Journeying with Jesus- A Lenten Retreat

Here's a Lenten reflection which you might like to use for your personal prayer and to look over the Lenten journey so far and see where we are going for these next few weeks. 

"Journeying with Jesus:

A Lenten Retreat"
Prayer to the Holy Spirit:
Lord Jesus, You promised, "The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in your name, will teach us all things and will remind us of everything you have said to us" (John 14:26). Fill us with the Holy Spirit and His understanding of everything that is happening in our lives.
O Holy Spirit, Jesus asked the Father to give Him the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17). Help us to recognize You in the scriptures. Open our minds to understand Your truths, and open our hearts to accept Your truths in faith.
O Holy Spirit, Jesus said, "The one who receives the seed that falls on good soil hears the word and understands it. He produces an abundant crop" (Matt. 13:23). Be the gardener of our lives. Nourish the seeds of heaven that You have already placed within us and make it grow so that Your love, Your ways, and Your kingdom will always grow within us and produce much good fruit for others.

Come back to me! Joel 2:12
It’s hard to believe that we are already beyond the half-point of our Lenten journey. If we can just back step a little and bring our minds and our hearts back to the liturgical celebration of Ash Wednesday. We think of the Lenten symbols, among which are ashes. As the priest made a sign of the cross on our head with the ashes, he said but a few words, but they were very significant words: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel’…..turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. In these words that accompanied the gesture, the whole programme of our Lenten journey was clearly defined- to turn away from sin, and live in fidelity to the Word. In the gesture of imposing the ashes we were  reminded of two things, firstly of our mortality and of our humanity and secondly of our desire to repent, in sorrow and in humility .
Ash Wednesday marked for us a period of sober reflection, self-examination, and spiritual redirection. We know that at times our human weakness leads us off our Lenten route and so today is an  opportunity to get back on track. The theme for our Day of Prayer and Reflection is a biblical phrase which reminds of the scope  of our Lenten journey: “Come back to me”. Again like the words of the priest on Ash Wednesday it’s only a short phrase yet it realistically reminds us that as a pilgrim people, Lent is precisely about this: coming back to the Lord.  Because if we turn away from ‘something’ we must turn to ‘something’. Another way of living, another sense of meaning must take the place of the former life.
We are familiar with the usual disciplines of Lent; prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Although we often limit fasting as abstaining from food, or from drink, or some other ‘earthly pleasure’ so to speak, but there are other ways of fasting which allow us to feast too.
Fasting from discontent will lead to feasting on gratitude.
Fasting from worry will lead to feasting on hope.
Fasting from self-concern will lead to feasting on compassion for others.
Fasting from pride will lead to feasting on humility.
Fasting from fear will lead to feasting on trust and faith.
Fasting from resentment will lead to feasting on contentment.
Fasting from self-pity will lead to feasting on joy.
Fasting from judging others will lead to feasting with the resurrected Christ.

Often it can be easier to deny ourselves that piece of chocolate or glass of wine, instead of denying ourselves the satisfaction of answering a fellow brother or sister badly, or feeling that ‘I am right’ and they’re wrong and thus denying ourselves from feasting on the above mentioned things. The Gospel invitation towards ‘mercy’ and not just ‘sacrifice’ is very relevant today. A verse from the Book of Joel reminds us of the great mercy of God as we come back to Him.
Joel 2:12: But now -- declares the Lord our God- come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning.'  13 Tear your hearts and not your clothes, and come back to Yahweh your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and he relents about inflicting disaster.  14 Who knows if he will not come back, relent and leave a blessing behind him, an offering and a libation to be presented to the Lord your God?

We turn to the Lord because He has turned to us first. Joel calls us to repentance not for fear of hell, but because the Lord has turned toward us! We return to the Lord  because He's gracious, He's merciful. He's slow to anger. Lent is the opportunity for a new start and a new freedom. Remember, it is never too late for God who always invites, hopes, renews. We see this in Joel’s reminder to his people. God is in the reality, no matter how messy, continually inviting us to change and to ‘let go’ for a better life.
We mentioned already that Lent is a journey….all of us at some stage have set out on a long distance journey where we have had to prepare for this journey. There are various things that we need:
First of all, we must know our destination. If I want to go to Athlone, I know that I must get onto the M50, follow the exits for the west, and then keep an eye out for the different signs. I must stay focused…..yes, there are other signs, to Belfast, to Limerick, to North Dublin, they may look inviting or tempting, but my destination is Athlone. Likewise in the Christian life, our eyes need to be fixed on the destination which is eternal life in Jesus. In the Scriptures we see that Jesus was very decisive about His destination….many times we will see written ‘he set his face like stone towards Jerusalem’. Even when Peter and the disciples try to dissuade him from going to his death, He does not change his route. He knows that after Galilee will come the roads which will lead him to Jerusalem, where he will be crucified, die and rise again. There is no taking shortcuts! Even to the last, the thief mocked Jesus to get down off the cross, to take the easy and the short way out but Jesus remained faithful to the plan of the Father, even in this agony.
However God does not leave us alone on this journey, He gives us various instruments to help us along:
1)Recently in our community we have been introduced to a new friend….he talks to us, he even comes with us on our journeys, he helps us along the way and get to our destinations Yes, the joys of a SAT NAV.  Thinking about this little piece of technology, something in particular struck me, each time as we were driving we took an ‘alternative route’ to what 'he' proposed ( I call it He because it has a male voice!), immediately, he tried to get back onto our other route which would get us to our original destination. Is this not the essence of Christian life, of reconciliation, or coming back to God? God, by sending His Son, ensured that we would never be lost and always have the possibility to get back on the right route through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which in the afternoon we’ll have an opportunity to celebrate.

