When I was a kid in the 80’s in our Catholic Grammar School we learned a very simple but very apt song to about recycling: re-re-re-re-re-recycle, re-re-re-re-re-reuse it.
The prefix “re” means “again”. ... “Again, again, again, the cycle” ... “again, again, again use it”
The readings—just like my childhood introduction to ecological justice—hit us over the head with the prefix “re” ... return, renew, relent, reconcile, recompense ... We are instructed to “turn again”, “to again make new”, “to again become flexible”, “to again bring together”, and “again bring into balance”. What a complex and curious invitation... Amid the texts’ trumpet- blast summonsing into Lent, there is also very practical guidance.
The Gospel explicitly names our next steps—prayer, fasting, and acts of charity (or as Jesus says “righteous deeds”). These are the three pillars of a Lenten practice, each individually important and beautiful in concert. Let’s spend a moment with each of these:
Prayer: We are summonsed to re-establish or re-invigorate our connection with God. Spend some time thinking about your prayer-life and set a concrete, attainable plan for Lent, such as 5 minutes of silence each day or revisiting a favorite devotion.
Fasting: We, as humans, are not just heads wheeled around town by a rickety television stand we call a body. Our bodies are creations of the Divine working for the Divine. What habits do we need to break and what habits should we re-introduce? How do we reset or reinvigorate our bodies? Again, find one, concrete, attainable practice for the next month and 1/2.
Regarding Almsgiving or “acts of charity” or “righteous deeds”: How will we become more and better connected to others? Where are we called to give more or give differently to others? Again, find one, concrete, attainable practice.
I considered sharing with you my Lenten practices but then you would know too much about me ... and—quite seriously—I trust you will be correctly directed back onto your right track.
I will share, however, that I look to our Muslim brothers and sisters as a model and inspiration during Lent. During Ramadan, the difficult act of fasting during the day is accompanied by abstention from falsehood in speech or action and from arguing and fighting. I am moved by both the
Jesus speaks to us in today’s Gospel about integrity as we fast, pray, and perform righteous deeds. “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them.” “When you pray, go to your inner room and close the door.” “When you fast, do not look gloomy ... wash your face so that you may not appear not be fasting.” In other words: When you pass on the Margarita at happy hour, whisper to your colleague that you are on anti-biotics. When you send a check, tell the recipients not to send you a thank you note or tax-deductible letter. Better yet, don’t give them your name. Our first reading from the book of Joel says it so well: “Rend your hearts, not your garments.” Break open your hearts, don’t put on a show. We are called to deep, interior work—not to simulate or pretend that we are devout.
After my little lecture about the three pillars of a Lenten practice, I want to return to ... well... to the word “return” and the many “re’s” in our texts. I invite you to think of Lent as the annual tune up on the ol liturgical calendar. Fasting, prayer and good works are the processes by which we change the air filters and test the emission systems. They are the seemingly invasive or disruptive processes that renew us, restore us, make the clicking noise relent.
An even better example of the Lent’s processes can be found in nature. The word Lent is derived from the word Lencten (lengthening of days), meaning Springtime. In the harsh Winter months, wind, ice and snow shake loose dead branches and remove diseased tissue. And we have adopted the practice pruning to improve or maintain the health, yield and quality of fruits and flowers. In other words, cutting back can bring a return, a renewal of life in its fullest.
And this is the point: Lent is our annual tune-up, our pruning practicing that, if done with care and integrity, can renew our life. Again and again.
Lent is about our belief in the big “Re” – Resurrection. To rise again.
No one tunes or prunes with the belief it is all in vain. Prayer, fasting and righteous deeds are done by people who believe in Resurrection.
My dear friends, fellow believers in new life and that there can be new life again, again, again and again, blessings on your Lenten journey.
Oh to be there with you all at Easter to see you resurrected and returned to your best self!
Karen Gargamelli-McCreight is a co-founder of Benincasa Community, along with James Hannigan and Sean Gargamelli-McCreight. Benincasa Community is rooted in and inspired by the Catholic Worker, Dominican Sisters (and many congregations of women religious), as well as the “98th St./Thompson St.” Jesuit Community. The primary works of Benincasa Community are: offering hospitality, promoting lay formation/leadership and seeking right-relationship with our Earth. Prior to establishing Benincasa Community, Karen was Co-Director and staff attorney at Common Law. She earned her J.D. at CUNY School of Law and B.A. at Loyola University Chicago. She was born in New Haven, CT and grew up in Branford, CT—which means she loves white clam pizza pie, Foxon Park soda and marshy wetlands.