As part of our keeping of the season of Lent, a member of the Georgetown Prep community will offer an Ignatian thought, reflection, and prayer each Friday. These offerings are meant to encourage us to pray together over common themes and concerns.
At this time of year, the church invites us to test our inner freedom – concerning food and drink, complaining, gossiping, and so on. What habits make you hard to live with? Lent is about regaining control of our own lives, especially in those areas that damage other people.
-Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2017
The Irish Jesuits
We like beginnings. A month and a half ago, we began a new year, made resolutions, started doing our resolutions. With any luck, we haven’t given up on them!
And now we begin a new season of the church year.
The gospel reading for Ash Wednesday suggests actions for us to take as we prepare for Easter: give alms, pray and fast—but don’t let people know that you’re doing it. More resolutions, right? On the one hand, this may be a little depressing. Even if we’ve managed to follow through on our New Year’s resolutions, we may have slipped up a couple of times. And now the church is asking us to think again about the ways we can be better people in the world, better people for the coming of Christ at Eastertime.
But this is a hopeful outlook, too. We’re starting again. And we can always start again, to give more to people in need, to pray more regularly, to ease the things that interfere with our best selves out of our lives. “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart.”
Help me to see what parts of my life block me from serving you and the people around me;
and help me to move those blocks away so that I become closer to you and to the people around me.
In the Ignatian prayer of the Examen, we’re talking about being real in two senses. The first is the concrete reality of everyday life; this is the subject of the Examen. The second is the reality beneath the reality. We’re looking to strip away our disordered attachments and get at what we really want.
The importance of this reality in the first sense was impressed upon me by a Jesuit named Bernie Owens. At a workshop he gave on discernment of spirits, a meandering discussion developed about which circumstances were conducive to discernment and which weren’t. The discussion grew somewhat speculative—what if this happens, what if it’s that. Fr. Owens stopped that talk and said, “Let’s not forget: God works with what is.” He went on, “God doesn’t work with what was, or should have been, or what might be.” God works with what is.From A Simple Life Changing Prayer by Jim Manney
It is never easy to keep a Lenten promise (or to make one for that matter). To many, it is sort of silly. That said, we can’t help but recognize value in the concept of self-improvement. “Giving up” dessert after lunch or “making a habit” of getting to bed earlier will benefit us physically and emotionally. Over the long term, these “promises” serve to deepen our being, in a way, as we practice self-awareness and self-control.
To quote Jim Manney, I think every person “really wants” happiness, or to be happy as often as possible. But is that really possible for everyone? Each person lives a unique life; some are objectively more difficult than others. How can we really prescribe happiness to each individual? Between our unique pasts and undefined futures, we all share the present moment. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, whoever we are with, that is our moment. Praying the Examen reminds me that no matter how much we have been blessed with, we can always find a reason to resent the moment. That said, we can also find a way to appreciate it.
Lent reminds us to “give up” routine resentment. Lent reminds us to “make a habit” of embracing the moment in gratitude, messy as it may be.
- Mark “Bear” Altemus ‘13, Alumni Service Corps
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.