2) God gives something us else: Companions on the journey. In the Old Testament, the Israelite people wandered in the desert for forty years to reach the Promised Land, but they wandered as a people, their identity as a wandering people was found in their being a community. They lived a common exodus and yet they lived their own personal exodus. In our Lenten journey, we too journey as a people of faith but our exodus ‘out of ourselves’ is on a personal level too. Lent is the journey of the Church, a Church made up of sinner and of saints. The saints intercede for us who still make this earthly pilgrimage and we as sinners, look to them as examples of holiness. There is a lovely expression: “every saint has a past, every sinner has a future”, indeed this gives us much hope as we travel.

3) To keep us safe and keep others safe, we have something else for the trip:  a Code of Rules, or the Rules of  the Road. They exist so that we may live in the fullness of life. Again, as we strive to live our lives, there exists a Code of rules for us, or a handbook which shows us how to live- this is the Scriptures, Jesus made present among us. The Scriptures provoke our conscience and allow us to examine our conscience when we know in our hearts when something is wrong and leads us away from the destination which is Jesus and from carrying out the will of the Father. Sin leads to dead-ends only and the only way to get out is by acknowledging that I am a sinner in need of God’s mercy.

So we see Lent is a time of ‘turning back’ to God, a coming back from exile, and accepting the free gift of being in relationship with God. God is always waiting with the door open; our task is to realise that, in fact, we are often we are far from home and we need to take steps to repair the relationship, always believing that we will get a great welcome. God knocks on the door of our life and wants to enter into our life in a new and creative way. An artist depicts this scene with Jesus knocking on a door of a house however the handle is on the inside. It is up to us to open the door, to make that leap of faith and open our lives to the One who walks with us and desires that we discover his plans for us. God isn’t ‘into’ kicking in or breaking down doors. He knocks on the door of our hearts and invites us to follow Him once more.

The great news is that we are being offered a new start and a chance to put what is negative behind us. Every day we can receive Jesus in the Eucharist  and thus “we carry the treasure in clay vessels’. We become conscious that when we receive Jesus into our hearts and physically into our body, we become his dwelling place. He knows that we are fragile and yet we become living tabernacles which bring Jesus into our broken and troubled world, a sacred space which holds Jesus, carrying Him within us just as Mary his Mother, carried Him in her womb. Our lives are a daily journey of transformation, through the love that Christ has for us personally, towards handing over to the One who loves us unconditionally.  We all know that this journey is filled with many trials and tribulations; times where we can’t see beyond the bend in the road, or where we run out of petrol and come to a halt in our spiritual journey, nonetheless God is in this with us, this is our strength. By moving from whatever darkness is in us, we let the light of God in.

However before we can be at peace with God and others, we need to be at peace with ourselves. No doubt each of us has experienced how difficult it can be to forgive ourselves and others. When we have shown hardness of heart or have said or done the wrong thing in a sensitive situation, we sometimes replay the scene over and over trying to regain peace of mind. Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount that "if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother or sister has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled ... and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:24). Maybe we are not aware of it but this act of reconciliation is the meaning underlying the exchange of peace during our Mass. Often the sharing of peace is simply a greeting for us, but it calls us to be reconciled through this sign of peace.

The journey of Lent is well under way, and maybe we could sum up our preparation for Easter in this points:
1) Lent is about turning back to God; God is always turned towards us and looking for contact and communication especially through prayer and in the sacramental life.
2) The Israelites in the desert were forgetful and had to be reminded by Moses about all the good things God had done for them (Deut 26:1-11). We need to take time to remember how blessed we are, to consider what God has done for us and to appreciate the blessings that are ours.
3) God's promise is one of Good News - ‘of ‘good things' for us, a better life and a freedom from sin. Reconciliation, or healing our life, is possible only through realising that we are forgiven, even though we don't deserve it.
4) Inevitably Lent involves commitment to change, through this free gift of God's love; a conversion of heart and priorities that will mean decisions and doing things differently.
Easter Sunday will then take on its fuller meaning: that we have died with Christ on Good Friday to our ‘old selves' and destructive ways, and have been ‘re-born' on Easter Sunday with Christ to a new life in him.
 As you continue the journey, I wish you every blessing and pray that you may be decisive in arriving at the true destination of eternal life and that your heart be open to the voice of the Jesus who directs you and leads you.

Let us pray:
"Reconcile us to you, O God, that we put on the holiness of Christ and give you glory. Help us to live the season as true disciples on our way to transformation and fullness of life. Grant this as we journey to you with Jesus, our brother, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

Sr. M. Louise O’ Rourke, pddm