For the second time in my life I am reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography, “The Seven Storey Mountain.” I first picked it up purely by accident during my first week in the seminary, 1949. I am reading it again in 2017.
A guy who wanders around the desert in camel hair, eating bugs and tenaciously speaking truth to those in power captures my imagination. And yet, this year I find myself thinking not only of Saint John, but of the poor guy who, with no warning, was given the grizzly task of beheading Saint John.
We can only imagine the various moments of prayer in Mary and Joseph’s lives as they raised the young Jesus. We can likewise ponder the tone and content of her prayer as she accompanied her Son in his ministry, and especially during his passion and crucifixion. Lent calls us to renew our own conversation with God in prayer…
Our “God of surprises,” to quote Ted Miles of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), awed me in January through an invitation to join the CRS ”Called to Witness Ethiopia” immersion trip.
“I know I look forward to Lent, but I also know how I struggle to embrace its penitential nature. This is a stark reminder of how comfortable I have become with worldly things, and how lethargic is my spirit even in its thirst for God.”
It is clear that our Lenten practices cannot be ‘private.’ This season of conversion is an invitation to first be reconciled with Christ and then to be Christ-like in our relationships with one another.
Lent is upon us, and I have been inspired by the words of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in which they call us during this time to devote ourselves to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy that “remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbors in body and spirit.”
Is it possible to love and pray for those who offend us — even our enemies? Is it possible to suffer and find blessings even in persecution? I know of four people on the way to sainthood in the United States who exude such hope.
My friend’s ministry to the undocumented in prison had led her to befriend this man, who had been beaten and threatened by members of El Shabaab, a jihadist terrorist group based in Somalia. My friend offered her home to the man while he awaits another hearing on his asylum plea.