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Catholic Voice
  March 21, 2011   •   VOL. 49, NO. 6   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Lent as a time to make space for God

Those who attended the 12:10 Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral heard me tell the story of my experience of making a private retreat at the Camaldolese hermitage in Big Sur. I was only a couple of years ordained at the time, and even though that was quite a while ago, the memory is still vivid in my mind.

I remember very well the room I stayed in, which seemed quite puzzling to me. All of the furnishings were against the walls: the bed against one wall, the door to the small bathroom at another wall, the desk against yet another wall, and so forth. In the middle of the room was a heating unit, with lots of empty space all around it. “How strange,” I thought to myself. “So much wasted space.”

When I returned home, I shared the story with the associate pastor in my home parish. He was about 12 years ordained and, from my young perspective, that meant he had a good deal of experience of the priesthood. He had also recently completed a doctoral degree in spiritual theology, which accounts for his reaction. When I described the room to him, with a tone of curiosity in my voice, he responded by saying: “What a profound symbol!” At that point, I understood.

Which brings us to Lent. Lent is a time to put into practice, in concrete ways, precisely what that room in New Camaldoli was meant to symbolize: making room for God. With contemporary life filled with so much busy-ness, noise and activity, the traditional Lenten practices that we incorporate into our day-to-day lives during these 40 days are meant to teach us lessons about making space for God.

• Prayer makes a space of time and silence for God. Silence is one of the primary ways God speaks to us — not the silence of absence, but the silence of relaxed attentiveness. Lenten liturgies are marked by a special quality of silence, almost a stark silence, which reminds us too, of the need to respect that space of silence most especially within our churches and other sacred spaces.

• Fasting makes a space for God at table. It is meant to teach us to curb our appetites and tame our inordinate desires, and so engenders within us a sense of solidarity with those who suffer from hunger and other deprivations of the basic necessities of life.

• Almsgiving and other works of charity make a space for God in the material blessings He has given us, so that we might learn the lesson of generosity to the poor, in whatever form of poverty it comes. In the Biblical mindset, giving to the poor is giving to God, a sort of heavenly bank account in which the more one deposits, the more interest one will reap: “He who has compassion on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed” (Prov 19:17).

Let us, then, make the most of this graced time of the year, so that this holy season of Lent might be for us a lesson for all of life. Making space for God every day of our lives, in all of our goings and comings, relationships and activities, plans and endeavors, will help us keep Him the No. 1 priority in our lives and redound to heavenly blessings for us now and in the life to come.

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