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Father Muench Says...

Companions for my Lenten journey

Feb.24, 2016

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Lent is flying right by.  Some days when I consider my Lenten program this year, I am rather disappointed; I don’t seem to be becoming holier. 

Am I becoming a better person this year?  I really haven’t changed that much. I still give in to my usual temptations, even those that interfere with my relationship with God. 

So, I have to get serious about my resolutions for Lent. I need a lot more time for prayer.  I simply can’t miss these opportunities give me during this sacred season of Lent.

The next step for me is to find some help from some companions for Lent.  My first thought is Thomas Merton.  You remember him and his wonderful writings.  Merton became a Catholic during his college days and, later on, became a Trappist Monk and a priest. His writings beginning with his early biography and the many journals that contained his teaching on prayer.

Merton was also very ecumenical and reached out to others of various faiths, searching for further ideas about prayer.  Near the end of his life he studied Buddhism and searched to find meaning in the prayer life of Buddhists.  He died in an accident while attending a conference in India, a meeting of Christians and Buddhists.
I would like share a bit from the writing of Thomas Merton. This is powerful thought that is familiar to many from his book, “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.” 

He writes this:  “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.  It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness.”
Will I ever have this holiness, this understanding of the following of Christ – a goal for Lent?

My next companion will be Catherine Doherty.  Again, I am certain that you know about her. She is the Founder of the community of laymen, lay women, and priests called Madonna House, located in Combermere, Ontario. 
Catherine’s writings continue to be a gold mine of spiritual wisdom and a guide for my prayer life.  She has always been a wonderful guide for many years for me.  She urges me to set good goals for my Lent.

I would like to quote from her book on “Reflections in Lent.” She writes this, “How much do I love?  How often in my life does the pronoun ‘I’ disappear – replaced by the words, them, us, him or her?  In this we have a very simple yardstick of love.  Let us say a though comes into your mind: ‘I want to do this.’  If it is something God would like you to do, go ahead and do it.  But if not, erase it and keep on erasing it.  The world ‘I’ will disappear.
I just now looked at my book case with some of my favorite books and I came upon another good companion for Lent – that is Brother David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B.  I have ready and enjoyed many of Brother David’s books; they have a good influence on me. 

This book that I noticed today is entitled, “Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, An Approach to Life in Fullness.”
Let me share with you a quote from this book: “Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned uninterrupted prayer at all.  The very thought may seem over-awing and scare someone off.  Many of us might, in fact, say: ‘Praying at all times? Goodness! From when I find myself it would be a long way even to praying at those times when I am saying my prayers!’  All right, then, let us start once again where we are.  What is it to the secret of that spontaneous prayerfulness? That would be the clue to praying when we are saying prayers.  Eventually it may lead to praying at all times.”

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