Lent, love, and therapy

April 25, 2023 in News

Jesuits, friends, and colleagues were busy during Lent, using the season to offer new and varied courses and rituals for people both in person and on Zoom.

The Belfast Jesuit Centre for Spirituality in the City offered a course entitled ‘Lent: A journey of Love and Therapy for Life’s Changes.’ It began on Ash Wednesday and focussed each week on the Sunday readings for Lent. (See below)).

Gerry Clarke SJ offered the course which had its own personal resonance for him. “A series of deaths in my own family led me to many solitary moments at the end of the South Wall in Dublin Bay, asking, begging, pleading for an understanding of these hurts in life. I suppose, I chose not to ignore the feelings and was gifted with time and friendships to help me understand them. But even if we choose to ignore them, the feelings are there. Change in life provokes deep feelings in us and as we dwell on these feelings we enter a flow of thoughtfulness.”

The Lenten readings were a 6-week course in God’s love for all of life’s changes, says Gerry, who called them, “A kind of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for believers.”

Those who took part reflected on rich texts from the Old Testament as well as the Sunday gospels. “They reflected as a community and found that the Scriptures offer rich therapy for life’s changes,” says Gerry, adding, “They tell us something about God’s love for us and the message deepened and quietened within us with the passing of each week.”

When people focus on their feelings they may start to find reasonings and thoughts emerge and Gerry notes that these reflections can sometimes be helpful but sometimes not. Drawing on the life of St Ignatius he explains, “St Ignatius experienced many moments of change in his life and many feelings. With some of them, he dealt very poorly. It took him years to adapt to what life threw at him. His patriotic feelings led him to hold out till the last at Pamplona, leading to catastrophic injury. His intense feelings of guilt for past sins led him to excessive religious austerities and near-death critical illness in Manresa. But gradually he learned to notice his feelings and watch the thought processes that followed and to be careful about the conclusions he made and the actions that followed.”

The skills that St Ignatius honed are ones we can develop too, according to Gerry. And the Lenten course was designed to help people do just that. “Nowadays it’s called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy! Noticing your feelings and the thought processes that follow. And it helps us keep us on the straight and narrow as life throws us new challenges and changes. As we approach Pentecost, Lent and Easter are fast disappearing behind us. But, perhaps savouring once again the message of the Lenten Gospels might be the therapy we need right now!”

Ash Wednesday: The Journey begins; God loving me as I start the journey
1st Sunday of Lent: God helping me to face my demons Temptation in the Desert
2nd Sunday of Lent: God with me in moments of clarity and moments when I forget thet ransfiguration on Mount Tabor.
3rd Sunday of Lent: God knowing me to the depth of my heart; The Samaritan Woman at the Well
4th Sunday of Lent: God healing me where I most need it; The Man born blind: healed
5th Sunday of Lent: With God there is even more than only this life; The Raising of Lazarus
Palm Sunday: This is God’s love; The Passion according to Matthew