The following was written by Fr. Mark Mastin, SCJ, a chaplain with the US Army at Fort Gordon:
Like many of us in active ministry, our lives can be very busy and stressful, particularly around key holidays and liturgical seasons such as Lent. In the military environment, we priests are often without staff members or available volunteers, which can add to our anxiety or worry. Hence, we are often left by ourselves performing many of the tasks and job functions in a parish including finance management, sacramental record keeping, event planning, teaching, acting youth minister, counseling, sacristan, burning palms for ashes, chauffeur for the brass, etc. Staffed by myself for nearly four weeks to manage activities such religious education, daily and weekend masses, confirmation, and a few ecumenical Ash Wednesday services, I found myself needing some spiritual guidance.
Through my Confirmation class, I rediscovered how the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit can help me get spiritually grounded again for Lent, especially in the practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I likewise saw how Dehonian this discerning process was. As a child of the sixties, I was confirmed in the 7th Grade. By my adulthood, I had relegated the gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord) to some ethereal realm never to be called upon again. However, even though I knew that they were still there, I never sought to reconnect with them. However, I now saw a deeper connection of these gifts in conjunction with our Priests of the Sacred Heart (SCJ) Rule of Life. I began to see those gifts of the spirit in a very real and practical human way for my Lenten practices and managing my ministerial life as well.
Prayer, Wisdom, Understanding, Fortitude, and Knowledge: Our Rule of life (76-78) speaks of how our faithfulness to prayer will help dispose ourselves to God’s word, which in turn unites us with the world. Consequently, prayer enables us to receive “a spirit of wisdom” or a welcoming of the spirit “who prays in us and comes to help us in our weakness.” Wow! A sense of fortitude to strengthen us in our weakness brought on by stressful days. We all can use a dose of this firmness of mind and spirit. This rule goes on to say that it is by prayer that we progress in the “knowledge” and understanding of Jesus thereby increasing our intimacy with him. To accomplish this relationship, we need to set aside time of silence and solitude with Christ. To let God in and let the noise out. Then, we will begin to comprehend how God sees, judges and acts with love, mercy, and forgiveness. Someone once said that silence is the language that God speaks. I am making that time.
Fasting, Counsel, and Piety: Such an attitude towards prayer and deep friendship with Jesus leads us to fast, to seek his counsel and grow deeper in our piety towards God. We discover that fasting is not just about reducing our food intake but fasting from those sinful things that keep separating us from God and each other. More importantly, we fast from our selfishness so that we may become selfless. From there, we seek Jesus’ counsel in directing our life, to fast from our willfulness and seek what God wills for us in the world (35). In a Dehonian sense, we become an oblation to people by offering up our lives for them. Not just by offering up our sufferings, though that may be involved, but by being available and attentive to the needs of others, particularly to the poor and marginalized (35).
Almsgiving and the Fear of the Lord: Finally, we are called to be Sint Unum or one with the world by our acts of charity. Our awe for God and God’s generous love for us pushes us to build up “the reign of justice and Christian charity in the world” — to bring God’s Kingdom to this earth—adveniat regnum tuum (32). Therefore, “Our special love shall go to those who have the greatest need of being acknowledged and loved” (51-52). “In this way, we will be disciples of Father Dehon.”
Having reflected upon these gifts of the spirit and the writings of our Rule of Life, I was at peace with all of my recent chapel activities, especially on the days of Confirmation and Ash Wednesday. I now feel better about Lent. I guess those seven gifts are still with me after all.