Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Teresian Plan for Lent

Therese is second from the left  ~ with the paddle and cloth

UNTIL THE CALENDAR REFORMS OF 1969, today would have been called Septuagesima Sunday - the first of three Sundays in a row with curious Latin names that served as a countdown to the start of Lent. Septuagesima translates seventy - roughly seventy days to Easter. 

The world spends a great deal of time getting ready for the things that matter: years of preparing for the Olympics, wedding preparations, a young lawyer wanna-be preparing for the boards, preparing one's face and hair for a heavy date, preparing the room for the baby's arrival, preparing for vacation, preparing for surgery, preparing for retirement...

So I think it's a mistake that the church dropped the three Sunday's of Lenten preparation. Instead it's just imagined that we'll jump into Lent on Ash Wednesday and debate whether the Sundays of Lent "count." An unfortunate compromise with the flip side of the culture: zooming along and breathlessly playing catch-up.

Anyway, here on this blog-page we can acknowledge Septuagesima and its liturgical theme of humanity exhausted and bereft, the world's misery in need of a remedy. The Adam and Eve Genesis account tells us that somewhere along the line we spoiled things with wrong choosing, wanting to be equal to God in a bite and losing our God-Given Paradise. We need God for our repair. 

Sin weighs heavily upon us: lies and power abuse, exploitation and corruption, violence and death as problem-solver, hatred and revenge. The Gospel at Mass today used to be Matthew 20: 1-16 - the vineyard owner who gave the same pay to those who worked only briefly  as those who'd worked through the long, hard and hot hours of the full day. The message: Be glad and get on board, in response to God who gives to us so generously, as God wills and as we need.

Septuagesima Sunday says it's not too soon to start preparing for Lent - considering how we might reflect God's own project of  love. And Therese of Lisieux lays it out for us.

"True charity consists in putting up with one's neighbor's faults, never being surprised by her weakness, and being inspired by the least of her virtues."

I've changed the pronouns from him to her only because Therese lived in a close community of 21 women and we must be absolutely certain that she knew exactly what she was talking about because of the struggles that kind of community would have required. The picture above illustrates it. Laundry was done at this kind of shallow pool, each nun squeezed up against the other, wooden paddles beating dirty clothes, water flying. Indeed, Therese writes of one laundry partner (deliberately?) splashing her with dirty water and Therese coming to imagine that it was the priest sprinkling her with Holy Water at the start of Mass! Therese wrote:

"If the people knew what went on in this house, they would burn it to the ground."

"Sometimes I feel as if I'm living inside a volcano."

In another place Therese writes of a nun in chapel who continually clanked her rosary against the wooden bench or whose loose false teeth clacked away. And Therese imagining it was music. Or the cantankerous old nun who castigated Therese for walking her either too quickly or too so slowly. "Damned if you do, damned if you don't," we say.

So maybe this Lent we can accompany our giving up with three practical life-steps given to us by this much loved saint, essential ingredients for the God-remedy of our world:

  • putting up with the faults of others
  • taking no surprise at the weaknesses of others
  • taking inspiration at even the least of virtues we discern in others.

This is harder than the most rigorous fasting from desired food and drink and the dimension of Lent most ignored or forgotten.


  1. The Polish National Catholic Church has add the observance of Septuagesima Sunday to the liturgical calendar. This is a new change towards the old ways. Amen.

  2. We either over-prepare in worldly things, or go off wild, blind and unprepared. Go figure. Maybe we should start a petition asking for the restoration of the Septuagesima Season.

  3. This makes me long for the old days. I don't like to live in the past, however, once in awhile, some nostalgia sets in. I have memories of this Sunday. Purple vestments and dropping the Allelulia. The the thoughts of Lenten preparation at a time when more people paid attention.

  4. I share your sense. Jesus often asks us to "wake up" in the Gospels. Septuagesima and the following two Sundays said that in effect: pay attention, wake up, antennae up! There's nothing wrong with that kind of nostalgia. I see it as a kind of holy remembering - where God touched our souls. I"m grateful that it was part of my life as a boy and glad to be able to touch it again here in these posts. There used to be whole Catholic culture that supported these nuanced aspects of our religious lives. Keep it where you're able.

  5. Saint Therese, in 24 precious years she gave her life, her will, her whole self over to God and loved Jesus in joy to the shedding of her TB blood. Help me Saint Therese to live these three practical life steps starting in Lent and never ending. Thank you, Father, for the reminder to return to former Church practices that feed the mind and soul and create room for God to do His work in us, precious soul saving transmission of His Love for us. I prefer to follow your lead to live in the present moment by infusing it with all my heart inspires me to practice every day to let go and let God.

  6. The pastor of our church refers to St.Therese of Lisieux often, but never in such a way as this. She comes humanly alive to me when you put her in this perspective. Her message is clear to me. Be tolerant and turn your negative thoughts into inspiration. Embrace one another for all we have to offer. Thank you for passing these thoughts on to us. Blessings to you during this season of preparation Father.