Virginia Barton

5 March 2014: Remembering we are dust…


5 March 2014


‘Now, now – it is The Lord who speaks – come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning. Let your hearts be broken not your garments torn…


Are you a “giver-upper” or an “adder-onner”, as regards Lent I mean? Will it be chocs or alcohol to the wall this year, or some other indulgence?

ash-wednesdayOn Ash Wednesday, freshly smudged with the reminder of penance, one tends to make all sorts of promises to God. But the spirit though willing, is often let down by the weakness of the flesh.

“Sunday is always a Feast!” a benevolent priest reminded us years ago, implying that one might eat and drink as usual on the day of the Resurrection.

BH says he is far too old for any fasting; he’s going to be an adder-onner and will have a go at reading The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska during Lent. VB is going to read Signs of the Times: Seven Paths of Hope for a Troubled World by Jean Vanier — the title alone is cheering.


You might of course, prefer an active yet reflective Forty Days. Are you young and fit, with the wherewithal to spend the whole of Lent in Rome? Just browsing through George Weigel’s well- illustrated book Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches makes one want to pack up and go. Not many of us are able plan our year to make such a pilgrimage a fact, but it’s sorely tempting.

The book describes the author’s visits to the designated Station churches, a different one for every day of Lent beginning with St Sabina on the Aventine Hill on Ash Wednesday. The intention is for the pilgrim to attend Mass in each church, prepared by Weigel’s thoughtful commentary. The pilgrim might then admire the art and architecture intelligently described by Elizabeth Lev.

PWeigelersonally, I would absorb the comments each day before setting out – at 2 lbs 2 oz, the book is too heavy to carry about.


As always in Rome, the “place” can overwhelm the sense of prayerfulness, at least that’s what this old convert found. It takes time to adjust to the grandeur, the sheer majesty, and of course the associations: here, unhindered, St Paul spoke to friends; and here St Peter was asked “Quo vadis?” And my patrons, SS Felicity and Perpetua were martyred somewhere near here.

One almost adjusts to this ever-present historical background.

I’m ashamed to say I knew nothing of this pilgrimage despite it having been hugely popular since the earliest days of Christianity in the Holy City. Stamina and concentration are needed; also stout shoes, a mackintosh, and a rucksack for snackettes, water, foot-balm and a notebook. We often feel we live in a crazy world. A pilgrimage such as this would be the perfect antidote to the noise, hustle, worry and constant distractions.

O to be eighteen again and fancy-free!


Of course there is a pilgrimage one can make far closer to home, about which many of our young  Catholics are totally ignorant. It is a pilgrimage one can make in the nearest church — or even in one’s own head.

The Stations of the Cross started as a devotion in 4th century Jerusalem,  and I doubt there’s a church in the world without representations of the Via Dolorosa, the Sorrowful Way. This meditation strikes me as the most perfect preparation for Easter. Like the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross carry one straight to the heart of the life and death of Jesus, fresh, appalling and glorious, no matter how many times they are repeated.






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