By Barb Arland-Fye
Six-hundred or so people, mostly senior citizens, filled the church where my husband Steve and I attended Mass on Ash Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast. In his homily, our bald-headed presider, acknowledging his own senior citizen status, observed that “we” — himself and the congregation — were well-seasoned in the penitential aspect of Lent. He recalled as a boy giving up candy for Lent and attending Stations of the Cross after school on Fridays. That was a real sacrifice because going to the Stations of the Cross meant not being able to play ball. This season, he asked us to add rather than subtract from our observance of Lent. Focus on nurturing love, hope and faith through reflection on the Lenten Scriptures, he encouraged us.
Choose one Scripture on which to reflect, he suggested, such as the Prodigal Son or the Woman at the Well. He may have mentioned a third Scripture, but I wasn’t taking notes. His message, though, left an impression on me. These Scriptures emphasize God’s mercy and are especially appropriate to reflect on during this Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has declared. Mercy is “the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness,” the Holy Father said in his letter introducing the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.
As our presider at Mass spoke so tenderly about nurturing love, hope and faith, I couldn’t help but look around me at all of these Catholics who have crossed that bridge over and over again. As a storyteller, I wanted to know their stories, what led them to this place in life, to this community of faith. Like Paul, they’ve kept the faith — or come back to the faith — determined to finish the race.
I thought about my late father-in-law Bill, who was away from the church for 50 years before coming back and embracing his Catholic faith. He never shared what drove him away, even though I asked. But he returned, like the Prodigal Son, seeking mercy. Bill’s faith gave him sustenance in the final years of life, a sense of purpose. What a gift!
So I asked his son, my husband Steve, if we could reflect on the Lenten Scriptures together in our ongoing journey to nurture love, hope and faith. Steve was agreeable. Since we were on vacation, the additional prayer time wasn’t difficult to include in our schedule. We began by reflecting on the Woman at the Well (Steve’s choice) and had a good discussion concerning what each of us understood about this Scripture reading.
In subsequent days, we decided to reflect on the readings for the day. “I really don’t know how many times we can go over the story of the Woman at the Well,” my husband admitted. Steve hasn’t read the pope’s letter on the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, but the two apparently agree on the benefits of variety. Pope Francis says “How many pages of Sacred Scripture are appropriate for meditation during the weeks of Lent to help us rediscover the merciful face of the Father!”
Thanks to the priest who inspired us with his homily on Ash Wednesday, Steve and I are on the journey to nurture love, hope and faith, in part, through meditating on the Scriptures.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at email@example.com.)