Thoughts on a Lenten lockdown
For many Metro Manilans, Lent has always been a time for leaving the city and heading for the cool mountains in the north, or the beaches in nearby Batangas, or Bohol, and for the affluent, perhaps Hong Kong and other prime destinations abroad. This year Metro Manila along with four nearby provinces, is under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) for the duration of Holy Week. There will be no Lenten retreats but my notes on previous gatherings on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Black Saturday, serve to remind us that the COVID-19 problems that we have today are the sufferings we must undergo if we are to experience tomorrow’s Resurrection. At one of those retreats in previous years, Fr. Thomas Greene a Jesuit from Rochester, New York, spoke on the subject of prayer and the liturgy. I have forgotten much of what he said but a few of his thoughts remain through my notes.
First of all, Father Tom must have been raised in a home full of love, gentleness, and devotion. Every mention of his father or mother was in the context of much affection. But one I enjoyed most was about his father being the ultimate “sigurista.” In his book “When The Well Runs Dry” he says that, “Much to the exasperation of my mother, he wore both belt and suspenders to be secure against the day when the force of gravity might suddenly increase. “
Father Tom spoke about making mistakes in our lives. He mentioned that too often, we spend much time protecting our loved ones from situations that could result in making mistakes. Actually, we should allow people to commit errors. He stressed that what one must avoid is committing the same old blunders because then it only indicates that we have not learned any lessons. “Make new mistakes,” he said, using as example his advice to a nun who had fallen in love with a priest. The next time, “don’t fall in love with another priest. Fall in love with a bishop,” he cautioned the nun.
On El Shaddai, only a diplomat could have provided this assessment. Father Tom noted that on the positive side, El Shaddai is not elitist and appeals to the common masses in the country. On the other hand, it is a cult heavy with the belief that material prosperity comes as a reward for faith, including a possible US visa.
When a person is terminally ill and there is no hope of recovery, should he be informed of the situation? Father Tom said we owe it to the sick to let them know what the real score is. Inform them in the best possible manner. They may experience an initial depression but in the long run, they will accept things and may even be grateful for the opportunity to better prepare themselves for the end.
Someone from the congregation asked how to maintain the interest of teenagers during family prayer periods, observing that it was getting to be difficult to continue with, for example, the rosary, because of many distractions. Father Tom’s answer was something I could never have expected in my teenage years. He said that at some point it would be best to let go and let them do their own thing just as long as they respect the privacy and quiet of others. It is part of growing up and should not be looked upon as a form of rebellion. For many of us, reciting the rosary can simply be a mechanical process with little thought to what the prayer is all about.
One of Father Tom’s anecdotes was about little children and prayer. One of them came home and told his mother about a new prayer he had just learned: “Hail Mary, Full of Grapes, The Lord is a tree…” The following week, he came home from school with a story he had heard about a bear, a cross-eyed bear, at that, named Gladly. It was from hearing the prayer, “Gladly, my cross I bear.” Sometimes, kids are too young to understand most of the standard prayers we have, and so we must guide them along the way.
A lot of people believe that Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, and in the end committed suicide, is now languishing in the fires of hell. Father Tom said we do not know who is in hell. Even Judas may have repented at the last minute, and may be with others in heaven. Perhaps, it was a way of telling us not to judge others too rashly.
Finally, Father Tom reminded me of something that I forget every now and then, the meaning of the letters “INRI” over the crucified Christ. They stand for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.
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