Ash Wednesday 2014: History, Dates, Traditions Of Lent's First Day Of Fasting

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Ash Wednesday is observed on March 5, in 2014. The Christian holy day marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day season of fasting that is considered preparation for Holy Week and the celebration of Easter.

Although there is no Biblical reference to Ash Wednesday or Lent, scholars of Christianity date the tradition of a 40-day fasting period back to 325 A.D.

Lent mirrors Jesus’ own 40-day period of fasting, described in the book of Matthew. Observers have ash placed on their foreheads in the shape of the cross as the words from Genesis 3:19 are spoken: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Fasting requirements for Catholics are outlined by the Code of Canon Law, and include eating no meat on the Fridays during Lent, as well as fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. (Fasting in this case refers to eating just one full meal a day.)

Many Christians will make personal vows of abstinence during Lent, which could include anything from refraining from eating candy, meat, vowing not to gossip, or being less selfish. Others will make a vow to do more for others including volunteering and working for social justice. All are expected to spend more time in prayer and reflection as Lent is considered by many to be an opportunity for spiritual transformation.

The Catholic nun Sister Joan Chittister writes:

Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not...Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now... Lent is a summons to live anew...Lent is the time to let life in again, to rebuild the worlds we've allowed to go sterile, to "fast and weep and mourn" for the goods we've foregone. If our own lives are not to die from lack of nourishment, we must sacrifice the pride or the sloth or the listlessness that blocks us from beginning again. Then, as Joel (2:12-18) promises, God will have pity on us and pour into our hearts the life we know down deep that we are lacking.

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Good Friday takes place today, making it a great day to share Good Friday quotes and Good Friday Bible verses with others.

To make that simple, HuffPost Religion collected a series of Bible verses and quotes for this Christian holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Traditions on Good Friday -- also known as Holy Friday and Black Friday -- include prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Here are 10 quotes to help commemorate Good Friday:

"See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted."
- Isaiah 52:13

"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me.
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God."
- Psalm 31

Read more here

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04/17/2014 10:51 AM EDT
Daily Meditation: Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday by Wilfred Owen

Between the brown hands of a server-lad
The silver cross was offered to be kissed.
The men came up, lugubrious, but not sad,
And knelt reluctantly, half-prejudiced.
(And kissing, kissed the emblem of a creed.)
Then mourning women knelt; meek mouths they had,
(And kissed the Body of the Christ indeed.)
Young children came, with eager lips and glad.
(These kissed a silver doll, immensely bright.)
Then I, too, knelt before that acolyte.
Above the crucifix I bent my head:
The Christ was thin, and cold, and very dead:
And yet I bowed, yea, kissed---my lips did cling.
(I kissed the warm live hand that held the thing.)

Read more Daily Meditations here

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04/17/2014 9:19 AM EDT
The Greatest Prayer In The World

It is Thursday, the night before Jesus’s crucifixion. This evening has been laden with teaching (John 13–17), shocking with foot-washing by the greatest for the least (John 13:3–20), epoch-making with the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:20–30; Mark 14:17–26; Luke 22:14–20), and pivotal with the departure of Judas (John 13:30).

Now Jesus and the eleven have gone to the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:1; Mark 14:32). Here Jesus prays the greatest prayer in the world. What hung in the balance was the glory of God’s grace and the salvation of the world. The success of Jesus’s mission to earth depended on Jesus’s prayer and the answer given. He prayed with reverence and his request was given.

The question I would like to try to answer is: How does Hebrews 5:7 relate to the prayers in Gethsemane? Hebrews 5:7 says, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” He was heard. He got his request. What does this refer to in Jesus’s life?

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Leading a church through Lent has been a lot more interesting with a rabbi at my side. It began with coffee and conversation back in the fall, but then we decided to use the season of Lent to study together.

Before you know it, we had decided that I would speak at his temple's Friday night service before Passover, and that he would speak in worship on the First Sunday of Lent and Palm Sunday at my church. To prepare, we spent the season of Lent discussing the four questions of Passover and any others that came up. (Turns out we had way more than four.)

For example, he wanted to know why Christians give things up for Lent. I explained that the practice is relatively rare, and should not be confused with the much more common Christian practice of planning to give things up for Lent.

