By Barb Arland-Fye
Sometimes when he hears a person’s confession, Bishop Thomas Zinkula will give this penance: “I want you to think of someone you know who is struggling right now and pray for that person.” We, as sinners, can focus too much on ourselves and in the process lose track of others, the bishop told me during this month’s Catholic Messenger Conversations podcast.
His Lenten letter to the people of the diocese inspired the podcast topic, “On the Lenten journey.” In his letter, I noted that he raised a “both/and” point. While it is good to reflect on the “I”, this season — as in what am I doing this Lent, Bishop Zinkula said we also need to reflect on the “we” — what are we doing this Lent.
As we approach the fourth Sunday of Lent, it seems appropriate to reflect on our journey thus far and what adjustments to make. Do we need to change course? In my own reflection preparing for the podcast, I wondered how to balance the individual and communal aspects of Lent. How can “we” make this Lenten season a fruitful one, I asked the bishop.
In our tendency to focus on personal prayer, we can lose sight of the communal aspect of life and the common good, he said. When we consider the common good, our petition to pray for Aunt Suzy, who is ill, becomes a prayer for Aunt Suzy and all who are ill. We pray for all people who are seeking employment and not just our loved ones.
I asked the bishop to share some ways in which we can engage in the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that can stretch us this Lenten season. His examples, taking the communal approach, enrich and expand our Lenten practices and give them more meaning, in my mind.
We do not fast to lose weight, for example, but to unite our suffering with the suffering of others who do not have a choice. Almsgiving should inspire us to give freely of ourselves, lifting up the needs of others and trusting that God will provide for our needs. Communal prayer invites us to participate in a small faith-sharing group, Bible study, daily Mass, Stations of the Cross and even fish fries! “There’s something good in coming together and enjoying that side of Lent,” Bishop Zinkula said.
How do you evaluate your progress on the journey? I asked. What happens when you slip? “It’s not the end of the world. It’s not a sin,” the bishop said. Sometimes when people slip, they give up in discouragement over perceived failure. So, “regroup, recommit and keep going. It’s not a matter of progress or competition or success,” he said. “It’s growing closer to the Lord. It’s growing deeper in love with God and Jesus and getting to know them better.”
In his letter, Bishop Zinkula described Lent as “a journey that calls us to embrace the life-long task of conversion, of turning away from sin and embracing the Gospel.” I asked him for examples of how to do that. The sacrament of reconciliation came to mind immediately, he said. “It forces us to take a good, close look at our lives.” This “sacrament of honesty” inspires us to examine our conscience more seriously than we would in a private examination of conscience, he said.
Sin interferes with our relationships, how we feel about others and our relationship with God. “We’re invited to name it and put it on the table. God can’t do anything or he’s not going to do anything until we give this to him, give it to Jesus on the cross.” We feel better about ourselves and closer to Jesus through our participation in the sacrament of reconciliation. “How can we not be better people with a God who loves us like that, who died on the cross to free us from sin and death?”
You can listen to the podcast at www.catholicmessenger.net/podcasting or on your favorite podcasting app.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)