Reflection for Ash Wednesday 2016

February 10, 2016

Anne Shepard, OSB

Prefer nothing to Christ because Christ preferred nothing to us. 

We stand at an interesting crossroads this evening: the start of the penitential season of Lent situated within the Year of Mercy. It’s familiar ground for us. Our rule and our celebration of Lent both ring with a plea for God’s mercy.  The Prologue is filled with images and invitations for us to experience a merciful God with references from both the Hebrew and Christian testaments:

  • "See how the Lord in His love shows us the way to life." 
  • "Never despair of God's mercy."

Throughout Chapter 4 we find that many of the tools for good works invite us to be merciful to each other. Perhaps one of our Lenten disciplines might be to read the Rule through the lens of mercy. 

We just listened to the 49th chapter of the Rule where we heard that Lent is a time for us to wash away the negligence of other times... or the other 325 days of the year.  And what is one of the greatest challenges, negligence?  Preferring nothing whatever to Christ...nothing.  In chapter 72 of the Rule, Benedict quotes 3rd Century Bishop Cyprian who said we should prefer nothing to Christ because Christ preferred nothing to us.  

We have the opportunity to have Christ be the center of our lives if we spend more time in lectio divina, silence, and prayer.  We are christocentric when we are deliberately mindful in all that we do, a theme that was so much at the heart of everything Sister Imogene Baker, novice director and wisdom figure, taught and lived.  It is when we do not have the mind of Christ that we are stuck with endless distractions.  How often are we physically present to an event, but our minds are elsewhere?  Have you ever gone to a movie and in the middle of it thought you misplaced your keys somewhere?  You are so distracted you miss scenes from the show.  Or have you been in a meeting and thought of something you forgot to finish and have to do the next day?  Our minds are not where they should be all the time.  We are invited in this penitential season to address our restlessness, our boredom, our impatience, our inattention and to reach out instead to others in the now, in the moments we have with our sisters, workers, volunteers, employees, friends and thus with the God who loves us so much.

In her book on Making All Things New, Sister Ilia Delio, a young scholarly theologian, writes that "putting on the mind of Christ is neuro-focusing on gospel values, such as love, peace, mercy, and compassion, not as abstract ideals but as relational values.  Life is about relationships; justice is about relationships; peace is about relationships; love is about relationships.”  

Sister Imogene’s mantra was “Sisters, live in the present moment.”  Delio reminds us that "the present is eternity in the now.  We are to embrace the moment by emptying ourselves into it and surrendering to life's energy flow.  Life unfolds in the now, in the field of our choices. Every choice in the present creates the future.  To put on the mind of Christ is to know the power within us to create the future, the power to evolve into a new unity, a new oneness in love through a unified, christic consciousness."  

And how do we do this?  We do this by being faithful to God, to God's love, in prayer and in loving relationships.  In his book The Works of Mercy: The Heart of Catholicism, Jesuit James Keenan believes that “mercy is the willingness to enter into the chaos of the other.”  I love that.  Aren’t we all chaotic?  We are all messy, nonlinear, and unpredictable and, at times, all over the place.  But as Benedictines, we are committed to preferring Christ in community with each other.  

Let us prefer nothing whatever to Christ because He preferred nothing whatever to us.   What a wonderful Lenten journey, what a bright future we will have if we make a concerted effort to live these words.