Lent is a season of preparation and reflection. We are asked, as Church Universal, to prepare our minds and hearts for the Christ Principle. Before each momentous event in the life of Christ, we must prepare and reflect on how we have become what we seek each day, to love God with our whole minds, our whole souls, and our whole strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:36) There are two events that tower over the others in our Church calendar of the life of Christ, that of the nativity and the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ as Messiah. They are not like secular Christmas and a humanist Easter, they are occasions for transformation from the false self to our true self as adopted sons and daughters of the Father.


The Church is the collective consciousness of all things Christ from the time of the Apostles, both those things that are authentic and even some which did not hit the mark (heresy). As our mother, the Church bids us follow what Christ did, namely, birth and passion, death and resurrection, as a mirror to our personal lives, no matter what the circumstance we find ourselves. The Church is also a gathering of individuals with Faith to help them focus on Christ’s admonition to die to self in order to rise to new life. In practice, individuals must be penitential every single day. Lent is a time in the Calendar year when individuals put on sackcloth and ashes and remind themselves that they are dust and into dust, they shall return. We do penance for our past failings and ask the grace of God to be with us as we move forward in whatever might come our way. The psychology of Lent stresses a reassessment of who I am in relationship to God. St. Benedict urged his monks to be both humble and obedient as a habit, something not at all consistent with the human experiences we have. This takes practice, in my case, contemplative practices as followed by Lay Cistercians.

For me, this takes the form of purposefully placing myself in the presence of Christ through the observance of Cistercian practices and charisms so that I might die to those parts of me that still tingle with the thought that I am god and can exist without any accountability except to myself.


Lent, the everything that comes after the Pentecost event, is about having in you the mind of Christ Jesus. It is trying to behave according to what we read and contemplate about the Life of Christ. This comes through good works, as in Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict, but it also is true of trying to become what we read. That is why, in this Lent, my penance is to read the whole Life of Christ by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. I consider this book to be one of the five most influential written texts that have brought me closer to Christ.

Here is the pdf of the book for you to use during Lent if you so choose. I am reading one chapter every two or three days with my prayer that I become what I read.


Penance is trying to become more like Christ and less like your worldly self. Here are some of the benefits of doing penance in terms of my lifetime commitment to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) as practiced by Cistercian charisms. Lent is a time for doing something, for the mind as well as for behavior.

  1. Focus– Lent is a time for me to purposefully practice sitting next to Christ on a park bench in the midst of winter and just listening with “the ear of the heart” (St. Benedict in the Prologue).
  2. Sharing — Lent is a time for me to share the liturgy of the hours and Eucharist with others who are also focused on “preferring nothing to the love of Christ” (Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict).
  3. Recommitment – Lent is a time for me to seek forgiveness of my sins and repair any breaches I have with either God or my neighbor. I must be aware that I must be merciful to others, if I expect God to be merciful to me.
  4. Knowledge — Lent is a time for me to intensify my spiritual read and reverence of Scriptures in terms of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. Reading Archbishop Sheen’s book on The Life of Christ (above) is a way for me to move from my mind to my heart and increase my capacity for Christ.
  5.  Renewal — Lent is a time to recommit me to the promises I made as a Lay Cistercian to prefer nothing to the love of Christ (Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict) I take some special time to reflect on this written pledge which I verbally made to the Abbot and Trappist Community of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery to love, serve, have stability and practice Cistercian practices and charisms with God’s help for the rest of my life. Here is my pledge on May 6, 2018.

I, Michael Francis Conrad, a member of the Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit, a community of Catholics being in the world, promise to strive for a daily conversion of life as my response to the Love of God. I commit myself to live in a spirit of contemplative prayer and sacrifice in obedience to God’s universal call to holiness, using daily Cistercian practices and charisms of simplicity, humility, obedience to God’s will, hospitality, and moving from self to God. I give thanks to my wife, Young, and my daughter, Martha, for standing by me on my journey. I ask for prayers from the monastic community and Lay Cistercians. I place myself in the hands of those already standing before the throne of the Lamb, including Holy Mary, Mother of God, St. Benedict, St. Bernard, the Seven Cistercian Martyrs of Our Lady of Atlas, Father Anthony Delise, and other deceased monks and Lay Cistercians and also Deacon Dr. Marcus Hepburn. Finally, I accept the Rule of St. Benedict as my guide for living the Gospel within the time I have remaining.

6. Discipline — Lent is a time of discipline for the mind and the heart. Discipline comes from the Latin word, disciplina or learning. Do I do what I tell Christ I am going to do to be present to Him through Cistercian practices and charisms?  Am I dissuaded from my practices because I am lazy or from a lack of faith? Do I make choices that are easy (the World) rather than those that are correct, consistent with my lifetime pledge above?

7. Stamina — Am I like the Apostles who, in the Garden of Gethsemane, slept while Christ endured his temptation to abandon his mission? I am a pilgrim in a foreign land since my acceptance by God as an adopted son (or daughter). Can I endure the constant temptations of Satan to abandon my Faith and seek my own comfort? Christ tells us, Fast and Pray that you enter not into temptation. It is a struggle to believe and not easy. It is that martyrdom of everyday struggle that we must endure with the help of Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Devil wants us to give up our Faith because it does not make sense. Like a pilgrim in a foreign land, I must acknowledge that the foolishness of God is wiser than all the promises of the world.

8. Joy — There is joy in penance. Not the joy that comes from what the world says makes us happy, but the quiet realization that I am doing what Christ wants me to do to deny myself daily and take up my cross and follow him. This is the sign of contradiction once again, one that the world will not understand. It is folly for the Gentiles and a stumbling block for the Jews says Scripture.

Here is a blockbuster idea. Lent should be every day of the year, not just limited to the season. During the season of Lent, we join with the Church Universal to proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes in glory.

Happy Lent! Happy Fault, as we chant in the ancient Easter hymn.

Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages.  Amen and Amen. –The Cistercian doxology

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