February 2016

A time of conscious waiting

In what way are the 40 days of Lent also meant to be a time of conscious waiting for us, asks Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

BY Clare Condon SGS

I have not long returned from the United States where I attended the Conference of American Benedictine Women Prioresses, an annual gathering representing Catholic religious women who follow the Rule of St Benedict in the USA.

These communities have served the Church and society in America for over 150 years. They are women learned in sacred scripture. They are educators. They are faithful to the Gospel call of Jesus Christ. They are prophetic figures in the true meaning of Gospel living. During our time together, which was leading up to Lent, we reflected on the power of the paschal mystery in our lives.

Those reflections stayed with me as I set out on my long flight home, which departed Los Angeles on Tuesday evening and arrived in Sydney on Thursday morning. As we crossed the International Date Line there was no Ash Wednesday for me; Lent 2016 commenced without any ashes or any ritual. Yet on the flight I kept thinking of the input and discussions we engaged in about this fundamental paschal mystery of Christ.

Lent covers 40 days leading to the Church’s celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In theological terms, it leads to the celebration of the paschal mystery, the ultimate reality of Christian belief.

During my time at the US Conference, Benedictine Abbot Greg Polen from Conception Abbey spoke of the “internal unity” of this paschal mystery, for it was only through the tragedy of death that Jesus burst forth in resurrection. So too for us, it is only out of struggle, tragedy, perceived failure, disappointments or deep pain that we truly experience new life and new vitality.

Polen spoke of Holy Saturday as being the time of ultimate waiting, of contemplating and absorbing what has taken place. It is a time of sitting with our own experiences of darkness and aloneness, and waiting in the silence and the stillness until new life emerges, until the sun begins to rise. We see this waiting most poignantly in Mary Magdalene’s silent staying at the tomb. Staying with her desolation, she was then able to proclaim: “I have seen the Lord”.

So in what way are the 40 days of Lent also meant to be a time of conscious waiting for us? The Church teaches that Lent is a time for asceticism, of self-assessment. Is waiting therefore an essential ascetical practice for our twenty-first century time of frenetic activity, instant communication and constant media stimulation? Are we able to stay with the mystery in a listening and contemplative mode, so that God’s grace can enter our lives?

Travelling across countries, waiting at customs and security lines clearly reminded me that waiting is not in my DNA! Such waiting required a patient letting go of my time – a certain disengagement, stillness and slowness. Perhaps for me, the ascetical practices during Lent are to slow the pace, to quieten the activity, to turn off the constant communication and to wait with the scriptures, so that God’s word can find a new place and a welcome home within.

During Lent the Church invites us into the asceticism of almsgiving, prayer and fasting; it is an asceticism of giving, of attentiveness to God, and of refraining from our addictions or compulsions. What might this asceticism have to do with waiting?

Almsgiving can only come from a willingness to forego something for myself; it is not a giving from my excess. Almsgiving comes when I am willing to wait and not attend to my immediate satisfaction. Because I see someone else in greater need, I can forgo that material satisfaction or expectation for myself.

Prayer is the full expression of the willingness to wait; it is the quietening of mind and heart in order to listen for the promptings of the spirit of God. Prayer attends to God’s expectations and desires rather than my own.

Lectio divina, listening to the Word of God, is an expression of this contemplative waiting. The daily practice of lectio divina is an experience of the paschal mystery. It is a process of conversion. We hear how we are from what God asks of us. In lectio, God will show us our vulnerabilities, our skewed thinking and false dreams, and lead us on this same paschal pilgrimage path.

Traditionally, fasting has been associated with food and drink. But in our world of instant communications, perhaps fasting could be applied to our use of the numerous means of communication and media during these 40 days of Lent. Can I turn the mobile phone off at night and wait for the messages in the morning? Does texting need to be continuous? What compulsions and addictions might instant communications be fostering in us?

So, perhaps this Lent, my commitment can be to embrace simple waiting and stillness: I can slow the pace; I can contemplate and absorb what is important in my life; I can live each day as a Holy Saturday Day – so that God can bring new life and new vitality bursting forth.

Clare Condon

Sister Clare Condon is a former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She served as leader from September 2005 until September 2017. In 2013, Clare was awarded a Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights Commission in recognition of the Good Samaritan Sisters’ work with asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians and the victims of domestic violence. In 2022, Clare was awarded an Honorary Doctor of the University from Australian Catholic University.

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