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Stories Seldom Heard Archive

Stories Seldom Heard

223rd Edition - February 2018

“Think Forward”


Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard.  I would like to especially welcome the WINGS Group (Women in God’s Spirit), Oakland, California, and the women of the Immaculate Conception Parish Retreat, Raleigh, North Carolina.


It seems a bit early to start thinking of Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday and Lent, but they are just around the corner.  In fact, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday arrive on the same day!  Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.  The city of New Orleans certainly celebrates it in great style, but they are not alone.  Many of us have Mardi Gras parties. The following is an adapted version of Gertrude Mueller Nelson’s description of a grand Fat Tuesday celebration followed by a serious turning towards our Lenten journeys.


“Tonight, I have danced with the bagman.  Tonight, I have danced with a general.  I have danced with clowns and cowboys.  I have danced with the president and an elephant.  I have danced with a cheerleader, with Apollo, with Dionysius. Tonight, I have danced with God…. After the carnival feasting, after the last games and the dances, we sing our final “Alleluia.”  We will not hear or use the word “Alleluia” - this expression of greatest joy - until it is sung again during the Easter night services….  Drawing the revelry to a close, we face into tomorrow's Ash Wednesday.  We offer one another a sign of peace and best wishes for a holy and fruitful Lent.”


The Ash Wednesday scene described by G.M. Nelson is perhaps a little dramatic, but it’s a good reminder that we are entering into a unique season.  In fact, I have often found that Lent is a “gifting” time.  We don’t often think of Lent in this way.  But I find that whatever energy I put into my Lenten practices, arrives a hundred-fold on my Easter doorstep – or soon thereafter.


Traditionally we approach Lent with thoughts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  All three of these practices have deep biblical roots that are intimately connected to repentance, a word that implies a radical change on our part. In Hebrew repentance means to turn around, retrace our steps; change direction.  In Greek it means to change one’s mind or outlook, to change one's horizons or expectations.  It implies a change of heart, a deep interior change that affects everything we desire and everything we do.  Saint Paul names it “a dying to the old self.”


We understand what this dying to the old self means.  In truth, we die many times in many different ways before our final death.  A woman told me recently about her struggle with alcoholism. "To acknowledge it was hard enough," she said, "but then came the daily struggle to break my old patterns."  Anyone who has ever been part of this process her/himself, or anyone who has walked with a friend or family member understands the many “dyings” that must take place before there is a sense of resurrection. 


During Lent we will sing and pray again the hymn, “Change Our Hearts This Time.” But what might this change of direction and change of heart look like in our lives?  God doesn’t ask of us endless sacrifice, but God does ask us to, “Cease to do evil...Learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow" (Is 1:11, 15, 17).  We hear God’s command and we try to respond daily.  We care for our aging parents, visit people in our community nursing homes, bring Communion to the sick, and volunteer at homeless shelters. We care for our families, do an honest day’s work and are serious about our prayer life. What more are we to do? It’s hard to add one more items to our list of spiritual practices.  Besides, self-imposed fasting seems so old fashioned and out of date. 


Well, perhaps we could think of fasting as a “not doing” rather than a “doing one more thing.”  In other words, we could choose not to eat a particular type of food or not to gossip.  We could avoid a pettiness of spirit and a meanness of heart. We could fast from tightly held resentments or turn away from the anger that we have allowed to fester.  We could silence our spiteful words, hurtful remarks and unreasonable expectations.  We might want to speak less and listen longer and more attentively.


Forty days is a substantial amount of time.  Forty days could help us set some new patterns in our lives.  But before we choose what our fasting practice might be for this Lent, we might want to ask ourselves some questions.  What could help me be a more peaceful person?  What area of my life do I want God to help me change?  Is there a relationship to which I need to be more attentive?  What is lacking in my relationship with God? 


The following are other possibilities that you might choose to do.  You might decide to do one or two of the following suggestions as a family or a small Christian Community Lenten practice. Many of them relate to food and hunger issues. I have found these suggestions helpful in my own life.  I hope you do, too.


1. Fast for those who do not have daily bread.  The money you save on simple meals all year can be sent to local, national and international funds.  Choose one agency on each level to support.  (i.e. Bread for the World, Southern Poverty Law Center, a local free clinic).


2.     Fast to acknowledge our dependency on God.  Nowadays many of us live in areas where out of season foods are plentiful and are offered all year long.  Choose to eat only those fruits, grains and vegetables that are in season during Lent.  Extend this practice to include the rest of the year.


3.  Fast in solidarity.  Fasting is the great social leveler. It makes all of us beggars.  It reminds us to place the survival of others before our personal desires and wants.


4.      Fast for peace.  In the Bishops' Pastoral on Peace which was written in 1983, the bishops asked us to fast one day a week for peace in the world.


5.     Fast for those who can’t or should not fast from food or drink.  When you do this pray for those in refugee camps and those who are displaced.


6.     Fast from judging others. Feast on clear thinking and compassionate attitudes.


7.     Fast from instant gratification.  Re-examine compulsions, hungers, impulses, cravings.


8.     Fast from hurried eating.  Pray "Grace" intentionally. Eat at a table.  Be attentive to what you are eating.  Appreciate the flavors, colors and textures.  Don't take the food or cook for granted.


9.     Fast with a sense of hospitality.  Share a meal with someone who is lonely.  Bring a dinner to someone who cannot leave her/his house.  Bring a treat to someone in a rest home or someone in a full-care facility.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen.  Visit a prisoner on a weekly/monthly basis.


10. This is a fast for travelers and vacationers.  Consider tithing 10% (more or less) of the cost of your trip/vacation to a not-for-profit organization that resides in the place/country to which you travel. 


What is it that God is asking of us?  "The sacrifice I desire is a contrite heart."

Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped edit this article.

"Stories Seldom Heard" is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P.  Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California.  This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich one's personal and spiritual life.  The articles can be used for individual or group reflection.  If you would like "Stories Seldom Heard" sent to a friend, please send a note to "".   If you would like to support this ministry, please send your contributions to Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, c/o Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P., St. Dominic’s Convent, 2517 Pine Street, San Francisco, 94115

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