Later, as Holy Week approached, I conveyed my excitement about the rabbi's upcoming visit to a Christian seminary professor, who then asked me a strange question: "Palm Sunday is one thing. But how would you feel if the rabbi came to your church on Good Friday?"

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Easter Sunday marks the holiest, most exalted moment of the Christian year. In Easter services all over the world, trumpets and organs blast. Flowers transform churches with their brightness. Worship leaders boldly proclaim: "Christ is risen!" Congregations echo back: "Christ is risen indeed!" The cycle of celebration and repetition begins as it should -- a festive proclamation of good news. In Christ God has overcome the powers of sin and death, freeing us to live with hope and promising us life. Not just life after death, but full life, divinely inspired life, life in the here and now.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!

Even in these festive moments, many people express insecurity regarding the quality of their own believing. On Easter Sunday no less than other days of the year, many fear that their own faith is inadequate. They worry that they don't understand enough. They obsess that maybe they lack full conviction. John's resurrection account speaks directly to the nature of our believing. The story in John 20:1-18 (like those that follow) provides diverse models for experience and faith. John's resurrection story rejects the notion that faith comes in only one shape, size, or pattern. As for the folks in the video that accompanies this commentary, authentic faith expresses itself in manifold ways.

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04/14/2014 12:11 PM EDT
Lent Isn't Just About You

In recent years, Lent has become more than an opportunity to give up chocolate, as Christians explore ways to use the 40-day period to engage social justice issues, such as hunger, clean water, and poverty.

Bridging spiritual disciplines with mercy ministry, 31-year-old Kerry Weber took up the New Testament call to tend the physical, bodily needs of people around her in New York City. She spent the months leading up to Easter doing one act of mercy a week, living out the belief that Lent wasn't just about her self-improvement, but about God's justice and love toward her community and her church.

The managing editor of the Catholic magazine America, Weber shares her Lenten project and wrestles with the practical ways to pursue justice in her new book Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep Your Day Job. She spoke with Religion News Service national correspondent Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

Read the rest here

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04/14/2014 11:16 AM EDT
Daily Meditation: Paradise
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04/11/2014 10:33 AM EDT
Meat-Free Fridays: Falafel Burgers

Ingredients

2 cans chickpeas (15 ounces each), drained and rinsed
1 small red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
A large handful of parsley, chopped
3-4 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon coriander
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup tahini paste
3 tablespoons water
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
4 sandwich-size whole wheat pita pockets
1-1 1/2 cups romaine lettuce, shredded
1/2 English (seedless) cucumber, sliced
1/4-1/2 cup hot pepperoncini peppers, sliced (depending on how hot you like it)
2 vine-ripe tomatoes, sliced

Serves 4

Preparation

Pre-heat the oven to 300ºF.

Pat the chickpeas dry with a paper towel and place them into a food processor. Add in the red onion, garlic, parsley, flour, spices and seasonings along with the beans and process until fairly smooth and very thick, so that you can form patties.

Pre-heat a large nonstick skillet with 1/4 cup vegetable oil. Form four large patties and cook for 3 minutes on each side.

While the patties are cooking, get the sauce started by placing the tahini paste into a medium size mixing bowl. Add the water, lemon juice and lemon zest and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set the sauce aside for the falafel burger assembly.

Cut the edge of each pita to form big pockets, then wrap them in foil and place them in the pre-heated oven to get warm, 3 minutes.

Remove the pitas from the oven and sauce each pita with a couple of tablespoons of the tahini sauce. Place some shredded lettuce, sliced cucumber, peppers and tomatoes in each pita, then slide in the falafel burgers and enjoy! Pass the extra tahini sauce at the table.

Click here for more of Rachel Ray's Lent recipes

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04/11/2014 9:38 AM EDT
What’s not to love about Lent?

Dear Dissonance,

Don’t you just revel in Lent? For starters, most people don’t know what it is anymore. For many it is some vaguely religious thing that starts after a day when people get really drunk and eat cake with a baby king in it.

