Our journey through Lent starts today as we commemorate Ash Wednesday.
As a young girl, it always felt like Lent was forever long due to changes in both the winter season and liturgical season. Lent always started in the deep, dark, bitterness of winter. The sunless afternoon of Ash Wednesday was intensified by an empty stomach from semi-fasting all day and the anticipation of an awful fish dinner. Thus, I felt stuck entering into Lent. Then, there were the changes in the liturgy that made mass seem to drag on forever - the penitential themes in readings, singing the Kyrie in a long drawn out fashion, and the most notable to me was the absence of the Alleluia at the gospel acclamation. I missed singing out my gospel joy...
Now, given what’s going on of late in the Church it feels like she too is missing her gospel joy as she continues to navigate through the turmoil of sexual abuse scandals -- most recently impacting women religious, in India, Africa, Italy and beyond. It feels like no Alleluia is to be had. The Church is in the Lent of my youth. And, like the Church, I am stuck entering into this holy season.
And the more I speak with Catholics and non-Catholics alike the way forward creates a polarity of action:
In thinking about these actions though, there is subject inconsistency - to abandon ship would mean an individual leaving (I am leaving), and to correct the culture is a universal action taken on by the Church.
The readings of today have helped me identity a three-fold approach for entering Lent. Thus, I have gained a better sense of understanding for my individual and the collective responsibility to the Church. This approach centers on basics, vocation and prayer. Pretty simple.
First, I go back to the basics. I remind myself that I am part of the church through the sacrament of baptism and by my own sin. I’m not perfect; the Church is not perfect. So I, like the Church, claim my sinfulness in Lent. And, it is freeing to do so because the God of NOW desires me, desires you, as we hear from the Prophet Joel: return with all of your heart to the Lord NOW; yes, whatever is on your heart - institutional sin, personal sin, your hopes and your joys...return with your heart and give to God your freedoms and blockages. The onus is not just on me as an individual but on all of us—the assembly—as faithful participants in the Church. Second, I go back to my vocation to understand. We hear this further down in the reading an even greater sense of urgency from Joel:
call an assembly;
Gather the people,
notify the congregation;
We, the laity, clergy and religious are bound together by a common vocation in the assembly of God, our Church, and in the solidarity of our common sinfulness. But, even more so, we are united by our common redemption in Christ. As I enter into this Now-ness of lent, with the heaviness of hearts over this abuse crisis, I want to ACT. I am tired of praying. I, like many, have God-given talents that can procure positive change and impact - give me five minutes to clear house if you; I’ll fix this. As these statements have surfaced in prayer and conversation, I am reminded of just how human I am. I realize how attached I am to my desire to act and judge—harshly. I don't want to pray about this. Seemingly, for me, it feels like nothing has changed since Boston. And, this is reminds me of the message from our second reading today, to be reconciled for the greatest to come - salvation.
But, as a wise Jesuit colleague said to me, "If we’re not going to bring this to prayer, than we've missed the point of being in relationship with Christ." And so there it is... my Lenten Lesson from the Gospel today and my third approach for entering Lent - pause, pray; in the solitude of prayer I spend time with God that is not influenced by actions or presence of others. I follow the gospel message offered by Jesus today and the example he provides throughout his ministry - to withdraw and pray. In doing so I can access so much more of my emotion; I can access so much more of my ‘real-ness’ and give to God a new sense of my entirety over this situation. I offer my hurts and tears over this scandal to God. I offer the harder questions in prayer, and I offer my resentment too. It is not easy for me to pray for those who engaged in sinful and criminal acts, and violated all sense of the sanctity of human dignity and life. But, the human temptation here, is exactly what I need to reconcile. I compare one's human condition with another's in order to arrive at the conclusion that 'my' sinfulness isn’t as bad as ‘theirs,’ and to deflect—I didn’t do this. Regardless of how near or far I stand from another’s sin, that sin still touches me, and the bonds I share in common with the community. We are then fractured, individually and collectively. So we as a church must stand united together in this scandal and I don’t say that lightly as a way to placate the experience of victims of clerical abuse.
For most of us, the sins we are confronting in this scandal are not our own.
As the Church, in this moment, we may feel the union of sin more than the redemptive power and grace of God. Yet, it is that power and grace that transforms us as individuals and as a community, helping us reconcile our hurts through prayer. It is only by asking for grace that we can be led through these dark waters to a new moment of reconciliation, healing and change. As members of the Body of Christ we can repair the fracture this scandal has broken open using prayer as a medium and starting point for what will be no doubt a long process of healing. Prayer is the opportunity as I said to be in the now, to be in right relationship with God by offering our ALL for grace to transform our ALL. And so as I enter my forty day journey of Lent, like many in the church, I am praying to discern a grace-led and grace-filled pathway forward. Discernment does not mean slow or passive acting; it means deliberately prayerful, and Spirit-led listening and action so I can best serve Christ and our church, as an individual and needed member of our assembly.
Christine E. Boyle
Christine E. Boyle is the Director of Campus Ministry at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, NJ. As the director she is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Campus Ministry practice areas which include community service, justice education and advocacy, retreats and spirituality, and liturgy. The most rewarding aspect of her job is working one-on-one with students as they engage academically, socially and personally with the Catholic, Jesuit mission of the university.
Prior to joining the Jesuit University of New Jersey she held a variety of residencies in the corporate, nonprofit and educational sectors, developing competencies in training and development, relationship management and fundraising. She worked as a consultant for primarily faith-based clients in the greater New York/New Jersey area. Christine characterizes her professional endeavors as service oriented and community focused, with care for others as a central theme.
She is a proud alumna of the University of Scranton (B.A. History) and the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University (M.Div). She resides in the Jersey City area with husband and family. Outside of work, she is involved in a local women’s prayer group and her parish.
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