Ars Praedicandi: Jena Thurow’s Reflection for the Feast of St. Patrick

The following reflection was given by Jena Thurow, a MDiv student at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary, for Midday Prayer on Thursday, March 16th. 

0002017As some of you may know, I spent last year living and working at a parish in Wexford, Ireland. Though I’m not of Irish descent, my parishioners assured me that I would come back to the States with at least a bit more Irish in me than when I arrived – so thank you for indulging me in this one-day-early celebration of Saint Patrick.

Last year during Lent, a group of older women in my Irish parish approached my fellow music ministers and me and asked, “Why can’t your music be a bit more jazzy?” I responded to the women by explaining Lent – Lent is a penitential, mournful season, where we cut away “extra things” in the liturgy. We can sing a capella, we may do more chant, use hymns with “penitential” texts, etc. Of course, one woman’s response was simply “I’m 80 years old – I know what Lent is! But why can’t your music be more jazzy?” I remember thinking, “Wow, these people really don’t like Lent. Or maybe they just don’t ‘get’ the season.”

However, a sister at St. Ben’s told me over the weekend that she’s trying to have a more joyful Lent. A joyful Lent? At first, it sounded like a contradiction to me. But she expressed this “heaviness” of Lent that I think we have all felt at one time or another; pressure to be “mournful,” or “penitential” – pressure to make a serious commitment. Maybe to do more. To fast, weep, and mourn.

I think that my Irish parishioners have a point. Their faith in these early Saints of Ireland (Brigid, Patrick, and Columba) show a dedication to people who lived out their call to discipleship in a very real way, but at the same time, didn’t take themselves SO seriously that they couldn’t find joy in their faith. In the reading of the Confessions that we just heard, Patrick writes about “spending himself” in Ireland – in a land in which, though it and its people were foreign to him, he served as a witness…yet he constantly rejoiced and gloried in the name of the Lord. I wonder: what kind of Lent would Patrick be having? Probably one in which he was more of a light to others than a burden to himself. He had a mission, lots of things to do – that’s for sure. But he didn’t allow that to bring him down; in good times or bad, Patrick rejoiced in the Lord!

How can you find joy this Lent? Amid the typical penitential feelings and mood of Lent, with all of its prayer, fasting, and giving alms, or focusing intensely on something you’ve given up or are taking on. Maybe you can find joy in waking up in the wee hours to get to abbey morning prayer, when it’s still dark outside. Or maybe it’s in finding a place to do some service, and encounter people that you wouldn’t have before. Or, your joy could simply be in taking some time each day to rest with the Lord, or spending time with community. But however you do it – I invite you to find joy this Lent.

I wish you all a blessed Lent, and may you be held safely in the palm of God’s hands.


  1. I have joy in remembering my grandmother’s story about growing in up in the wind-and-rains-swept expanses of northern Leitrim (the most depopulated county in Ireland) in the 1890s and how she was taught to observe St Patrick’s Day – by never wearing green, lest the Blessed Mother have a nosebleed. Her area was a mix of indigenous Irish Catholics and Scots plantation; she said there wasn’t much trouble between the groups when she was growing up, and I figured she and her peers were trained without realizing it in how to reduce the likelihood of such trouble. She never got misty-eyed about having left Ireland. She had the strong-willed and strong-minded character of the many Irish women who had to make their way against strong headwinds and who didn’t suffer fools gladly in the process.

  2. My thoughts exactly! I have, for some time now, tried to reconcile the penitential aspects of lent with the joyfulness of springtime. It was not an easy task but a very enjoyable one. I love to dig through music history and find things that connect with people and inspire their prayers. I also try to find gems that will stay with them through the week – kind of like an ear worm. I found that musical joy in spirituals. They are the perfect blend of the serious, the sacred, and joyfulness. Lent simply lends itself to the singing of these American masterpieces. They work well as processionals and as songs of thanksgiving after Communion. They are deeply reflective and the assembly loves to sing them. They almost always join right in as though they are and old friend. And… they are perfect for singing a cappella.

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