Fourth Gospel 13: 33- 14:9
Stories Seldom Heard. I would especially like to
welcome those who participated in the preaching workshop in Houston,
appropriate to receive “Stories Seldom Heard” on March 1st,
Ash Wednesday. Many of us will be able to attend Mass today and
received the blessed ashes. Others of us might only be able to
receive the blessed ashes at a prayer service. But either way those
ashen crosses that are smudged on our foreheads are a gift. The
word “blessed” ashes makes all the difference in the world. Today,
Ash Wednesday, reminds us of our true identity. We are not only
children of God and disciples of Jesus, but also the ashes remind us
that we are earthlings. We are not the Creator. We are not in
charge. We are God’s creation: earth creatures.
the blessed ashes we are acknowledging our dependency on God. We are
also declaring that we want to be more intentional disciples. It is
not hard to know what Jesus has asked of us. Throughout scripture,
by his example and certainly in Jesus’ farewell address at the Last
Supper, Jesus boldly states his expectations. “I give you a new
command: love one another; just as I have loved you, you must love
one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will
know that you are my disciples” (Jn 13:34). Jesus’ command is
straight forward and demanding. Yet, at the same time he reassures
us that we are not on our own. “I have said these things to you
while I am still with you; but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom
the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will
remind you of all I have said to you” (Jn 14:25).
choose to receive the blessed ashes we publicly announce our desire
for and our need of repentance. In Hebrew “repentance” means to
turn around, retrace our steps; change direction. In Greek
“repentance” 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. Deep change is a slow process. We know that. It is a
step-by-step, choice-by-choice process. So how do we begin? By
stopping, praying for guidance and deciding today what we will
practice for the next forty days with the intention that our Lenten
practice might become a habit.
Fasting is a
traditional Lenten practice. Fasting helps us acknowledge our
dependency on God. It also has the potential of helping us grow
more compassionate towards those who are physically hungry. It is a
way to be in solidarity with those who do not have daily bread.
Furthermore, the money we save on simple meals during Lent, and
perhaps as a practice throughout the year, could be sent to local,
national and international food or justice organizations (i.e. Bread
for the World, Southern Poverty Law Center, a local free clinic).
There are also some kinds of fasting that cost us nothing except
self-discipline. We could fast from judging others, from pettiness
or from using harsh or angry words. We could fast from half-truths
and misleading statements and feast on building strong relationships
based on truth. Some of us might not be able to physically fast,
but we could fast our time. In other words, share our time
graciously with those who are lonely or in need of support. A man
I know began many Lents ago visiting a rest home near his home.
When admired by friends he says, “If I have time for golf once or
twice a month, I have time for a weekly visit with my new friends
John and Harry in the rest home.” Women and men from our parish
visit men on death row, teach classes or hold spiritual direction
sessions at San Quentin State Prison, CA. There are groups of lay
women who visit the women’s jail. They do some counselling and
offer weekly prayer services. There’s an interfaith group of
families who pack bags of food at our local food pantry. Many teens
and adults run 5K -10K races to raise money for children who need
basic school supplies.
Many of us,
however, do not have extra time. There are other ways to stretch
our hearts. Many people have been involved in helping children in
other nations through the Unbound Organization.* Over the years they
have made monthly financial contributions. Just recently, a friend
of mine met a man whom she had contracted to work on her house.
During their conversation she talked about a girl she has been
supporting in Guatemala. The man was deeply moved. After seeing
the girl’s photo on my friend’s refrigerator, he told her that as a
child he had received funds for his education through the Unbound
program! He said that thirty members of his village in Ecuador had
received financial aid. They were now living productive lives
because of the faithful generosity of those who contributed to
Unbound. What a gift (and surprise) to my friend to meet and hear
the voice of gratitude from a man whose life had been changed by
people like her through Unbound.
What I have
mentioned above might be decisions we have already made. If that is
true for you, then perhaps we might think more deeply. Jesus’ words
“To love others as I have loved you” is a radical commandment. It
is a call to make deep changes in our lives. These words call all
of us to serious reflection. How can we become people of justice,
people of peace? How can we cross the borders of prejudice and
hate? How can we accept and show our care and compassion for all
people? Jews and Greeks, slaves and free women and men, all people
of all nations are made in God’s image. How can we proclaim the
mind and heart of Christ in our lies as we accept the ultimate sign
of God’s non-violent love?
What I have
found, by the grace of God, is often the Lenten practices I have
chosen have opened my mind and heart to the next step to which God
was leading me. My prayer for you is that through sincere and
thoughtful reflection God will grace you with holy wisdom and
courage so you will be able to live out Jesus’ vision of love more
fully. Let us pray for one another as we enter into this blessed
and dangerous journey.
Is this a Fast, to keep
the larder lean?
on fat of Veal and Sheep?
Is it to quit the dish
of Flesh, yet still
the platter high with fish?
Is it to fast an hour
or ragged go,
a down cast look, and sour?
No: ‘This is a fast, to give
your sheaf of wheat
unto the hungry soul.
It is to fast from strife,
from old debate
to circumcise your life.
To show a heart grief-rent;
to starve your sin,
not your larder
and that’s to keep your Lent.
Adapted from Robert Herrick’s poem on Lent (1591-1674)
thanks to Mary Ellen Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped in
editing 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, please send a note to
If you would like to support this ministry, please send your
contributions to Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, c/o Sister
Patricia Bruno, O.P., 638 36th Street, Richmond, CA 94805.