Each year since 1994, the administrative staff of the Benedictine Health System has come to celebrate Mardi Gras with the Sisters. We provide the venue, they provide pizza, drinks, and, normally, live music.
This year’s celebration was a little different, as everything has been in the past year of pandemic safety measures. The Sisters were sad to think there would be no Mardi Gras, but our friends at ‘Benedictine’, as the BHS is now called, came through with food and drink, beads and headgear, decorations, smiles under their masks, and a slideshow of photos from every year of Mardi Gras.
The next morning, we woke to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of six weeks of Lent. It was a day of silence throughout the Monastery. When we came for Morning Prayer, we found the Chapel stripped of greenery. In the Gathering Space and Chapel, Sister Theresa Spinler had arranged empty clay pots, driftwood, and stones. It recalled the dry desert where Jesus went at the beginning of his ministry to wrestle with temptation and be cleansed and made strong. Pots that hold water changed to wine, stone that become bread – or not, the Wood on which Jesus was crucified: their symbolism will evolve in our minds as we listen again to the story of Jesus’ ministry and Passion.
At Mass we received ashes, not as a cross traced by thumb on foreheads but, because of the pandemic, as a sprinkling of ashes onto bowed heads, an even older symbol of sorrow and repentance.
At Evening Prayer, Chapter 48 of the Rule of St. Benedict was read: The Observance of Lent. “The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent, but as few have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times. … Let each one deny herself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.”
And from Chapter 47: “During Lent each one is to receive a book from the library and is to read the whole of it straight through. These books are to be distributed at the beginning of Lent.” This year, each Sister received the book Grace: On the Journey to God by the Cistercian monk Michael Casey of Tarrawarra Abbey near Melbourne, Australia. On Wednesdays in Lent, we will share our thoughts on assigned chapters with whomever we are sitting at the dinner table and discover together how God’s grace is revealed in the daily ordo of prayer and work.
May this season of Lent be a time of blessing for you, too, as you begin to see grace in every encounter, in every moment of your day. May we offer up a prayer of gratitude for what God gives freely to all.