we still get a full meal, and in so many ways, when we look at what we get to eat, that is so different from the way I normally eat, the way my husband and kids eat, and we get together as a family and eat our dinner, we eat a full meal. And for us to have one full meal, is a fast day, and yet, the vast majority of the world, that’s how they eat every day. They don’t have a choice on what they eat. They don’t eat meat. They have a small amount of food every day.

A: That’s why, on the part of our website that’s called “Cooking Lent”, we have some recommendations for actual recipes and prayers to say while preparing them, so that the very process of eating during Lent can be not only eating less as a sacrifice, or less so that I am more alert and less loggy and full, but actually, so that I may be in solidarity with the rest of the world who is hungry, and in need of God. There is that first beatitude that I love the translation that said, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for they know their need for God”.

M: What a great thing that we can all remember. And I think the more deliberate we are, the more we prepare in advance for what this season means. The more we take time to talk, you know, about giving up food and gathering as a family and saying, “what are we doing with this”, “how are we going to”, it’s not just a matter of going to a seafood restaurant now on Friday’s. It’s easy to say that, but,

A: Yeah and what if you experience resistance from your family? How do you prepare them?

M: I think the key is preparing them, making this a family kind of a project. Talking about it the week before Ash Wednesday, maybe the weekend before, talking about what Ash Wednesday means, what Lent means, our place in the world, how much more we have than so many others.

A: Maybe what to do with the hunger. When I feel hungry, what do I do with that? Can that put me in solidarity with? Maybe we need to read something, all of spend a little bit of time reading about parts of the world where people are hungry.

M: And on our website, the Creighton University Online Ministries, we have a section in our Praying Lent about the symbols of Lent, and how to gather your family for Lent. You know, put out a bowl of water as a center piece. You could have a bowl of sand, reminding us of the journey through the desert. You could put out water because the foundation of Lent is our baptism, and it would remind us of the water and we can bless ourselves with that water during Lent.

A: And maybe we could take our family crucifix that has a place on the wall or in a bedroom, and put it in a central place where the crucifix reminds us about what this journey is going to be about. The preface of Lent, the first one, says “you have given us this joyful season of Lent, to help us prepare for the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed”. We’re trying to grow in an understanding of the paschal mystery, so to make the cross, which we might miss on the wall, a centerpiece, and perhaps I don’t have a cross at home. Maybe this is the time to get one and make it a part of our household.

M: And a candle would be simple and maybe we could pull out our baptismal candles and lay those down with it, make kind of a little arrangement to be more conscious of what it is we’re doing.

A: And maybe we can discuss as a family or discuss with somebody who’s close to us, what we’re going to do for Lent. And it might not be this year “I’m going to give up candy”, “it might be I’m really aware of how impatient and judgmental I’ve become, and so I’m going to try to give that up, and to do that I’m going to need some help, so would you help me, would you remind me?” I’m going to find myself looking for ways to change my course sooner, so if I’m starting to rev up and get angry and get frustrated, I know that’s going to lead me to some impatience and judgmentalism and giving into anger, I can start to fast from that anger, start to fast from the energy that goes that direction, can become a tremendous change in my heart.

M: And what we’re doing is accepting the grace that God is offering us.

A: And the way we can accept it is being leaner and paying attention to it. It may be that I’m starting to make the connection with the language I use, the putdowns that I give into with my family, with the television that I watch. So I might try these first four days to fast from watching those kinds of shows. I may distance myself from that part of the culture, which does that behavior that I’m not attracted to. Opening myself, accepting the grace the Lord might be offering me, that’s where the generosity is. And then of course, besides prayer, penance, the sorrow that is in my repentance, there is almsgiving as a theme of Lent, so as a family we may plan that if we’re going to eat less food on Friday’s in Lent, we might put that money together and use that money for…

M: The Rice Bowl many parishes have, and if you don’t have the Rice Bowl program where they actually give out a little cardboard bowl and you leave it on the table where you have your Lenten candle and the bowl of water and all your symbols, you remember constantly that there are people in the world that we are being called to, to minister to.

A: Wonderful.

M: Alright, now let’s go on and looks at the next days of the scripture readings and what the rest of the week looks like, the Thursday, Friday and Saturday after Ash Wednesday.

A: It’s exciting to read from the book of Deuteronomy, a reading we know so well, where we’re encouraged to choose life. You know, it seems to me that it’s sounds so obvious that no one wants to choose death, but I think to begin Lent with a choice, that says “I don’t want to choose a curse, I don’t want to choose death, I want to choose life”, and that’s why it’s so wonderful Jesus tells his disciples that the only way I’m going to find life, going to find myself, is by dying to myself. And that’s what this journey is, dying to myself in order to find myself. It’s a gift that’s being given to me, but it takes some dying.

M: And, he offers this to us, Jesus is telling us that it’s really at the core of our journey is about as Christians, is if you want to be my follower, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me, because what good does it do to gain the whole world and destroy ourselves in the process and lose who we are.

A: The prayers are so wonderful along the way. The prayer for Friday in Ash Wednesday, Friday’s in Lent are particularly more penitential, as opposed to Tuesdays and Thursdays and Saturdays, which are more uplifting and joyful. And the opening prayer for Friday asks God – “Help us with your loving care, guide the penance we have begun. Help us to persevere with love and sincerity”. We know we’re doing something important here, and it makes a real big difference to ask for it.

