Lent – a time of personal retreat

At Mass on Ash Wednesday I suggested to the congregation in Multy and to those joining on webcam that we might regard the season of Lent as a time of personal and communal retreat.

Later that morning I was in the Mercy Convent in Longford celebrating Mass for the retired sisters and distributing the blessed ashes. And again, I recommended this holy season as a time of retreat in preparation for the highlight of the liturgical year, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.

The quality of our Holy Week and Easter celebration will depend in part on the quality of our preparation beginning this Wednesday, just as Christmas can pass us by if we do not have a favourable Advent.

I mentioned in my homily to the sisters the story about G.K. Chesterton, that great English Catholic writer of the mid twentieth century. He had drifted away from his Anglican faith as a young person but experienced a conversion as an adult, leading him to his true home, the Roman Catholic faith. It is said that GK tended to be absent-minded, and being a busy man, was often travelling to various speaking engagements.

On one such occasion, he stopped in a train station and sent a telegram home which read: “Am in Liverpool, where ought I to be now?” Now, I think that this question is not merely a geographical query on the part of a man who had mislaid his diary, but a deeper question in his heart at that moment, “Where ought I to be in relation to God and my fellow man?

And this tale may invite anyone on retreat to ask a similar pointed question of oneself: “Where am I in relation to God, neighbour, community, and even the whole of creation, and where ought I to be?” In other words, our Lenten retreat should focus on the gap between our present imperfect situation and the place God is calling us to be.

The traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are meant to help us in judging and then bridging that gap more and more, enabling us to achieve that completeness and wholeness God wants for each and every one of us. Be holy for I am holy.

Have a happy / blessed Lent.

Kieran ofm