March 2006

Dear brothers and sisters,

As Iíve written before, I find it somewhat difficult to choose voluntary penances during Lent - especially in the "fasting" category. This year Iíve made a very small attempt in that direction. One can hardly call it a generous response to Godís grace when I carefully balanced the "annoyance factor" (there HAS to be some) with my willingness (or not) to give it up for 40 days! (Giving up Brussels sprouts for Lent would NOT be a sacrifice for me, for instanceÖand giving up caffeine is more than Iím ready to attempt.) However small, this bit of fasting is enough to remind me on a fairly regular basis that it IS Lent, and I hope thatís part of the point.

Coming from a Christian tradition that didnít observe Lent, I do like the fact that we have a season when we are called to make changes that turn us back to God. I find that itís a lot easier for me to make a 40-day commitment to fast from a bad habit (or just a time-wasting activity) than it is to commit to giving it up entirely. At least sometimes, by the end of 40 days, the good habits may have taken hold so I wonít go back to my previous ways; in any case, itís a step in the right direction. It has always made more sense to me that adding GOOD things (daily Mass, spiritual reading, doing for others) and giving up bad habits were better penances than, say, giving up sweets. At least, thatís what Iíve liked to tell myself! It does seem to be in keeping with the Franciscan ďpositiveĒ approach to life to seek penances that will make me a better person.

On the other hand, I canít look to Francis to make me feel comfortable with, well, being comfortable! Where I negotiate and hold back, Francis and Clare gave up everything for God. For the most part, the things they gave up were not bad in themselves, just as the sweets and other things we give up during Lent arenít bad in themselves. Francis and Clare gave up all worldly goods so that nothing would get in the way of their relationship with God. When I look at it this way, it makes sense that Clareís flight to San Damiano took place on Palm Sunday Ėat the peak of Lent.

As Secular Franciscans, we are called to be something that Francis and Clare could not be with their complete giving of themselves to God. By making that radical choice, they could not simultaneously make the kingdom of God present in families, in businesses, in all the day-to-day activities that, require us to be committed to spouse, work, children, in addition to being committed to God. Even Jesus, when He was present on earth in the flesh, could not be everywhere at once! Through His Spirit, we are part of making Christ present everywhere, in the ordinary affairs of life.

So, I pray for all of us this Lent that whatever do, whether giving up or doing more, will bring us closer to Christ. With Godís grace, we will be better able to share the Good News with everyone we meet, using words if necessary.

Peace and all good on your Lenten journeyÖVickie