For the past week, I have been thinking about what to write for the beginning of Lent and nothing has really come to mind. Over the last few days, there have been a couple of things I have read concerning Lent that have stuck in my mind so I thought I would pass them along. The first is a story I have seen a few times on different stories for preaching websites.
A Catholic priest working in an inner city was walking down an alley one evening on his way home when a young man came down the alley behind him and poked a knife against his back. "Give me your money," the young man said.
The priest opened his jacket and reached into an inner pocket to remove his wallet, exposing his clerical collar. "Oh, I'm sorry, Father," said the young man, "I didn't see your collar. I don't want YOUR money."
Trembling from the scare, the priest removed a cigar from his shirt pocket and offered it to the young man. "Here," he said. "Have a cigar."
"Oh, no, I can't do that," the young man replied, "I gave them up for Lent."
The practice of giving up something for Lent is an automatic thought for Catholics, but many times giving up desserts or chocolates is not really going to help us in our relationship with God. An honest assessment of our behaviors like an examination of conscience would reveal some ongoing behavior or sin that would more useful for us to spend 40 days fasting from.
Fr. Don Talafous’ reflection for Ash Wednesday resonated with me. (Fr. Don is a Benedictine at St John's Abbey in Collegeville and you can sign up to receive his daily reflections at https://saintjohnsabbey.org/reflection).
As we begin Lent, many of us could do better than "I will give up my daily beer/ cheesecake/ watching ‘Bridgerton’/ etc." How about enlivening my life in Christ with some daily and personal – that is, unique to me – prayer? Public prayers, like those in the Mass, become mechanical and remain formal unless they’re accompanied daily by personal, private prayer. More often than not it is you or me who is standoffish in our relation with Jesus. He demonstrated real neighborliness by taking on our flesh and life and even more than “his” share of suffering. The Lord Jesus is easily available in the Eucharist, in Scripture, in our fellow human beings and in all of nature. Everything else we might think of for Lent is, I think, fairly petty compared to developing a genuinely personal prayer life. (If yours is blazing ahead and well advanced, you need to find something else to read!)
If Lent is about restoring and renewing my relationship with God, that can only be done using some of my language, with some daily discussion of my needs, my hopes, my worries, my failures. This is the kind of communication – and even silence – that exists between friends. No one else is going to renew my baptismal promises at Easter. The prayers of the Mass are for a gathering of individuals, purposely applicable to everyone present, while being unique to no one. They are somewhat like our "how do you do," or "how’s it going?" or "good morning.” Only a prayer like that of writer Anne Lamott, "Lord, help me not to be such a jerk" can come from my unique self-knowledge and experience. With such frankness and familiarity, we’re on the way to genuine and liberating trust in the Lord.
Again there is a theme of focusing on what will improve my relationship with God. Prayer is always something we can all spend more time in and it always helps to work towards a more fruitful prayer life. In my homily to the St Pascal school children for Ash Wednesday, I mentioned that our prayer can be simply asking God to walk with us all day. When we get up in the morning we can simply invite God to be with us all day. When things happen during the day, good or bad, we remember God is right beside us. We can also take some quick moments during the day to thank God for being with us. Every night we can spend a moment thanking God for walking with us and think about how God was present that day.
One thing I believe this Lent is that the last year has been a tough one and beating ourselves up to give up things and spend a bunch of extra time in study etc… may not be the best for our emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Instead, just simply taking some time to rest and talk with God every day during Lent might be a more fruitful endeavor for us.
Peace, Love, and Blessings