Lent: a time to pause


By Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

How many of us have not fired off an email or text and regretted the decision soon after sending it? The remedy seems so simple: pause before we press the “Send” button that launches a war of hurtful, inflammatory and alienating words. In our culture, where even school board elections and entertainment can divide us, we give ourselves permission to insult someone with whom we disagree or choose incendiary rather than diplomatic words to make our point. Think of the communion we could create by taking the time to pause.

Lent is a time to pause, as Pope Francis says in his Lenten message this year (http://tinyurl.com/yyt5u9hf).  “To pause in prayer, in order to receive the word of God, to pause like the Samaritan in the presence of a wounded brother or sister. Love of God and love of neighbor are one love.” Loving God may seem a whole lot easier than loving a neighbor who insults or berates us, who questions our motives and dismisses our ideas.

To pause requires us to slow down, to reflect on the impact of our words and actions on others. Diocesan Evangelization Director Patrick Schmadeke recently shared a link to a letter that St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote in 1546 to several Jesuit theological advisors, advising them on how to deal with others at the Council of Trent. His advice 478 years ago offers invaluable insights applicable to our observance of Lent as a time to pause. 

Among other things, “He advises the three men to ‘be slow to speak, deliberate and loving’ on matters before the council. When disagreements arise, the men were to ‘mention arguments on both sides, so as not to appear attached to my own judgment, taking care not to leave anyone annoyed,’” according to the Portal to Jesuit Studies, which posted the letter on its website (http://tinyurl.com/bdvn6973). Here are few gems from the letter that should inspire us to pause:

  • I would be slow to speak and careful to listen, keeping still in order to grasp and understand the speaker’s ideas, feelings, and inclinations, so as the better to respond or keep silence.
  • In discussions of these or other topics, I would mention arguments for both sides, so as not to appear attached to my own judgment, taking care not to leave anyone annoyed.
  • … I would keep on good terms with everyone and avoid all partisanship.
  • … [It] is very helpful not to take into account my own leisure, lack of time, or urgency—that is, my own convenience—but instead to adapt myself to the convenience and condition of the person with whom I wish to deal, so as to move him to God’s greater glory.

A thoughtful guide of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on “Loving our neighbor through dialogue” (http://tinyurl.com/25kbmf77) offers suggestions applicable to our observance of Lent as a time to pause. This guide taps into Pope Francis’ encyclical “Fratelli Tutti:”

  • Listen to be understood.
  • Recognize God’s presence in each person.
  • Engage in formation of our consciences through prayerful reflection, Scripture study, Church teaching and guidance from reputable resources.
  • Ask ourselves, “What could I love about this person? I must remember that he or she is a child of God, whether I know him or her personally.”

“Given the rapid pace and perpetual nature of change in the world today, most people tend to speed everything up, including conversations,” observes Dan Ebener, who teaches in the Masters of Organizational Leadership program at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. “Listening is a single-minded activity that ensures open, honest and effective communication” (The Catholic Messenger, Aug. 10, 2023).

He was referring specifically to laying the groundwork for good dialogue, but his insight underscores why it is so irresistible to hit “Send” when our online conversations go awry. Lent is a time for us to pause, to reflect on our relationship with God and with one another, to unite heaven and earth.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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