Those who do know that it is supposed to be a time to repent and pray in preparation for Easter mostly think of it as a period to give up something that they really like and don’t want to — like alcohol, or sex, chocolate, or a favorite television show. So they don’t do it, and either feel guilty or dismiss the notion that it is possible to refrain from certain things, even for something they believe.

Read the rest on Patheos

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04/10/2014 9:22 AM EDT
Your Inner Life

My Inner Life by Robert William Service

'Tis true my garments threadbare are,
And sorry poor I seem;
But inly I am richer far
Than any poet's dream.
For I've a hidden life no one
Can ever hope to see;
A sacred sanctuary none
May share with me.

Aloof I stand from out the strife,
Within my heart a song;
By virtue of my inner life
I to myself belong.
Against man-ruling I rebel,
Yet do not fear defeat,
For to my secret citadel
I may retreat.

Oh you who have an inner life
Beyond this dismal day
With wars and evil rumours rife,
Go blessedly your way.
Your refuge hold inviolate;
Unto yourself be true,
And shield serene from sordid fate
The Real You.

Read more Daily Meditations here

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This week we observe Palm Sunday. We remember when Jesus entered Jerusalem and the crowd cheered. They yearned for a powerful figure who would overthrow the Roman government and create a new kin-dom of God for the Israelites who had been subjected to one empire or another for the better part of 600 years. As he rode into Jerusalem, the crowd greeted Jesus as the one who would fulfill their desires. It was a moment of triumph.

Many Christians have had similar expectations of Jesus. This continues to our day. Many Christians focus on Jesus as a triumphant figure. We crave a powerful Jesus who can come into our lives and make a triumphal mark. His return is embedded in the Nicene Creed which Christians around the world recite every Sunday "from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead."

Read the rest here

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Four years ago, I spent Shrove Tuesday eating my weight in sausage patties and golden pancakes. Then I became a vegetarian for Lent.

My first vegetarian Ash Wednesday was met with nausea and a keen sense of the 40 days until Easter breakfast casseroles. Lent was about joining Jesus in the wilderness, but it was also about surviving a season sans cheeseburgers.

During that trial, my spiritual sacrifice was connected to larger intention. I’d taken the Lenten vegetarianism pledge as an indication of commitment to my forthcoming marriage with Fred, a devout Hindu who formerly lived as a monk and had been a vegetarian for over a decade.

Read the rest here

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04/07/2014 9:20 AM EDT
Seeing Confession In A New Light

One of loneliest places in church these days is the confession line. The act of confessing one’s sins, a requirement for Catholics, has sharply fallen over several decades with evolving views on sin, penance and the stature of the priesthood.

But now Pope Francis and church leaders, in a push to draw people back to confession, are highlighting what clergy say are the healing, uplifting aspects of the sacrament and focusing less on themes like punishment and condemnation.

The Paterson Diocese and Newark Archdiocese are using websites, newspaper ads and highway billboards to get the message out. Under diocesan guidance, local churches have also added one extra day a week to hear confession during Lent, the period before Easter when penance is considered a Catholic duty. And the pope, in an image seen and talked about around the world, confessed to a priest last week in public view.

Read the rest here

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04/07/2014 8:41 AM EDT
Painting Our Way Through Lent

The supplies are simple: tubes of paint, paper, tables, chairs. Invite God’s children of all ages; add prayer, conversation, and fellowship. The results are nothing short of masterpieces.

Roger Hutchison has been mixing these ingredients for years, and watching as the Holy Spirit works through people of all ages to create beautiful art, and more importantly: relationships.

Having published The Painting Table in 2013, Roger continues to offer workshops which bring people together to pray and paint. This Lent, he has led and inspired workshops around the country focusing on art as a way of understand the “beauty and pain of the life of Jesus Christ.”

Read more on BuildFaith.org

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04/06/2014 10:17 AM EDT
Trust

A Prayer of Trust by Thomas Merton

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Click here for more Daily Meditations

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Several days ago, we got a glimpse of the papacy that made history—something that was both surprising and beautiful.

After leading a televised penance service at St. Peter’s, Pope Francis walked down a side aisle to begin hearing confessions. He passed an open confessional, with a priest quietly waiting inside, and got an idea. He paused and changed course. Cameras caught the pontiff walking up to the priest, and then kneeling before him. Thousands in St. Peter’s, and millions around the world, saw a pope do something they had never seen a pope do before.

