The season of Lent is a great opportunity to make a retreat
- Welcome to this year’s Lent retreat. A retreat offers a chance to take a step back from the pressing concerns of daily life, to reflect prayerfully on the current state of your relationships, with God, with the people around you, and with the world. The season of Lent, during which we prepare to celebrate the Paschal Mystery, the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter, is a great opportunity to make such a retreat.
- To help and guide our prayer this year, we are reflecting on the events of the Passion, as witnessed by the women in the company of Jesus. Their lives were transformed by their encounter with Jesus. John’s Gospel mentions the women who stood at the foot of the cross to keep a last vigil during Christ’s suffering. Some are known to us by name: Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, Salome, and of course Mary his mother. Some are anonymous: Luke’s Gospel mentions the daughters of Jerusalem who weep for him on his way to the cross. Others, too, had a part to play in the unfolding drama: Martha and Mary at Bethany, the maidservant in the High Priest’s courtyard and Pilate’s wife.
- As you pray with the material presented here, we hope that you too will encounter Jesus in a new and profound way and that that encounter may have a transforming effect in your own life. We also hope that you’ll come to a deepened awareness of God at work in your life.
How long do you feel that you are able to devote to each session of the retreat?
We start with some practical suggestions that might help you if you haven’t made a retreat like this before, or act as reminders if you have.
The first thing to consider is: how long do you feel that you are able to devote to each session of the retreat? It’s good to decide this in advance, and try and spend the same amount of time on each reflection. Don’t give up too soon if you struggle with the prayer, or continue too long if it seems to be going well. The material presented in each sessions lasts about 15 minutes, but you might want to take more time than this to prepare yourself, or to revisit ideas that arise from the retreat throughout the day. If you want extra resources to further prepare yourself for the prayer time, there are breathing and stillness exercises on the Pray as you go website.
The aim of the retreat is to enable you to pray anywhere you want
You might give some thought to what time of day is best for you to pray. Everyone is different, some people prefer to pray at the beginning of the day, others in the evening, and others as a break in the middle of the day. It’s also important to think about where you are going to pray this retreat – the aim of this retreat is to enable you to pray anywhere you want – on the way to or from work, out on a walk, at home, or with others. Try and work out what is best for you.
Finally, ask yourself what you are making this retreat for. What are the gifts and graces you hope to receive from God during these times of prayer. Make sure that you start the prayer by asking God for these, or for whatever else God wants to give you.
When you have taken a while to consider these questions, you’ll be ready to begin this prayerful look at the women of the Passion. Before you begin, just become aware of God welcoming you to meet him in this way, and also be aware of all those around the world who are praying this retreat alongside you.
Bethany was the home village of Martha and Mary
In John’s Gospel the Passion narrative is preceded by the account of the raising of Lazarus at Bethany. All the gospels agree that at the start of what we call Holy Week Jesus was at Bethany, just a mile or two from Jerusalem, and the tradition is that the triumphal entry into the Holy City, at which the crowds scattered palms at his feet, took place from there. Bethany was the home village of the two sisters, Martha and Mary, and so it is appropriate that our opening reflections for our Lenten retreat should begin with these two women.
The events of Holy Week are so fast-moving and dramatic, that many overlook the next female figure to appear in the Passion narratives, namely the girl on duty in the High Priest’s house. Yet all four Gospels mention her. The accounts vary slightly, but all agree that Peter’s first denial was provoked by her accusation. There is a legend – albeit without much scriptural foundation – that identifies her with Rhoda, the maid of the house that Peter takes refuge in after his escape with the aid of an angel from Herod’s prison mentioned in Chapter Twelve of the Acts of the Apostles (12:13).
Charged by the Sanhedrin with blasphemy, Jesus is then brought before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. While questioning Jesus, Pilate receives a message from his wife, recorded in a single verse of Matthew’s Gospel: “ Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.” (Matt 27:19). Tradition states that Pilate’s wife became a follower of Jesus but in secret, and that her name was Claudia. In the belief that she was gifted with faith, she is reverenced by the Greek Orthodox Church as a saint.
Mary of Magdala is the first person to see the risen Christ
The “daughters of Jerusalem” mentioned by Luke are probably a company of pious Jewish women who went to crucifixions and gave the victim a drink of drugged wine that would help to deaden the terrible pain. It was an act of charity and they were “mourning and weeping” for one condemned to die under the Law. Jesus’ response shows his compassion and concern for them.
Jesus told the “daughters of Jerusalem” not to weep for him, but for themselves, for he knew that, if the world remained deaf to his message, disaster would certainly follow. We’re not told what they made of this warning or whether these women followed him all the way to the place of the crucifixion. What we’re told in all the Gospels is that there was a small group of women that kept vigil by the Cross, among them Mary, his Mother, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary of Magdala.
After Jesus’ death on the cross, Mary of Magdala followed to see where his body would be laid. John tells us that “ Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb.” She goes out in darkness, perhaps full of questions, but her faithfulness and devotion are rewarded. She is the first person to see the risen Christ, who calls her by name, and she is sent to tell the other apostles the Good News. She becomes the “Apostle to the Apostles.”
Talk to God
When or where you have had an experience of encountering the Lord?
- Each of these women, individually or as part of a group, encounter Jesus in one way or another. As you begin this retreat, it might be worth taking some time to consider when or where you have had an experience of encountering the Lord. What were the circumstances of your life at that moment?
- Continuing to remember that experience, what was the encounter like? What was the result of that meeting?
- Finally, where do you experience God now? Where would you like to experience him more closely.