Stories Seldom Heard
223rd Edition - February 2018
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard.
I would like to especially welcome the WINGS Group (Women in God’s
Spirit), Oakland, California, and the women of the Immaculate
Conception Parish Retreat, Raleigh, North Carolina.
It seems a bit early to start
thinking of Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday and Lent, but they are just
around the corner. In fact, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday
arrive on the same day! Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Ash
Wednesday. The city of New Orleans certainly celebrates it in great
style, but they are not alone. Many of us have Mardi Gras parties.
The following is an adapted version of Gertrude Mueller Nelson’s
description of a grand Fat Tuesday celebration followed by a serious
turning towards our Lenten journeys.
“Tonight, I have danced with the
bagman. Tonight, I have danced with a general. I have danced with
clowns and cowboys. I have danced with the president and an
elephant. I have danced with a cheerleader, with Apollo, with
Dionysius. Tonight, I have danced with God…. After the carnival
feasting, after the last games and the dances, we sing our final
“Alleluia.” We will not hear or use the word “Alleluia” - this
expression of greatest joy - until it is sung again during the
Easter night services…. Drawing the revelry to a close, we face
into tomorrow's Ash Wednesday. We offer one another a sign of peace
and best wishes for a holy and fruitful Lent.”
The Ash Wednesday scene described by
G.M. Nelson is perhaps a little dramatic, but it’s a good reminder
that we are entering into a unique season. In fact, I have often
found that Lent is a “gifting” time. We don’t often think of Lent
in this way. But I find that whatever energy I put into my Lenten
practices, arrives a hundred-fold on my Easter doorstep – or soon
Traditionally we approach Lent with
thoughts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. All three of these
practices have deep biblical roots that are intimately connected to
repentance, a word that implies a radical change on our part. In
Hebrew repentance means to turn around, retrace our steps; change
direction. In Greek it means to change one’s mind or outlook, to
change one's horizons or expectations. It implies a change of
heart, a deep interior change that affects everything we desire and
everything we do. Saint Paul names it “a dying to the old self.”
We understand what this dying to the
old self means. In truth, we die many times in many different ways
before our final death. A woman told me recently about her struggle
with alcoholism. "To acknowledge it was hard enough," she said, "but
then came the daily struggle to break my old patterns." Anyone who
has ever been part of this process her/himself, or anyone who has
walked with a friend or family member understands the many “dyings”
that must take place before there is a sense of resurrection.
During Lent we will sing and pray
again the hymn, “Change Our Hearts This Time.” But what might this
change of direction and change of heart look like in our lives? God
doesn’t ask of us endless sacrifice, but God does ask us to, “Cease
to do evil...Learn to do good, search for justice, help the
oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow" (Is 1:11, 15,
17). We hear God’s command and we try to respond daily. We care
for our aging parents, visit people in our community nursing homes,
bring Communion to the sick, and volunteer at homeless shelters. We
care for our families, do an honest day’s work and are serious about
our prayer life. What more are we to do? It’s hard to add one more
items to our list of spiritual practices. Besides, self-imposed
fasting seems so old fashioned and out of date.
Well, perhaps we could think of
fasting as a “not doing” rather than a “doing one more thing.” In
other words, we could choose not to eat a particular type of food or
not to gossip. We could avoid a pettiness of spirit and a meanness
of heart. We could fast from tightly held resentments or turn away
from the anger that we have allowed to fester. We could silence our
spiteful words, hurtful remarks and unreasonable expectations. We
might want to speak less and listen longer and more attentively.
Forty days is a substantial amount of
time. Forty days could help us set some new patterns in our lives.
But before we choose what our fasting practice might be for this
Lent, we might want to ask ourselves some questions. What could
help me be a more peaceful person? What area of my life do I want
God to help me change? Is there a relationship to which I need to
be more attentive? What is lacking in my relationship with God?
The following are other possibilities
that you might choose to do. You might decide to do one or two of
the following suggestions as a family or a small Christian Community
Lenten practice. Many of them relate to food and hunger issues. I
have found these suggestions helpful in my own life. I hope you do,
1. Fast for those who do not have
daily bread. The money you save on simple meals all year can be
sent to local, national and international funds. Choose one agency
on each level to support. (i.e. Bread for the World, Southern
Poverty Law Center, a local free clinic).
Fast to acknowledge our dependency on God. Nowadays many of
us live in areas where out of season foods are plentiful and are
offered all year long. Choose to eat only those fruits, grains and
vegetables that are in season during Lent. Extend this practice to
include the rest of the year.
3. Fast in solidarity. Fasting is
the great social leveler. It makes all of us beggars. It reminds us
to place the survival of others before our personal desires and
Fast for peace. In the Bishops' Pastoral on Peace which was
written in 1983, the bishops asked us to fast one day a week for
peace in the world.
Fast for those who can’t or should not fast from food or
drink. When you do this pray for those in refugee camps and those
who are displaced.
Fast from judging others. Feast on clear thinking and
Fast from instant gratification. Re-examine compulsions,
hungers, impulses, cravings.
Fast from hurried eating. Pray "Grace" intentionally. Eat at
a table. Be attentive to what you are eating. Appreciate the
flavors, colors and textures. Don't take the food or cook for
Fast with a sense of hospitality. Share a meal with someone
who is lonely. Bring a dinner to someone who cannot leave her/his
house. Bring a treat to someone in a rest home or someone in a
full-care facility. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Visit a prisoner
on a weekly/monthly basis.
This is a fast for travelers and vacationers. Consider
tithing 10% (more or less) of the cost of your trip/vacation to a
not-for-profit organization that resides in the place/country to
which you travel.
What is it that God is asking of us?
"The sacrifice I desire is a contrite heart."
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green
and Maria Hetherton who have helped edit this article.
"Stories Seldom Heard" is a
monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a
Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered
to the Christian community to enrich one's personal and spiritual
life. The articles can be used for individual or group reflection.
If you would like "Stories Seldom Heard" sent to a friend,
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Patricia Bruno, O.P., St. Dominic’s Convent, 2517 Pine Street, San