He went to confession.

As he has done so often, Francis was teaching by doing.

Read the rest on Patheos

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Now we have completed three weeks of the season of Lent, a season that began on Ash Wednesday when we were signed with those ashes that reminded us that we are dust, and from dust we came, to dust we shall return. We began then a season of renewal to prepare for our passage from death to new, everlasting life. Our preparation included, as we know, some fasting or penance, disciplining ourselves to put into a right perspective all the goods of the earth that we cherish so much.

We encourage or encouraged and began to do almsgiving -- giving of that excess that we have to those who are in desperate need, sharing of the goods we have so all could have a full life -- and prayer. Those three things always mark the season of Lent, and I trust that we have been trying to be more alert to doing penance, disciplining ourselves in the right view so the world's goods we've been sharing with others, and praying.

Read the rest here

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04/04/2014 10:12 AM EDT
Hope Springs Eternal

Oh my, did I need Opening Day this year. Opening Day, of course, is the first day of the baseball season. For baseball fans, it is a time when hope comes alive again, after a long winter of waiting.

On Opening Day, every team starts with a clean slate, all the win/loss records are 0-0, and, as they say, "hope springs eternal." There is talk in every baseball town and among all baseball fans of how we really could win this year if only this or that goes right, if our players could live up to their real potential, if we could finally "gel" as a team, and if all the things we can't control could go well for us and not so well for the other teams. "Have you seen that new rookie?" And "that trade we just made could make all the difference now!" Everybody is a believer on opening day.

Read the rest here

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We're deep into Lent, the season when Christians prepare themselves for Easter. For those of you who have been preparing by giving up something — chocolate, or driving, or yelling at the kids — it can feel like a pretty long time.

But, some folks are looking to reframe Lent, with a little madness.

“ "John Wesley wrote something like 6,000 hymns, many of which we still sing today. Vote for John. He's the man."
- Don McMahon
"A lot of people see Lent as the church's season of doom, and gloom, and guilt, and depression, and eating dirt," says Tim Schenck, an Episcopalian priest in Massachusetts.

He acknowledges that repentance and self-denial are a part of Lent. People can also use it as a time to take on positive practices, which is kind of the point.

"What could be more joyful than a season in the church year specifically set aside to grow your faith, to be closer to God?" Schenck asks.

Read the rest on NPR

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04/03/2014 1:04 PM EDT
Down to the River
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04/02/2014 10:51 AM EDT
Lenten Message From Pope Francis

He became poor,
so that by his poverty you might become rich
(cf. 2 Cor 8:9)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As Lent draws near, I would like to offer some helpful thoughts on our path of conversion as individuals and as a community. These insights are inspired by the words of Saint Paul: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor 8:9). The Apostle was writing to the Christians of Corinth to encourage them to be generous in helping the faithful in Jerusalem who were in need. What do these words of Saint Paul mean for us Christians today? What does this invitation to poverty, a life of evangelical poverty, mean for us today?

Read the rest here

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At the end of the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger came forward for the final commendation and farewell, he paused for several minutes as the crowd cheered, crying out “Santo Subito” while waving banners that also read in translation, “Sainthood now!”

Days earlier, on April 2, 2005, the people assembled in vigil at Saint Peter’s Square were praying for John Paul, asking the intercession of Mary and the other saints when Archbishop Leonardo Sandri came out to announce, “At 9:37 p.m. (2:37 p.m. EST), our Holy Father returned to the House of the Father.” The people would again call on the holy disciples in heaven in that beautiful litany of the saints at his funeral. But already, in addition to people praying for John Paul, they were asking him to pray for us, adding their own testimony to that of Cardinal Ratzinger, who said in his homily, “We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house, that he sees us and blesses us.”

Read the rest here

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04/02/2014 8:55 AM EDT
Why I'm Committed To Lent

As a Christian, I give up something for Lent because Jesus went into the wilderness to fast for 40 days. I yearn to be a part of something larger than myself, to sacrifice something small, recognizing that our world needs less consumption and more contemplation.

As a mother, I give up something for Lent because I want my daughters to know that I can survive six weeks without drinking a beer after work. And I want to remind myself that I can.

