Blessed Lent

Updated: Mar 2

This morning, before getting out of bed, I picked up my daily Missal and went through the Ash Wednesday readings and liturgical prayers. The Gospel Acclamation in all its simplicity and familiarity particularly struck me in these first hours of Lent:

Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, king of endless glory!

Later this month the monastery of my heart is scheduled to merge with another monastery :). I am not quite sure if that analogy entirely works to say that I am getting married during this Lenten season, but I came up with it because of a quote from Canon Law that I had to memorize as a novice about a decade ago:

"The evangelical counsel of chastity assumed for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, which is a sign of the world to come and a source of more abundant fruitfulness in an undivided heart, entails the obligation of perfect continence in celibacy." Canon 599

Of course, the requirement for perfect continence in celibacy does not apply to lay persons trying to practice the counsels of our Lord who, loving us, calls each of us to a unique way of leaving everything and following after him. Yet, marriage does not mean the end of chastity. Continence in celibacy is changed to fidelity. However, I bring up the quote because of the part about an undivided heart that always stuck with me (in fact the only part I actually remembered). I like nowadays to ponder how in the Sacrament of Marriage, our hearts will be united for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, undivided and abundantly fruitful when our love for each other flows into and out of our love for God.

Sometimes I wonder what exactly I meant when I named this website Monastery in my heart (The idea for the name came quickly without needing at that time to consider deeply why I chose it). There are two interpretations that are pertinent to my thoughts today. First, while living in the monastery, I had a tendency to rely too much on externals. The whole of the life is aimed at fostering greater union with God, but all the practices, penances and prayers can only do so much if they are not primarily reflections of an interior life, actively fixed on the Lord. External practices can help form this interior life or be expressions of it, but they cannot replace it. Yet externals are concrete, easily checked off the to-do list toward apparent holiness. The Spiritual life is not a checklist and it is not usually concrete. It is about opening ourselves to receive and give Mercy, about growing in trust even to the point of abandoning our lives into the loving (but unpredictable) hands of Providence. It often does not happen as quickly as we would like or as cleanly. It is a battle. Lent is a time when many of us come up with external practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is not so much about whether or not we can make it 40 days without dessert, as how each time we choose not to eat that piece of pie or cake we can grow in love of God and neighbor in some way or another.

My second interpretation was that an interior monastery was an analogy that helped me in learning to accept myself, all of myself. We cannot accept mercy if we do not accept ourselves as fallen human beings, imperfect and sinful, especially in those moments after we actually fall into a terrible sin or slip into a weakness and are feeling disappointed and ashamed. We cannot show mercy if we do not know how to receive it. I struggle with anxiety and depression. In the enclosure, this was brought into the light. I felt like I was wrong, a problem that needed solving. I became increasingly anxious about being anxious! Through prayer, counseling, being accepted by the community and a really great book on Catholic Mindfulness, I finally found relief by simply learning to be okay with the fact that I often feel anxious or depressed and sometimes become obsessive. Sister Anxiety, Sister Depression and even Sister Obsessive Compulsive are part of the monastery that is me. They even have a right to be heard in the monastery Chapter (meetings of the nuns) alongside Sister Enthusiasm, Sister Joy, Sister Responsibility, Sister Always Hungry, Sister Over-active Imagination.... Of course, listening to these sisters is not the same as letting them take the role of prioress of my monastery. (In keeping with a Dominican tradition, I choose the Blessed Mother as the Superioress.) The analogy of monastic life (monastic comes from a root word meaning one, by the way, and is applied to this form of community living because the monks or nuns are meant to live together with one mind and heart centered on the Lord) reminds me that there are all kinds of sisters and each one has been placed there by God; she belongs there whether she is delightful or cranky, likable or disagreeable, whether or not her role and usefulness are evident. So it is with the different facets of myself. Already, as our marriage approaches, my interior nuns are starting to get to know, accept, and figure out how to live alongside my soon-to-be-spouse's interior monks. The merger may take a lifetime, but I have no doubt that each facet of ourselves will sooner or later find its place in our family monastery as we learn new things from and with each other. I recently heard of a merging of two monasteries (real monasteries) where the nuns in one usually boiled all their food very plainly. Now that they have come together, these sisters are eating better and learning to cook.

I have not written a blog post in months, being too much occupied with affairs surrounding work and getting married, but I think of it regularly and plan to get back to more regular writing after the wedding. I sat down to write this post rather spontaneously and apologize if it lacks focus. I hope that there is fruit to be had - especially since we are all hungry today. In any case, I have been wanting for some time to express my gratitude that this website is not only continuing but slowly growing in readership. I am grateful to each of the readers of this blog and welcome the new subscribers.

I wish you all a blessed start to this beautiful season of Lent. Let the King of Endless Glory, Jesus, our Lord, be praised through the prayers, penances and Lenten practices that draw us closer to his Sacred Heart and to one another in love and peace.

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