When you are not having a Holy Lent . . .

I always have high hopes for a holy Lent.  I make plans for getting my prayer life on track and for adding some other disciplines.

But usually, I find after a certain point my efforts are futile.  Or, I can make an effort successfully for a day, and then see everything fall apart the next.

For example, I know my prayers in the morning will go a lot better if I do not look at my phone first thing.   If I check my email, or worse, check Twitter or Facebook, then there’s a good chance my prayers will be perfunctory and superficial or worse: they are not prayed at all.  Sometimes, though, even if I don’t check my phone, I can feel like I’m going through the motions as I pray the office, pray the Rosary, and so on, as if these are duties I have to check off every morning.   Certainly, I feel a lot better if I do these things, but is checking off a list what it’s all about?   It seems to take a lot of time to press in to the Lord among crowded thoughts, pressing work, and even when I take the time, it can feel dry some of the time.

Saturday, I woke up, checked my phone, made breakfast and never bothered to do my morning prayers.  I spent the morning on the internet.  In the afternoon, I went to a baby shower where there were all kinds of goodies and I ate everything in sight.  Even though I was doing what I wanted to do in the moment, I had this sense of blowing it, of feeling  “Meh!” and,worst of all, apart from God.  At the same time, I was also asking why I had to work so hard to find Him.  I really had been trying previous days.  Okay, some of them!

I guess God heard my complaint, because before going to bed that night, I had that wonderful sense of being drawn into prayer, instead of having to force myself. My spiritual director  encourages me to sit quietly and ask the Lord for a word, which I often don’t do.   But I did in that lovely peace Saturday night.

What came to me were the words “Ravish me” —-because I vaguely remembered a poem by John Donne, which I rediscovered lately when I googled those words.    Donne was born to a recusant family, but turned against the Catholic Church after his brother died in prison of bubonic plague.  The brother had been imprisoned for harboring a priest.  Donne eventually became an Anglican.   I guess we could call him patrimonial.

This poem became my prayer:

 Batter my heart, three-person’d God

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
Fr. Bob Bedard, the late founder of the Companions of the Cross, used to advise people to give God permission.   So, this poem I coupled with giving God permission to ravish me, enthrall me, break through my lukewarm comfort zone, set me on fire.
I am tired of laboring to admit Him—I can’t even do it well, or consistently.   I always think this is the point of Lent, to show us how futile are any efforts we make to improve ourselves.
So, I gave him permission to batter my heart, to lay hold of me, to pierce me with His divine love.

1 thought on “When you are not having a Holy Lent . . .

  1. That sonnet has been one of my favorites since I first discovered it as a college student. It’s as good as any psalm, I think. We are often disappointed with ourselves during Lent because we tend to think of it as a time for spiritual achievements: I’ll say this many prayers, give up this many pleasures, give this much to the poor, etc., And that way I’ll earn the good feels of Easter. And if I don’t achieve all those things, I’ll pay for my failure by feeling bad for a few days (or weeks).

    This year I tried to approach Lent as a time when I accompany the Lord into the wilderness, to be alone with Him, to listen for the still, small voice of God, and, yes, to be tempted with Him. I make Him my first thought after waking, and read the readings from the day’s Mass, then reflect on them in a prayer journal I started this Lent. So far, this is proving to be much more fruitful than thinking of Lent as something akin to those fitness courses where you have to climb walls, wriggle under barbed wire, and run yourself to exhaustion spiritually.


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