M: It does, and we get these readings, which are so moving. We have the first reading is from Isaiah. It’s like poetry, it is just called out with such passion: “Cry out full throated and unsparingly, lift up your voice like a trumpet blast, tell my people about their wickedness. And the house of Jacob there says, they seek me day after day and desire to know my ways”. This is God through Isaiah saying to us – come now, pay attention. This is the time of the year, the time of our lives to pay attention.

A: If you don’t get a chance to go to mass on the Friday after Ash Wednesday and the Saturday after Ash Wednesday, be sure to spend some time thinking through, reading, being touched by Isaiah chapter 58. This is rich stuff.

M: When we’re talking about fasting during Lent, it gives us such a vivid way of looking at it: “A man bows his head like a reed and lies in a sack cloth in ashes”. Is that the manner of fasting I wish?

A: It’s almost God being sarcastic, challenging us.

M: He’s talking about the kind of fasting he wants: “Release those who are bound unjustly, untie the thongs of the yoke, set free the oppressed, breaking every yoke, share your bread with the hungry”. That’s the kind of fasting I want.

A: Sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked when you see them. This is starting to sound like the salvation scene when Jesus separates at the end of the world the sheep and the goats.

M: This is starting to sound like Matthew 25 at the end of the world.

A: “Then you shall call and the Lord will answer, you shall cry out for help and he will say “Here I am.”. 

M: And it’s apparent that Jesus knew this, because later on when he talks about the beatitudes, his beatitudes echo Isaiah 58, it’s something he knew- it was just deep inside of him.

A: That’s why when we pick out what we’re going to do during Lent, certainly giving up candy or giving up beer, or giving up things that might be good for us to give up. This is not a period, though, to lose weight, this is not a period of will power, this is a period to transform our hearts so that they might be more like God’s. So it is appropriate for us to look and say “what would it be like for me to do this?” “What oppression should I lift?” Maybe somebody in my house is oppressed by my habits, what I do. Maybe there’s a way in which I’m acting that is starving other people, and maybe we have to give people around us more time. The closest at home is always the hardest to see, but a family might spend some time at a shelter, or go to a meal program, and do something together, some act of service. We probably all know someone at a nursing home or someone that could use a visit. That kind of thing could make a huge difference.

M: And it might mean giving up some of my time, where I wanted to watch TV, or maybe I’m on the internet or listening on my MP3 Player to lots of things. And I don’t always have the time. There are lots of things that distract us from being with the relationships that count.

A: And it might be that my parish is offering a program to understand what’s going on in Darfur, or Columbia, or in other parts of the world where people suffer terribly. And to give an hour or two to understanding the issues of those who suffer could be a great thing for me to do.

M: And to bring our children with us to those kind of programs, and if our kids are too young for that, we could bring the conversation to the dinner table at their level, what we have learned at these meetings, what we have learned online. If you don’t have access to meetings like that, that’s what you can use the internet for right now, is finding out about issues about poverty in my own city, in my own area, around the world.

A: I just think it’s so wonderful, Jesus encounters these people who say, you know, “How come the scribes and Pharisees, even John the Baptist’s disciples fast, why don’t your disciples fast?” Jesus answers them by describing that you don’t fast when you’re with the bridegroom. There will come a time to fast. He helps us to understand that fasting is about preparing a place for Jesus to come closer to our hearts. We need to fast when we’re getting hard-hearted, when we’re getting sluggish, when we’re getting fat. It’s hard to listen; it’s hard to be attentive. So it is important to know when the time is to fast.

M: And in some ways that’s what we’re talking about with any of our Lenten practices, is helping us to focus, helping us clear away things that distract us from our relationship from God.

A: We see in the Gospel, on Saturday, the call of Levy, and it is so wonderful to be wonderful these quick four days introduction to Lent, that Jesus is calling us, and that it requires a change of heart, a conversion.

M: And that’s what happened to Levy. Levy, a tax collector, who would have been someone very much on the fringes on society, someone very unacceptable, and Jesus turns to him and says “Follow me”. And Levy leaves his tax-collecting table and follows him. Not only that, but we see that result of that conversion. He holds a dinner party, he invites all of his friends, and Jesus goes to this. This is exactly where he wants to be, and the scribes and religious leaders are at the edge watching, criticizing, “Why do you hang out with these kinds of people, what is it?”, and the whole key to this gospel is the last line in it: “I have come not to invite the self-righteous to a change of heart, but to sinners”, and that’s us. 

A: You know Maureen, this conversation makes me really excited about the first four days of Lent. I feel like I have been hearing myself and hearing you, hearing the readings, talk about things in me that need changing, need healing, need the call of Jesus again, and I know I have to take means and think about means. Don’t you find this helpful to just wade into and reflect on?

M: I do, and it makes me want to say again, that during Lent, I want to make sure I read the scripture readings every day because they set me on the course that I want to be on, and it awakens my heart to that longing that I want to draw closer to God and I let myself be distracted too often, this is what I want for my Lent.

A: We hope this conversation has been helpful. We hope that our resources on our website are helpful. God’s the one that wants to give us the grace and the one who begins this journey with us will be faithful with us along the way. Next conversation we will dive into the first full week of Lent.

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