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Gracious, spacious and precious: Lent 2012

Saint Anthony of Padua

My mom had a devotion to Saint Anthony of Padua that went beyond asking him to find lost things. I have no idea where it came from or why he was special to her; but he was. She named my older sister Antoinette in his honor and wore a Saint Anthony medal for as long as I can remember.

So when I came upon the following words attributed to Saint Anthony, I was doubly grateful. First I felt as if the saint became more real to me so I felt more connected to my mom and second his insight gave me an idea for this Lenten reflection.

Here’s what I read: “As God is compassionate toward you in a threefold way, so ought you to show compassion toward others in three ways. God’s compassion is gracious, spacious, and precious.” (Saint Anthony of Padua)

The connection to Lent? The three fundamental Lenten practices annually recommended to us are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Each year I struggle to put new energy into the “old” practices so I won’t just drift my way through the 40 days given to ready us for Easter, ready us to take in and relish the mystery of life-never-ending. (Embracing the mystery that “life is not ended but merely changed” does take some soul work, don’t you think?)

Saint Anthony’s description of the compassion of God does give me a way to think anew about the HOW of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Here’s where I find myself as the season begins.

For me, the most apt synonym for Providence is compassion. God pouring God’s Self out in endless, boundless, unconditional, surprising acts of love — for me, for us, for all, for Earth, for the entire cosmos. Indeed the acts of our provident God are “gracious, spacious, and precious.”

If I believe that — and I do with all my self — how can my acts mirror those of the God who calls me to be God’s providence here and now?

How can I make my acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving actions that are “gracious, spacious, and precious?” I’m still pondering this question. I’m exploring notions about making my prayer deliberately mindful of those persons and beliefs that are different from mine; prayer mindful of those who consistently fall under my radar and attention because I’m simply not paying attention to the people and issues of Earth. Mindful of the all-encompassing embrace of Providence, I will consciously widen my own embrace of the other, the least, the oppressed.

I’m not a fan of fasting. Even if I changed my attitude toward it to be one of gracious receptivity to a practice of fasting from or fasting for, I’d be further ahead. I know all the theories about fasting; but I need to make space for it in my self — hoping that the action will widen my embrace of all by being more mindful of how my patterns of living oppress others who have little, oppress Earth itself. An act of fasting is simple and can seem insignificant but it has power to change my awareness and so change my behaviors. I sure would prefer another way though!

During Lent, I make it a point to find and send a gift to an organization or cause that I ordinarily don’t support financially but matches my values. I also set aside time to give time to someone else. Few of us deny that our time is probably the most precious gift we have. Few of us don’t feel time crunches, time pressures. Taking (or giving) the time to be with someone — be completely present to the other — is an act of compassion that energizes and encourages both of us in the encounter. I’m not pretending it’s a selfless act; I’m only saying that quality time with another puts me so in the flow of God’s compassion, providence. In that flow, I can be my best self – one whose acts mirror the gracious, spacious, precious compassion of God.

Happy Lent, dear Friends in Providence! Know that, as in every season, the Sisters of Providence and our Providence Associates hold you in our prayer and affection. May you know too the touch of God’s loving Providence in your lives!

In Providence,

Sister Denise Wilkinson
General Superior

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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