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Issue Date:  March 3, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

Drawing us into Lent

We have something special to offer for the Lenten season. Sr. Wendy Beckett, a noted art historian who lives as a hermit near a Carmelite monastery in Quidenham, England, has chosen six paintings and written meditations on those paintings that correspond to the Sunday readings in Lent. The first appears this week. ( See story)

The author of Sr. Wendy’s Story of Paintings, Sr. Wendy’s Book of Meditations and other books, she has hosted several popular TV series on art. Some readers may recall Sr. Wendy as the judge of the final selection of NCR’s “Jesus 2000” project, which sought art submissions depicting what a contemporary Jesus might look like.

If you wish more information on the life and work of Sr. Wendy, check out the Public Broadcasting Web site,

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I am anticipating Lent, that time of deeper identification with Jesus’ desert experience and a period that calls us to a new introspection, with a heightened sense of expectation this year. Perhaps that derives from the fact that the culture is dealing with such issues as torture, secret spying, endless and boundless war, the devilishly difficult ethical questions surrounding a host of life and bioscience issues, and countless fractures and divisions within the church and throughout the wider culture. It gets exhausting and can drive one back to one’s roots and one’s prayers.

My gratitude here to Jesuit Fr. Walter J. Burghardt, whose book, Long Have I Loved Thee, I am currently reading and so am in debt to him for the quote he uses from the noted theologian Karl Rahner on Jesus’ death that so aptly focuses a meditation for the season: “Everything fell away from him, even the perceptible security of the closeness of God’s love, and in this trackless dark there prevailed silently only the mystery that in itself and in its freedom has no name and to which he nevertheless calmly surrendered himself as to eternal love and not to the hell of futility.”

Burghardt continues the reflection (actually part of a chapter-long consideration of priesthood) with the understanding, “For all that he was God, this man, like us, died not with experience of resurrection but with faith in his father; he died not with unassailable proof of resurrection but with hope of life for ever.” The suggestion, I take it to mean, is that to the end the experience, whatever else, was utterly human.

So if we are to follow, we can expect no pardon from this humanity. Lent happens in our own real time and circumstances. Or as Sr. Wendy says in her reflection: “Lent is about this commitment. It is a time set apart so that we can understand the claims of goodness, of what it means to be a Catholic. It is a time for decisions. It is far from a question of legalism: It is a question of love.”

Each of us, of course, decides where the return from the desert lands us. I am more convinced than ever, particularly given the tenor of the times, that the question of values and of love that we must wrestle with require a far more radical adjustment of disposition than is comfortable to contemplate.

“The social order and its development must constantly yield to the good of the person, since the order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons and not the other way around,” was the declaration of the Vatican II document Gaudiem et Spes. Author Marvin L. Krier Mich, in The Challenge and Spirituality of Catholic Social Teaching, places that quote just before an amplification of the theme by Pope John Paul II during a visit to Toronto in 1984: “The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich; the rights of workers over the maximization of profits; the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled expansion; and production to meet social needs over production for military purposes.”

That ought to be enough meditation material to keep me going for a few weeks.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, March 3, 2006

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