Seeing God In Lent

Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture
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"Table reading" is a traditional monastic practice of taking meals in silence while some book of spiritual significance is read for the duration. This Lent, our community at St. Albert's has undertaken to begin nightly dinners with ten minutes of table reading from Church Father and desert ascetic, St. John Cassian, who is a kind of spiritual father of the Dominican Order. It is said St. Dominic kept with him and would read a little from two books every day: the Gospel of Matthew (his favorite of the gospels) and the Conferences of Cassian. The conferences afford useful insights into the Christian life which are particularly appropriate to Lent.



In the first conference, Cassian speaks of two "ends" or "aims" of the spiritual life. The final end (telos) of the spiritual life is the Kingdom of God. But the "immediate" or "closer" aim is its skopos (Greek for something to "fix the eye on," as an archer his target). This skopos is purity of heart, as in "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God"(Mt. 5:8). Lent is a special time to purify our hearts so our spiritual vision may be sharpened.

We all have the experience of giving something up to get something better. Doctors, athletes, teachers, mothers; any worthwhile life requires moral, physical, and mental discipline to be lived well. During Lent, the Christian refocuses his spiritual energies by giving certain things up so he can live the Gospel more deeply. Food is taken in smaller portions; perhaps we resolve to rise a half-hour earlier in the morning for extra Scripture meditation; or resolve to visit infirm friends and relatives who otherwise lack companionship.

As a Dominican, I've found Lenten disciplines extremely helpful: abstinence from certain foods and full portions of meals trains a certain inner-temperance and self control which – I've found – can make me more alive and alert to my neighbor, even at times more perceptive in prayer and so with a deeper thanksgiving for God's many gifts, and greater insight into His desires for my life. Underneath the outward discipline, a kind of hidden and secret exultation in God is discovered, a way of perceiving and "seeing" Him more clearly.

It is a bit like backpacking in a great national park like Yosemite or Kings Canyon. On such trips – especially the ones of several days – food is spare, sleep is uncomfortable, and fatigue is constant. But precisely by giving up normal conveniences, we receive marvelous visions of pristine wilderness, and often a deeper companionship with the comrades we journey with. Somehow we often come back more energized and appreciative of our everyday life. Every Christian undertakes such a journey in Lent, but in a spiritual way. I myself rejoice to do it as a Dominican: every ounce of my energy given to studying, contemplating, and rejoicing in the Lord, so that he may use me to bring his gospel to the world.

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