Spirituality Office

Office of Spirituality 3/31/20

Guided Meditation for Holy Thursday

On this Holy Thursday, we enter the story of the last supper. We come to the table as friends of Jesus who share the dream of his heart. In the breaking of bread, we remember who we are meant to be so that the dream of God remains alive. We, too, are blessed, broken and given for the life of the world.

The film, Babette’s Feast portrays the Eucharistic theme in a richly sensual manner. The lavish feast Babette prepares is the gift of herself. Her love is tasted in each part of the carefully prepared meal. The community around the table is transformed by her radical generosity. They leave the gathering with their faces brightened by all they shared together.

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As Babette gave the gift of herself through the meal she hosted and Jesus gave the gift of Himself in the meal He hosted, how can I give the gift of myself even though we will probably not be gathered at any type of feast, even a Eucharistic one, on this Holy Thursday?

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Babette and Jesus nourished others. How can I nourish others even in these restricted times?

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Both meals were sacred and social gatherings, feeding the hungers of body and soul. How can I remain aware of the hungers of the world and be a nurturing presence directly or indirectly in these days of restricted contact.

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Pope Francis has shared that this is his favorite film. He reminds us that Joy springs from a grateful heart. Spend some moments being grateful for the simple joys in your life.

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Let us anticipate the next time we can gather around the Eucharistic table and the ordinary table of friendship with hope and joy. Let this anticipation unite us with Jesus who did not know the next time He would gather with his family and friends again but He did know they would all be different.

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Maria Pascuzzi has sent a reflection, The Origins of Quarantine in Lent, that we might want to use for Good Friday.

Please click here or scroll down on this page to read.

The Origins of Quarantine in Lent

by John Panteleimon Manoussakis March 23, 2020

The observation of this year’s Lent finds the world under an unprecedented global quarantine. A coincidence of course, but a coincidence that might be meaningful perhaps, as coincidences often are for those who observe them.

We think of a quarantine as a confinement in space and as the name for the room or the building in which such a confinement takes place. Yet, quarantine is the name for a duration, a number of days. The word derives from the Italian expression quaranta giorni—that is, a period of 40 days during which any ship sailing to Venice had to remain moored away from the city’s port as a precaution against the plague. A quarantine, therefore, is first and foremost a temporal category, a mark of time, and only secondarily of space. In fact, the quaranta giorni spent in Venice (and I am here reminded of a later quarantine in Venice as told by Thomas Mann) borrows its name and its meaning from the 40 days of Lent (Quadragesima). Lent is still the number of 40 days in Italian and French (la Quaresima and le Carême respectively).

Every Lent is a quarantine. For the practices observed during Lent meant to place the world and our daily interactions with the world and with others under suspension. We call that suspension fasting. To fast is to abstain primarily from food—since digestion is our main connection with the world and the exemplar of all the ways in which we relate to the world and to others—and, subsequently, from any other habit that attaches us to the world. By detaching us from the world, either literally or symbolically, fasting allows us to look at and reflect upon the world. Detachment is a necessary condition for such reflection. For as long as we are attached to the world, we remain bound to it by a double bind: the more we occupy the world and  we let ourselves be preoccupied by our worldly affairs the more difficult it becomes for us to understand what it means to live in the world. Fasting introduces a distance between ourselves and the world—the very distance that allows us to look and reflect upon the world and our worldly existence.

The quarantine of the coronavirus pandemic has forced upon all of us that distance. For the first time, Lent is “observed” by the entire world. A Lent pandemically observed offers a rather different and somewhat unorthodox appraisal of the new reality that has emerged around the globe.

I do not suggest that we should rejoice amidst the ever-rising number of infections and fatalities on account of some vague “spiritual” benefit. On the contrary. Rather, I suggest that there might be more than one way to contextualize and understand the suffering that is the result of this ongoing crisis. To read the quarantine within the context of Lent—a reading invited by the very fact that they coincided—is to avail of a richer vocabulary that derives from certain Biblical narratives (e.g., Israel’s 40 year wandering in the desert; the 40-day fasting of Moses and Elijah) and thus to connect our quarantined lives today with the past, to inscribe them within a tradition, in short, to given them a language.

There has been, of course, plenty of talk about the coronavirus, an abundance of graphics and statistics, and a daily dose of reportage from the affected communities. Yet, this remains for now an experience without language. Biological and epidemiological terminology—necessary as it is—remains ineffective in giving sense to our experience of this pandemic and that is because the language of science is abstract but my experience of the dismantling of the world as I knew it remains concrete. Homer’s epic stories and parables have proven more successful in bestowing and communicating meaning to our reality than these abstract definitions and formulae.

Let us take a closer look at how the 40 days of Lent originate from the 40 days that are often mentioned in the Scriptures as a time of preparation for an encounter with the wholly (and holy) Other:

Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments (Exod 34:28).

And again:

So he [Elijah] got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 Kings 19:8).

While Moses and Elijah fast in preparation for these theophanies, Christ does so immediately after the theophany that occurs in his baptism at Jordan and in preparation for his public ministry.