We “boast in our sufferings,” writes Paul to the Romans, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us….” It sounds, doesn’t it, like Paul is encouraging the Romans to brag about their problems and how well they handle them, as if endurance, character, and hope were the prizes handed out in some sort of “affliction Olympics.”
Well, he’s not. The Greek word here is kauchaomai which the lexicon interprets as “to glory in a thing.” The New American Bible rendered this injunction as “we exult in our tribulations.” The old Revised Standard Version translated this word as “rejoice.” I rather like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this text in The Message: “We … shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles.” So, no … Paul is not encouraging competitive bragging.
Well, then, what is he doing?
We ask you to hold the people of Ukraine deep in your heart.
Protect them, we pray; from violence,
from political gamesmanship,
from being used and abused.
Give, we pray, the nations of the world the courage
and the wisdom to stand up for justice
and the courage, too, to dare to care generously.
Lord, in your mercy, take from us all the tendencies in us
that seek to lord it over others:
take from us those traits
that see us pursuing our own needs and wants
before those of others.
Teach us how to live in love and dignity and respect
following your example,
that life may triumph over death,
and light may triumph over darkness. Amen. 
The Pope’s message for Lent is a poignant one, beginning with an acknowledgement that “going to some small extent without food [may not seem to] mean much, at a time when so many of our brothers and sisters are victims of war … and are undergoing such suffering, both physically and morally.” Nonetheless, insisted His Holiness, “Lent must mean something,” and he urged all Christians to focus on “the common heritage of humanity.”
Today marks the beginning of the season we call “Lent,” an old English word which refers to the springtime lengthening of the days. What is this season all about, these forty days (not counting Sundays) during which we are to be, in some way, doing what a hymn attributed to St. Gregory the Great says: “Keep[ing] vigil with our heavenly lord in his temptation and his fast?”
A few years ago, Dr. Jonn Sentamu, the current Archbishop of York, described Lent as a time for seeking and getting to know God better. Similarly, an essay about Lent in an issue of the National Catholic Register was titled “A Season for Seeking.” I’m not sure I buy that, however. As the Roman Franciscan author Richard Rohr says, “We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness.” Lent is not so much a time for seeking God, who is always there, as it is for becoming aware of God.
And the interesting thing is that we are encouraged to become aware of God by becoming more aware of ourselves. Yes, Jesus does say to give with one hand not letting the other know what’s happening, but this seems more an instruction to follow the Deuteronomic command to “open your hand [to one in need] … to give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so” rather than a direction to act without self-awareness.
Lenten Journal, Good Friday
It is said that the dogwood used to be a tree of mighty stature, taller and stronger than the oak. It was also a tree that spread around the world. Because of its abundance and strength, it was the tree chosen by the Romans to make the crosses on which they executed criminals.
One day, however, the wood of the dogwood tree was formed into a cross and used to crucify an innocent man, a man who, it turned out, was the Son of God. The dogwood was bereft. Sensing its grief and shame Christ said to the tree, “No longer will you be used for this purpose. You shall from now on grow, not tall and strong, but slender and weak. Further, your flower shall form a reminder of the cross and each petal will bear a mark of the nails. You need not be ashamed, nor need you grieve. You will be a reminder of my willing sacrifice.”
Lenten Journal, Day 41
“Day 41” seems odd to write in a Lenten journal, but I’ve not separated out Sundays in my count of the days. We say “40 days of Lent” because Sundays are excluded; there are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. I started this journal on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday and called that entry “Day 1” … so, weird or not, I’m calling this “Day 41” of Lent.
It’s also “Chrism Tuesday” (not an official name), the day on which clergy gather with their bishop to renew their ordination vows. The actual traditional day for this is Maundy Thursday but somewhere along the line American dioceses moved this service to Tuesday in Holy Week. Today marks the first time in my ordained life that I have not attended the Chrism Mass. Instead, I went to the orthopaedic clinic and endured a session of biometric measurement gauging the progress of my knee replacement recovery.
Lenten Journal, Day 40
A picture of Fionna popped up on my Facebook “wall” this week. It has done so before. Whenever it does, it brings tears to my eyes. I am reminded how important having a dog is in my life. I remember my former companions: my first dog, Baron; the dog who kept me sane throughout college, Shadrak; the stray Cocker Spaniel we came to call “the best dog ever,” Josephine; and all the others.
It is said that Martin Luther was a dog-lover. He had a little dog named Tölpel (which is German for “fool”). He once said of dogs, “The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.”
Lenten Journal, Day 39, Palm Sunday
Yesterday and the day before I wrote in this journal but did not post what I had written to Facebook as I have throughout the rest of Lent. Friday was our 39th wedding anniversary and Saturday, being the day before Palm Sunday, is when Evelyn and I remember the day our daughter disappeared (she was later found and all is well). What I wrote yesterday and Friday was simply too personal to put out on public social media.
Today we have stayed home from church because Evelyn has a rip-roaring upper respiratory infection. You should hear her cough! As we have done so, I have been thinking about the way we have commemorated Palm Sunday as married persons for the last 39 years. Except that year when Caitlin went missing, they have been invariably the same (as least for me): Saturday spent decorating the church with palms; Sunday the simple 8 a.m. distribution of palms within the context of Holy Communion; the later service a big production number beginning with a procession around the church and through the cemetery (if there was one nearby, as there has been here in Medina and was in San Diego), a choral Eucharist, the dramatic reading of the Passion Narrative.
Lenten Journal, Day 36
I really wish that were true (it means “I speak Irish”). I don’t. I study Irish. I forget Irish. I study it again.
That is how I spent today; using Duolingo and a free online course from Dublin City University, I have spent the day refreshing my memory of the Irish language, recalling things I learned a decade ago at a school in the Connemara Gaeltacht north and west of Galway City.
Irish is just one of the languages I have studied. I took Spanish in grades 5 through 8 in the Los Angeles city schools. I studied Latin throughout high school. I took Italian in an immersion course in Florence in 1969 and then French in a longer immersion course in Paris in 1973. I cannot speak, read, or write in any of these languages, although I could back in the day.
Lenten Journal, Day 35
Last night I looked up into the black sky
where a silver crescent moon gave way to stars
and found the Big Dipper, that major bear,
pointing to Polaris and I felt
like a kid again
In the hours before dawn this morning
walking the dog as I usually do
I looked up again and found Orion, the hunter,
with his three-star studded belt and sword,
striding across the sky
Staying up late, arising early to see the sky
I was the science kid
who knew the stars and the planets
Walking now beneath them
I recall the joy of discovery
I greet old friends
Timeless and changeless the same stars
marched the sky in ancient Palestine
but timeless and changeless
only because of distance
their now a million years gone
locked with Jesus’ now millennia gone
locked with my now still unfolding
a kairos combination of
then and now and long ago and yet to be
as it was in the beginning
and will be forever
–– C. Eric Funston, “Stars,” 10 April 2019
Note: The illustration is from NASA: The Big Dipper Enhanced; Image Credit & Copyright: VegaStar Carpentier)
Lenten Journal, Day 34
My intention when I started this exercise in Lenten discipline was to write for an hour each morning with no preconceptions about what I would be writing. Just sit down, put a figurative piece of paper in my imaginary typewriter, and start pounding the keys. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but I have made the attempt (most days) to at least write something sometime during each 24 hour period.
Similarly, it was my intention to return to the gym (the Medina Recreation Center) this morning and do another half-hour of aerobic exercise on the recumbent crosstrainer and the indoor track. And similarly it’s not going to work out that way.