As a teacher, I give up something for Lent because I am weary of the dopamine hits from checking e-mail and Facebook and the headlines, as if I am checking the pulse of patient. For six weeks, I need to practice a pause.

As a child of God, I give up something for Lent because I have experienced losses: a mother, a father, an unborn child, a marriage.

As a person of hope, I give up something for Lent because I want to prepare for a celebration.

Read the rest here

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There's an episode of Family Guy where Mort Goldman comes over to Peter Griffin's house and asks to borrow a crucifix, as Mort says, "Preferably one without the little fellow on it."

Doesn't that sound like the Lenten season? Lent is dark and messy, we don't like the image of Jesus on the cross because ultimately it's not a Jesus easy to imagine with our holy imagination. Though Family Guy is a hilarious comedy, it has a point, we like the cross without Jesus.

Western society has done an incredible job of taking the cross and making it into something it's not. Whether we attribute it to taboos, culture, or a lack of education, we view the cross very differently than the earliest Christians viewed it. As Mary Button says, "We can only begin to understand the meaning of the crucifixion when we take away our polished and shiny crosses and try to locate the cross in our own time, and in our own landscape."

Read the rest here

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Okay, I know many of you are opening up this blog and thinking, "You can't give up your feelings for Lent! Jesus did not die for your sins you so you could make fun of such an important season!" Lent is a magical time where we are called to give up various creature comforts, or...bad habits. We use this period as a way to reflect on how we can be less distracted from our spiritual journey. Some of us may give up alcohol, chocolate even sex to be closer to what we see as our very spiritual best. As someone invested in creating space for all kinds of marginalized communities, I'd say my feelings are most often what gets in the way of my path to both spiritual wellness and community accountability.

Just take a moment and think about the last time you sat in on a multiculturalism training, or anti-oppression talk. Do you remember if anyone cried? Did someone need a hug? Did folks get all awkward and not speak to each other afterwards? Did you spend a lot of time feeling defensive about your own part in all this? Yeah, that can happen a lot. Mostly, I find that when you get a group of folks together to talk about power and privilege, we waste a lot of time talking about our feelings and barely scratch the surface of structural and institutionalized oppression.

Read the rest here

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Lent is not my favorite time of the liturgical year. I've always been more of an Advent person and never understood some of my fellow Catholics' actual joy during the 40 days preceding Easter. Call me a Lent weakling.

This year, however, I took up a challenge offered by Christian author and speaker Margaret Feinberg to read the New Testament straight through during Lent. I've read the Bible before but never this way. It has given me a purpose during these 40 days that keeps me from focusing on the sugar withdrawals I'm having. So far, doing this Bible journey seems to be working on lots of levels.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Reporter

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03/31/2014 4:21 PM EDT
Lent: A Time To Change Direction
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Somewhere along the way, we each get stripped of what we have spent our lives acquiring, of things closest to our hearts, of possessions or positions that made us who we thought we were. Then, thrown back upon ourselves, we are left to discover who we have really become. It is a frightening moment, often an embarrassing one, always a difficult one. So much of life is spent attending to the show and glitter, the masks and trappings, the externals of our personal identities that we fail to notice what is lacking inside of us. The problem is, of course, that we don’t miss what we don’t have within us until we need it most. Then the lack of dignity, of self-containment, of simple joy, of deep sincerity, of spiritual serenity, of holy trust, of genuine humility becomes glaringly apparent. It’s only at the point when we realize who we are not that we are ready to become someone worthwhile.

When we have finally stopped the posturing and personal exaggerations of life, the freedom that comes with being honest with the self and open with others leaves us perfectly free. Now, nothing can possibly shame us again. No one can say anything about us that we have not already admitted, if not to others, certainly to the self. Now we cannot be slighted because we know who we are. We cannot be embarrassed by the past because we have already embraced and confronted it. We cannot be left to the vultures of life because there is no way left to pick us to the bone that we have not already reckoned with ourselves. It is a moment of great liberation. It is a moment of new life.

Being willing to be the self and nothing more is the beginning of truth, the essence of humility, the coming of peace.

Read more in The Way of the Cross by Joan Chittister

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