The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 16, 2001 Issue
Bishop Banks' Corner

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

Do something different this Lent

Choose what will prepare you to renew baptismal promises this Easter

By Bishop Robert Banks

What are you doing for Lent this year? It's not too late to start.

Some strange things are being done for Lent in this area of the world. Last week, I visited classrooms at Holy Name School in Kimberly. I was more than surprised to see new rat traps, still in store wrappings, in a box by one of the classroom doors. I couldn't believe we would be having that kind of problem in such a fine school. I was relieved when the principal informed me that the students were collecting food and other useful items to send to Africa. That was their Lenten project.

In last week's column, I mentioned that "doing something different" was the key to our observance of the season of Lent. The Church and Scripture recommend that the "something different" be prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Church law lays out Friday abstinence from meat as the minimum way the Catholic community should observe Lent. Our Compass columnists suggested everything from having a family feast each week to metaphorically "sitting in ashes" and repenting our sins.

Disciple's affair of the heart

My summary of the Lenten situation was that we are called to renew our Baptismal commitment by doing something different, and that something different should include prayer. Lent is supposed to be an affair of the heart between each of us and the Lord Jesus whose disciple we became at Baptism. I don't know of any affair of the heart that does not involve talking together, if the affair is to go anywhere. So prayer, or talking with the Lord, should be a part of our Lenten experience.

What kind of prayer?

Last week, I was talking with some of our fine parish directors of religious education, and the conversation turned to prayer. One director mentioned that today's young people prefer to pray to God in their own words, rather than use the prayers written down in our prayer books. I think she is right, but we both agreed that the average person needs some help in thinking what to say to God and also knowing what God has to say to us.

It just so happened that our conversation had begun with another of the directors mentioning that it is important for us not only to know the Bible, but also to use the Bible in our prayer. She mentioned how the Serendipity Bible for Catholics could help people use the Scriptures for prayer. I am sure that the RENEW groups have found that faith-sharing about a passage of Scripture can lead very easily to prayer.

Godly reading

For centuries, a form of prayer called Lectio divina (Godly reading) has been a favorite of people who wanted to use the Bible for prayer. A person would choose a Scripture passage, read it slowly or even aloud, then quietly focus on a line or even a word that stood out. After sitting with that word or line for a while, reflecting on what it might mean in that person's life, it was natural to talk to God about it. The person would then end up with a familiar prayer like the Our Father.

During Lent that kind of prayer could center on the Gospel readings for Sunday or for each day. The question lying within such prayer during Lent is basically, "How do I become a more faithful disciple of the Lord who loves me?"

A time to think

Praying with the Bible is not easy for many people, especially if they live a hectic life that doesn't allow for much quiet time alone. A more familiar and perhaps easier way of praying the Bible is to pray the Rosary. It was not by accident that those who thought up the Rosary made reflection on the "mysteries" or events of Jesus' and Mary's life central to that method of prayer. The recitation of the Our Father and 10 Hail Marys gives the person time to think about what Jesus did for us and how Mary responded to the will of the God who loved her.

For some of today's Catholics, the Rosary is too old-fashioned and the idea of repeating the same prayers time after time leaves them cold. A person, of course, does not have to love the Rosary in order to be a good Catholic. The essential is prayer, not a particular form of prayer. But it is interesting that some of the forms of prayer being imported by modern Americans from the religions of the East use the repetition of a word or sound as a way of quieting and focusing the mind. Maybe our Catholic ancestors were on to something with the Rosary. In any case, saying the Rosary or a couple decades of the Rosary would be "something different for Lent" this year.

Another form of prayer that could be "something different for Lent" is daily Mass. Now Fr. McBrien in his last week's column on Lent could not see how daily Mass would be a good resolution for Lent. He said that it was not a form of devotion, and therefore implied that it should be crossed off the list as a Lenten practice.

Get up early to be close

I like daily Mass as a way of observing Lent. That affection for daily Mass as a Lenten observance goes back to before I had to go to daily Mass as a seminarian and priest. The practice combined the hardship or penance of getting up early and the difficult-to-describe experience of closeness to the Lord.

Now that I am what some might call a professional pray-er, I see involvement in the celebration of the Eucharist as a very fitting way to prepare for a renewed appreciation of the happenings of that first Holy Week we recall each year on Good Friday and Easter.

However, Lent is not a time to argue about how we pray. It is a time for each person to find her or his own way of "doing something different" in prayer as we prepare to renew our Baptismal commitment to the Lord who loves us.

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