Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lenten Reflections as a Novice

About two years ago this day, I was on experiment in Pendleton, OR, shadowing the Jesuit there who worked at the Umatilla Reservation at St. Andrew's Mission, Fr. Mike Fitzpatrick. While I was there, one of the tasks I had was to preach at Mass every so often. So, two years ago, I had an opportunity to give an Ash Wednesday reflection for mass.  It was also that day that I received my driver's license for the first time. Since I've never like driving, it's fitting that it happened during the season of Lent.  

It's always interesting to revisit one's own work after being removed from it. I don't think I would offer the same exact reflection as I am today. But, if you are interested to see the musings of when I was a first year Jesuit novice, here it is: 

"Today, we gather together in communion with people from all over the world as we embark on this most Holy time, the season of Lent. It is a truly a graced time for us, a wonderful season of renewing and returning our hearts back to our God. 

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. I know there are many of us out there in which our first reaction to entering this season is…well let’s just say it doesn’t rank as one of our most favorite seasons. “Ugh…it’s that time of the year again.” We have Thanksgiving and the turkey, we have Christmas and all the presents that we receive, we have Valentine’s day and all the candy hearts. And then there’s Lent and all the…um, ashes, that we receive. I mean come on, you can’t even eat ashes! Well, I guess you can, but I wouldn’t particularly recommend it. 

And what do we get when we receive these ashes? We get to fast. We get to give up meat on Fridays. We get to watch family and friends dangle that piece of chocolate in front of your face that you promised you would give up for the next 40 days. And we get to remind ourselves that strangling them is not part of the spirit of the season. Some presents, huh? 

I wonder, after all of that, if you would believe me when I say that Lent has become one of my most favorite seasons of the year. In a culture in which our seasons are more and more marked by what I receive, this Lenten season challenges and invites us to ask the question: “What can I give?” “What can I offer?” It challenges us to move off of ourselves and return to the One most important in our lives. It’s a very counter-cultural season, and it’s a season we need to embrace. 

It’s not about the meat or that chocolate that we give up. And, as we hear in today’s Gospel, it’s not about giving up things so that you can brag what a devout, Holy Catholic you are. It’s not about us and our own selfish desires. 

Rather, the Gospel challenges us to remove the attention off of ourselves and to turn it back to God. How easy it is for us to do things for our own self-glorification, even if we started doing them with the best of intentions. This temptation can especially be destructive for those in positions of power. We start by wanting to do good, but it has the potential to turn into something where we do it only to receive praise and glory. As a priest-in-training, I am very aware of this temptation, and I pray that what I do may always be for the purpose of bringing all of us closer to God and not to feed my pride. 

And ultimately, that is what this Lenten season is about. It is about growing and deepening our relationship with God. It’s about saying: “I would be willing to sacrifice this part of myself because of my love for you.” It’s about having faith that in the dying to ourselves, we will enter into a fuller, richer life with God. 

Lent, one of my most favorite seasons of the year. It really is a retreat experience that the entire church is called to participate in. 

So, as we enter into this most Holy season and receive our ashes, let us pray that we may strive to participate fully in this retreat, to return our hearts back to God. And let us pray that we may strive to remove that attention from ourselves and set our sights on Christ, who himself sacrificed so much for us. Blessings upon all of you during this season of Lent." 


Travel Monkey said...

I appreciate the reflection you gave way back when. That's a really nice way to interpret Lent. How would your reflections change now?

Ryan Rallanka, SJ said...

Probably at the time that I posted this, I don't think I would have been so tongue-in-cheek towards the beginning of the reflection. I think it's one of those things where, after you've written something before, you don't want to write the same thing again. But, now that I read over it again, I think a lot of the ideas I have are pretty much the same. In that sense, the content at its essence would be pretty similar, but I would probably switch the way I formally conveyed it.