By Sister Nancy Linenkugel, OSF
The holy season of Lent 2014 is underway. The earliest that Lent has ever begun is February 4, and the latest date Ash Wednesday can be is March 10. This year’s start of Lent on March 5 makes 2014 a year which provides one of the longest amounts of time between the jubilant Christmas season and the penitential time leading up to Easter.
Perhaps many of us dread the coming of Lent and its interminably long six weeks duration. All our traditionally ingrained practices of “giving up something for Lent” loom before us as we reluctantly relinquish small pleasures, like candy or chocolate or a favorite TV program. Our Ash Wednesday fervor is quickly eclipsed by daily life full of its frenzied activities and happenings as usual. It’s difficult to hold to promised Lenten practices. By day four, the dessert I gave up for Lent becomes all I can think about.
St. Francis had a novel approach. As told in “The Little Flowers of St. Francis”
, he had a friend boat him to a small island on the evening of Ash Wednesday with the request to come back and pick him up on Holy Thursday but to tell no one where he was. Armed with only two loaves of bread, St. Francis actually had 1.5 loaves remaining when the friend returned to pick him up.
How did Francis spend that special time on the secluded island? I believe that during his time on the island Francis continued to ponder the “rebuild my house” command. He sought to understand the many dimensions of this admonition, including rebuilding himself, body, mind and spirit.
Xavier University’s Bellarmine Chapel has a weekly time of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and a fair number of students stop in during the day. One student told me that this is a refuge spot in a busy world. Likewise, each of us can point to our own refuge spot or “private island” for escape into solitude.
Not long ago, a Jewish friend gave me a tzedakah box. This is a small metal coin bank filled with pennies, nickels, and dimes. The box was a gift her son received at his bar mitzvah many years ago and the coins were found throughout her house as she recently packed for a move to another city to be closer to her daughter. She gave me the tzedakah box thinking that I would know someone who could use the money. I actually gave the coins—a few dollars at most—to a young street musician playing the violin in downtown Cincinnati’s Findlay Market. That was an easy way to build-up that young man in return for how his music was uplifting and re-building the bystanders’ minds and spirits. He was creating island space for listeners to be transported into their own reflection.
It might not be possible to retreat to an island on which to spend Lent in a solitary manner. However, what about a figurative island? Where can I escape to “rebuild my house”?