Persons, places and things: Spending Lent with Uncle Joe


By Barb Arland-Fye

My uncle Joe called to ask about my health but the conversation eventually turned to our shared love of the Catholic Church. I’ve looked up to Joe since childhood when I followed him around Grandma’s house in St. Paul, Minn., and accompanied him on rides to the auto parts store or to White Castle for hamburgers. He and his wife, my aunt Barbara, live in Maryland so we don’t get to see each other in person as often as I’d like.


Joe and I share another bond: both of us were diagnosed with and treated for Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. His calls to me after each round of my chemotherapy treatments last year provided a boost of encouragement. During the phone call a few weeks ago, we talked about our favorite books of the Bible. Joe, a lifelong learner, studies Scripture in depth. He especially appreciates Paul’s letters in the New Testament, which inspired this proposal for Lent: our own Bible study of Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

We’ll cover the 16 chapters of Romans over the course of 40 days and talk by phone once a week to reflect on some questions that Joe will draft for our self-guided study. “The Catholic Bible: Personal Study Edition” (Oxford University Press) states that Paul’s Letter to the Romans has “long held pride of place” in all of Paul’s letters. “It is the longest and most systematic unfolding of the apostle’s thought, expounding the gospel of God’s righteousness that saves all who believe.”


Jean Marie Hiesberger, general editor of The Catholic Study Bible, makes this observation that resonates with me. “Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a powerful exposition of the doctrine of the supremacy of Christ and of faith in Christ as the source of salvation. It is an implicit plea to the Christians in Rome, and to all Christians, to hold fast to that faith.”

Truth be told, I often enter Lent with reluctance because it tests my ability to be less self-centered and more selfless. Plenty of Catholics, me included, debate whether to “add to” or “give up” something during Lent (in addition to the mandatory requirements). Ultimately, the decision should be based on how my Lenten practices will help me to grow closer in my relationship with our Triune God and to respond to the needs of others, first. I often choose a small thing to give up during Lent, but inevitably, it begins to feel like a thorn in my side, perhaps not unlike the one Paul describes in his side!

This Lent I also plan to read Bishop Robert Barron’s daily “Lenten Gospel Reflections.” The passage from Matthew’s Gospel for Ash Wednesday instructs me to make self-sacrifices in such a way that no one will notice but God. I may have already broken that rule by talking about my plans in this column.

I’m excited about this new Lenten practice I will begin with Uncle Joe and hope others will consider doing something similar. God desires for us to have companions on the journey. I look forward to having Joe as one more companion on my journey through Lent. I think I’ll cherish the experience even more than I did stopping with Joe at the auto parts store or getting hamburgers at White Castle.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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