Two years ago today, liturgically speaking that is, I attended Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Austin. During the homily, given by Bishop Aymond, there was a line that struck me.
Change is always seen as a negative thing in our lives because it interferes with our level of comfortability. Might I suggest that we start to become comfortable with change.
At the time, I took that message to mean that I should stop being afraid of possible changes and step forward on something I had been thinking greatly about. In this case, applying for seminary studies. As faithful readers of the site know, I never left Austin to go to the seminary. The application was complete, but I “broke up” with the Bishop before being accepted.
There is an important lesson to be learned with that. For me, the process of applying to seminary was something I needed to do. It brought me focus, gave me peace, helped me to learn about myself. Notice, I never actually went to seminary. Starting a process and reaching the end goal are not always one and the same.
Lent is a season of change. In the season of Lent, we are called to change ourselves. We are called to look deep inside our beings and figure out “What in me is opposed to God and what can I do to change that?”
Lent is the starting of a process. Just as Jesus had to prepare himself in prayer before taking action in the world, so we must do as well. We do two things during Lent. First, we start the walk with Christ toward the Cross. We prepare ourselves to attempt to understand this amazing salvation history we inherited. Secondly, we ask that we are given the strength to accept our salvation and spread word of this salvation to others.
Walking with Christ to the Cross
On the Cross, Christ gave himself for the salvation of all. His death purchased for us the rewards of eternal life. This was not something that just happened on Friday afternoon without preparation or forethought. From the beginning of time, Christ was destined to save us. When he was born in the flesh at Christmas, he came to us to save us. He was also a prophet so he came to teach us more about God before building the everlasting bridge between us and the Father.
While humanity would have benefited greatly from Christ serving as just a prophet, his greatest duty was not to be a prophet. It was to be the Lamb. We must empty ourselves as He did in order to allow the will of God to manifest itself.
Starting a Process
I thought I started the process of applying to the seminary a couple years ago and I thought it was something that I quit. Perhaps, the process was to learn more about myself and it was someting that I completed, at least within the scope of what I was seeking. Likewise with Lent, we start various processes. We give up sweets, sodas, cussing or whatever else. We start praying more, going to daily Mass, doing more community service. All these things are good and great, but they aren’t what we’re really trying to do.
Giving up junk food and doing more to help your fellow man are laudable things, but in and of themselves, they are just those actions. The underlying process in play during Lent is the process of conversion. We use these sacrifices of time and desire to increase our ability to interface with our God. If you give up something just to give it up, or go get ashes on Ash Wednesday just to get ashes or whatnot, you’re missing the point completely.
On the same thread, if you think that if you slip and fall once or twice during Lent, it makes you a horrible Catholic, you are also missing the point completely. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to perfection in our sacrifices, but simply that the sacrifices aren’t the end goal or focal point.
It all depends on what we take from it. For some people, failure is the greatest teacher. For some, when they slip up and completely bomb on what they’re trying to do, they gain the most from it and become a better person for it. If you’re one of those people and you slip up during Lent, but you gain so much from the experience, there are worse things in life.
Now, if you slip up and just constantly make excuses for it, stop now. Own up to your misgivings and faults. Admit that somethings are just damn difficult. Don’t rely on your excuses but rely on the mercy of God.
During Lent, our process is not to sacrifice our way to Heaven. Our process is to find, refind, redefine, strengthen or develop our relationship with God by using the tools at our disposal. We can do this any time of the year, but in the cycle of our Christian life, this is the perfect time to start again.
During this season and using our sacrifices as tools toward the greater goal, may we find peace and comfort, joy and strength from loving and eternal God.