This Lent, let's empty our hearts so that God may fill them

A file photo shows a crown of thorns displayed during a Mass at Jesus the Good Shepherd Church in Dunkirk, Md. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

One of our Dominican customs, upon the death of a Sister, is to cover the Sister’s face with the shoulder-width, full-length, white scapular she has worn all her life as part of her habit. This gesture, we learn as novices, represents the renunciation made through her profession of vows, and the pledge this renunciation gives of eternal life.

In the Church’s liturgical calendar, February witnesses the coincidence of several remembrances: Feb. 2, World Day of Consecrated Life; Feb. 11, Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick; and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This particular February, watching and praying at a deathbed, I have glimpsed a connection among the three.

Illness is a profound experience of deprivation and emptying. Gradually, aspects of autonomy, mobility and privacy are surrendered, one by one. We will read in the liturgies of Palm Sunday and Good Friday about Christ’s entering into this experience, when soldiers blindfolded Him, stripped Him of His garments, and finally nailed Him to the cross. There, He passed three hours in excruciating pain, unable to do what most of us take for granted: move His hands and feet.

We know that each of us, like Christ, will one day reach that moment when He calls the soul back to Himself. We also know that the story does not end there: it ends not in death but rather in life — everlasting life, where complete fulfillment replaces loss, where we will be truly and fully free.

The road to life lies through the cross, and each of us prepares for eternal life through the self-emptying entailed in the sacrifices and sufferings of this life. The vows of poverty, chastity and obedience offer consecrated persons a unique way to live this emptying; the life of a religious, including her habit, is meant to be a sign to others of the Paschal mystery, both its sorrow and its joy, its loss and its triumph.

The fact that I do not choose what I put on each morning is both a poverty and, perhaps less obviously, an enrichment; wearing the habit frees my mind for prayer, spares expense, visibly expresses the invisible communion of charity binding me to my Sisters, and offers a concrete witness to passersby of the joyful truth that God exists and loves us.

This Lent we are invited, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, to enter more intensely into the renunciation and loss that are each life’s preparation for the face-to-face vision of God. We are offered 40 days in which consciously to empty ourselves of superfluities and sins to be ready for God to fill us.

Mother Teresa said, “An empty heart God fills. Even Almighty God will not fill a heart that is full.” Let us, then, ask God this Lent to empty us of all that is not Him, so that in poverty of spirit, we may inherit His kingdom.

Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.


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