Thursday, February 28, 2008


In some parts of the francophone world, Thursday of the Third Week of Lent is traditionally celebrated as "Mi-Carême," the symbolic middle point of the Lenten season. The most notable characteristic of communal celebrations of Mi-Carême is the relaxation of Lenten discipline: the day is typically marked by lots of eating, drinking, and festive merrymaking. The basic message of Mi-Carême is the following: we've made it halfway through Lent and Easter is in sight, so let us give thanks to God for his great mercy before recommitting ourselves to penance. Whether or not the average person approaches Mi-Carême with this exact attitude, the insight behind the celebration remains a good one.

Lent ought to be a time for thanksgiving, a time to enumerate and express gratitude for God's many gifts to us. As we recall the ways in which God has blessed us, we should also consider how we have responded to God's love and how we might offer a better and fuller response in the future. In a way, the Lenten season offers an opportunity for a kind of retreat in daily life. One way of approaching our Lenten retreat is to consider the questions that St. Ignatius poses at the start of the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I to do for Christ? During Lent, we have an opportunity to reflect upon our own answers to these questions. As we examine the areas of light and shadow in our lives, we should consider our actions and attitudes in light of the choice that we have made to follow Christ. As we move ever closer to the time of the Lord's Passion and Resurrection, we should consider whether or not the choices we make each day are consistent with the one choice that ought to define who we are.

One of the comments on my Ash Wednesday post asked whether I experience Lent differently as a Jesuit. I believe that the preceding paragraph provides a partial answer to the question - as a Jesuit, my experience of Lent is conditioned by my experience of the Spiritual Exercises. In the Season of Lent, Christians are called to repent for their sins and to recommit themselves to lives of discipleship. In a similar way, individuals making the Exercises are called to a recognition of themselves as sinners who are nonetheless loved by God and called to serve Him. The liturgical readings of Lent, Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum invite to accompany Christ through his earthly ministry, his suffering and death, and his ultimate resurrection to glory. The Spiritual Exercises offer us a way of entering into these events in a particularly profound way through the practice of Ignatian contemplation. I could write much more about this, but for now it should suffice to say that my experience of Lent has been deeply influenced by the Spiritual Exercises in particular and by Ignatian spirituality in general.

On another level, living in Jesuit community has added a new dimension to my experience of Lent. There is a real sense in which each of us journeys through Lent alone, coming before God with our own strengths, gifts, sins and shortcomings. At the same time, making this journey with one's brothers in religion can be a great source of blessing and consolation. Once in a while, things will happen in community that remind me that every Jesuit goes through Lent in his own unique way - at the dinner table, for instance, one gets a sense of the different things that individuals elect to give up by way of food and drink. We may sometimes speak with one another about the particular joys and struggles of our Lenten journey, but the greater hallmark of a Jesuit Lent seems to be a silent sense of solidarity. Lent is something we all do together, yet it's still something each of us has to do by himself.

The notion that Lent is something we do both alone and together might struck some readers as paradoxical. This may be so, but it strikes me that the same paradox is present in every Christian's experience of life in the Church. As a Church, we are called to live and to worship together as a community of faith. At the same time, each of us has been called by God in a unique way - each of us has received a personal invitation to follow Jesus Christ. At this middle point of Lent, as we take stock of our journey toward the Feast of the Lord's Resurrection, we may do well to reflect upon the nature of the call that we have each received. On Thursday of the Third Week in Lent, how have I come to be where I am? Looking forward to the second half of Lent, where is God calling me to go? AMDG.


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