Chris McDonnell – Lent Looming…

The way through

Chris McDonnell CT February 12. 2021

So many of the pieces created by the Yorkshire sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) involve the piercing of wood or stone, finding a way through the solidity of the material. Where no natural access exists, a way has to be found.

In the season of Lent, with Ash Wednesday coming in the middle of next week, each of us has to face obstacles on our journey, places and situations that demand effort in their navigation, ingenuity and fortitude in their accomplishment. There is no easy pre-planned route, the pathway has to be found

This year is no different, maybe even harder, for the current difficulties that face each and every one of us offer a huge challenge. We have been urgently seeking a way through the viral crisis that has befallen the human race the world over. No one has been spared the consequences, the heart ache and the pain. Questions have been asked on a daily basis, in many cases questions without adequate answers.

The 20th Century theologian, Karl Rahner who died in 1984, is often remembered for his words on our Christian experience. He said “In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all”. The reality is an experience beyond high-flown words, it is about who we are, it is about relationships. On another occasion Rahner said that “Knowing God is more important than knowing about God.”

Let’s pause a moment and consider Rahner’s few words, that in the days ahead we will be mystics or nothing at all. There is a defining quality to this comment, a contrasting of reality with nothingness. It is a worthwhile idea to give substance to our Lenten pilgrimage.

Ask yourself that question, have you experienced God for real? Or are you shadow boxing with an idea and failing time and again to match the reality that is God who created us? There is no half way house offered by his words. The mystic experiences the reality of God or else he experiences nothing.

Knowing a person is essentially different that knowing about a person. It suggests an intimacy that goes beyond factual detail, it suggests something much deeper, something more dependable, more trusting, something of real substance.

So there is one challenge we might set ourselves in these days of Lent in this difficult year, How far might our lives become mystical, how far can we approach God in the reality of who he or she is, rather than get lost in a cloud of detail that serves only to confuse the story. Might we, at the conclusion of Lent, have touched something of the reality of God.

Suggesting a goal for a journey is a whole lot simpler than offering a route map to follow for there is no simple one size fits all that we can lift off the shelf and use. But there are small indications. We might look at ourselves, look at those around us, look at where we are, consider where we might like to be. Each phrase gives rise to a multitude of questions. Let’s consider a few of them and look for possible answers,

When we look at ourselves it is often a mirror image that greets us, a light reflection on the bathroom wall, a quick recognition of form whilst the true me remains hidden. The me that thinks and reflects, that experiences joy and anguish, temptation and fear, that takes much more effort to discover, for it demands honesty and integrity, clarity of vision and acceptance, none of which is easy. Facing up to who we are is a hard task that demands courage and conviction. But it is the initial step we must all take.

Then we turn to look at those around us, how do we treat others and what do we expect of them in return? In whose interests do we act, theirs or our own? During the tumultuous months that we have lived through, we have witnessed many countless acts of selfless caring, when the question of personal benefit has not arisen. The gifts of time and skill of so many have been given day after day. A generous example that has been of benefit to all.

Circumstances have forced us to examine where we are and to consider where we might like to be. We have no choice of where we find ourselves, by whatever circuitous route we arrived. But the aspiration to change and move on is of fundamental importance.

Maybe there is the essence of Lent, aspiration to change, not being content with standing still, always looking for the opportunity to move on, being willing to take the risk of treading on new ground, even if the sign posting is not sharp and clear. The mystic takes the chance, leaving the security of the present in order to explore the future.

There is much that we have learnt from our recent experience, about our interdependence and frailty, about the goodness of family and friends, about human inventiveness when faced with difficulty.

The words below are an attempt to capture something from past days and weeks.



How much have we lost

in the passing months,

friendships have hovered in the wind

as long days darkened?


How wrong have we been

as hope, time and again, has faded

with the rough, red-spiked line

ever-climbing, telling a tragic story?


How much have we learned

about ourselves and others

when, tested to the edge, we have

now and then succeeded, yet often failed?


How much have we changed

from whom we were to who we are,

touching the new real world

birthed in forgetfulness?


How much more can we take

as day follows day and words

echo from tired, dry lips

through this long winter haul?

So this year Lent will take a different tone. The customary distribution of Ashes is unlikely to take place for health reasons. Although the significant action that has always marked Ash Wednesday may be missing, our journey towards the paschal feast of Easter begins for each of us this week.

Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return…




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One Comment

  1. Kevin Walters says:

    “Knowing God is more important than knowing about God.”

    “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

    So, narrow is His is Way. – Literally, pressed, or hemmed in between walls or rocks, like the pathway in a mountain gorge as in The Inviolate Word (Will) of God “Not One Iota”.

    So, His ‘Way’ “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”.

    Humility is the key for it takes an honest heart to truly see the full fallen reality of oneself as in “One Iota” before Him, for if we do so it will induce humility (St Bernard, Humility: a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself).

    We find self-knowledge (Reality of ourselves) as we reflect in faith on the living Word/Will of God within the Gospels while The Holy Spirit prompts/enlightens our understanding of our own brokenness which leads to humility as a humble heart is His known dwelling place.

    “When we look at ourselves it is often a mirror image that greets us, a light reflection on the bathroom wall, a quick recognition of form whilst the true me remains hidden”.

    Our Lord Himself in this present time has given His Church a true spiritual mirror (The True Divine Mercy Image that is one of Broken Man) to look into from where we can see the reality of our fallen self and if we are honest it will induce us to embrace humility, the forerunner to the commencement of the ‘mystical’ Way (spiritual enlightenment/life) accompanied by the Holy Spirit.

    “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    In past times a Quickening (The first known movement of the fetus within the uterus) was an acceptance of a new life (Creation). Those born anew of the Holy Spirit do not fully understand the time and place (Whereof) of that birth as initially He enlightens our minds with the ‘sound’ of His living Word given within the Gospels (True knowledge God) while quickening/moving our hearts into obedient, truthful tender compassionate ones as we are gradually been transformed into a New Creation.

    The Holy Spirit prompts us to cry out Father! With His beloved as His Holy Spirit inspired/gave His Beloved the prayer which glorifies His Name as we are taught to say in Unity of Purpose.

    “Our Father, who art in heaven
    Hallowed be thy name
    thy kingdom come
    thy will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven…”etc.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

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