There is a certain tension between the liturgical year and academic year. This tension becomes most pronounced when one places the season of Lent and the Spring semester in the same arena. A liturgical season of abstinence, contemplation, and preparation competes with an academic semester of rigorous engagement, intense concentration, and multi-tasking. A season marked by a spiritual call to fast vies with a semester marked by a physical demand for nourishment. As a second-year liturgy student who endeavors (imperfectly at times) to remain faithful to the liturgical calendar, I find myself in the middle of a delicate balancing act. Two inevitable questions come to mind: How can this tension be relieved? How can Lenten and academic obligations be transformed to strengthen each other?
I suggest one answer is found in the activity that both the season of Lent and the Spring semester rely upon: communal prayer. The Lenten journey and the academic journey are not separate exercises. Rather, they constitute steps in our lifelong journey toward God. This is the journey in which we struggle to respond to God’s wholly incomprehensible kenotic love. We might say that community – the very Body of Christ – represents the food we consume on this journey and prayer represents the water we drink. Both are required sustenance. Without prayer community would be unbearably dry. Without community prayer would be unbearably empty.
Here at the Saint John’s School of Theology·Seminary (SOT) we are working to foster a strong communal prayer life in which the tension between our Lenten and academic obligations can be relieved. In addition to our weekly Eucharistic celebrations on Mondays and midday prayer gatherings on Thursdays (liturgies that enclose the standard academic week I might add, since we don’t have class on Fridays), we are offering evening prayer services, Lectio Divina, Visio Divina, reconciliation services, Stations of the Cross, as well as the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. These rites, services, and liturgies are being offered in a way so that students (full-time and part-time), faculty, and staff (all the people who comprise the one SOT community) have an opportunity to participate.
I suspect that the tension between the liturgical year and academic year – especially the tension that comes about this time of calendar year – can never be completely eradicated. However, I believe that a strong communal prayer life opens our minds and hearts more fully to the Spirit, whose love and wisdom aids us in gaining clearer perspective of our Lenten and academic obligations as we stumble toward the New Jerusalem.
–Jeffrey Regan, second year MA degree candidate, Liturgical Studies
Saint John’s School of Theology·Seminary, Collegeville