This past weekend I was fortunate to attend my first Mid-Atlantic Congress for Pastoral Leadership in Baltimore, Maryland with the Catholic Apostolate Center team. It was the first conference of this kind that I had ever attended, and it was a wonderful experience for me. I spent the weekend with several other members of the Catholic Apostolate Center team, and we met so many people and organizations who are doing incredible work. It was great to connect with new people and reconnect with those whom we already work with. At MAC, the Catholic Apostolate Center sponsored several sessions with opportunities for collaboration and conversation among different groups. Being grounded in the spirituality of St. Vincent Pallotti, collaboration is something the Catholic Apostolate Center are especially focused on. In the few days after we returned home, I found myself wondering how the spirit of collaboration that I saw at MAC could also continue with me on my Lenten journey.
As I was sitting at Mass yesterday for Ash Wednesday, I was reflecting on my time this past weekend. I realized that I often think of the Lenten season as a time for personal growth and reflection, a time where I can examine my own faith. And it is true. Lent is a very individual experience. But as I sat in Church yesterday next to a close friend, I realized that Lent doesn’t just have to be an individual journey. People in our lives can provide valuable support and insight, and sharing our journey with others this Lent can expand on our personal growth. Leaving Mass, I had a conversation with a number of people about the fact that Ash Wednesday Mass is so well attended, despite it not being a holy day of obligation. We talked about the sense of unity we feel as we begin the Lenten season together, all marked with our ashes.
It is unusual to think of Lent as a time of collaboration, but Ash Wednesday is one of the days where our Catholicism is most outwardly on display. A non-Christian friend calls Ash Wednesday “Spot the Catholics Day,” and it makes me laugh, but also makes me feel proud to display my faith so openly. On Ash Wednesday, we walk around and see others with the marks of ashes on their forehead and feel a sense of solidarity with them, even without knowing them. We have this unspoken bond, and the breath of the Universal Church becomes very apparent. Collaboration is about working with others for a common goal. I believe that Ash Wednesday and the entire Lenten season is a reminder that our own struggles are what unite us as members of the community of faith.
During this Lenten season, I would challenge you to share your personal journey with others in your life: share your joys and also your struggles. Lent is a personal time, but the sense of peace we so often find is much better when shared with others in our lives. We are a community of believers, and Lent is a time to reflect and remind ourselves both of our personal commitment to our faith and to remind us of our place within this community.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center