What was your “best” Lent ever?
The most recent issue of the (Archdiocese of Oklahoma City) Sooner Catholic had an article in which the author asked and answered this question. It made me think for a moment, but only for a moment. My answer was easy.
My best Lent ever was the Lent in which I came into the Catholic Church. I didn’t know that Catholics used the phrase “Welcome home” to congratulate new members, so when it was addressed to me, I was a bit bemused. The bemusement was minor because “Welcome home” seemed exactly right for the way I felt.
In the words of John Denver, I had come home to a place where I’d never been before. I had come home to the Church.
Around 1.2 billion people call themselves Catholic. With that many people, it is inevitable that there will be rockin’ and rollin’ among the faithful from time to time. The idea that 1.2 billion people can agree on anything is fantastic enough, but that they can shape their behavior and way they live their lives along a set of beliefs and teachings that are themselves 2,000 years old is incredible.
Yet that is what happens. For instance, despite the many differences between and among Catholics, we — all 1.2 billion of us — are right now engaged in the thing we call Lent. Some Catholics may be blithe or even indifferent about the whole thing, scarcely noticing it and not really changing their lives because of it. Other Catholics may be eating bread and water for the 40 days and praying on their knees for hours each morning.
The rest of us lie somewhere between these two examples, with our daily devotions, giving ups, and confession twice a year, whether we need it or not. People do Lent differently, and that’s as it should be.
There is a lot of latitude in being Catholic. The demands of work and family vary greatly between people and at different times in each of our lives. One of the gifts of being Catholic is that we can practice our faith sincerely and devoutly within the constructs of daily life.
This latitude operates within the unifying action of the Catholic Church. Whether Catholics are going all-out with Lenten penances and activities, or just dipping their toes in ever so slightly, they are all Catholic and Christian. They are, each one of them, following Christ along the road that the Church has laid out for them.
We Catholics are unified in ways that matter a lot more than the differences that we allow to divide us. We are as different from one another as the Sahara differs from the Amazon. We speak every language, wear every type of garb and live in every kind of human society.
From dateline to dateline, pole to pole, wherever you go on this beautiful blue planet, you will find the Catholic Church. More to the point, you will find Catholics, and those Catholics will be a reflection of both the Church universal, and the society and culture in which they live.
Jesus did not call us out of the world. He sent us in to the world. Our job is to proclaim the good news, set the captives free, heal the sick, comfort the dying, and care for the less fortunate.
Does that sound familiar? It should. It’s a paraphrase of the passage from Isaiah that Jesus read in the Synagogue. He then proclaimed that this prophecy words were coming true in Him. He sent essentially the same words to St. John the Baptist when he asked if Jesus really was the Messiah.
This was the proof text He chose to proclaim his Godhood. It is also the example we are to follow in our walk with Him.
Our job is to be Christ in the world. It is an awesome thing to take the name of Christ upon ourselves and say that we are “Christians.” When we do that, we make living witnesses to Christ of ourselves for everyone we meet. It’s frightening to think, but it is true, that we are sometimes all the Jesus that another person can see, all of Him that they will ever meet.
Other people judge Christ by us. You or I can cost another person their eternal soul by the words of our mouths and the actions of our lives. Or, we can lead that same person to eternal life.
The difference in the outcome is Who we follow. If we are yielded to Christ, if the Holy Spirit guides us, then what we do or don’t do, what we say or don’t say, will be the best thing for that moment in that other person’s life.
We are, like Abraham, “blessed to be a blessing.” The greatest blessing we can ever give anyone is an introduction to the living Lord, Jesus Christ.
Catholics are now in these 40 days on Lent. We all know it’s Lent, and we know that Lent matters, what it means and what we should do. We are 1.2 billion individuals united under Pope Francis on our march through this life and on into the next.
The Catholic Church is a highway to heaven. It is the Way, explicated in simple actions and simple teachings that anyone can understand and follow. It is not necessary, it is not even advisable, for every single Catholic to study and focus on Canon law. For some people that will quickly become a forest and tree misdirection that costs them the grace of just being in Christ.
The simplest way is usually the best for most of us. Scripture tells us “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Why do you think God said that?
I think it was because we can work so hard at competitive Christianity that we lose sight of real Christianity. We forget that the same God Who told us to “cease striving,” also said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest … for I am gentle and humble of heart.”
What kind of God would say a thing like that? What kind of God would characterize Himself as “gentle and humble of heart?” Certainly no god of this world, with its braggadocio, bullying and cruelty would say such a thing.
Only God Who is love would say that. Those tender words come from someone who loves us, feels our hurts, and regards us with tenderness. Those words come from a God Who cares about us as unique, irreplaceable, individuals. My son was talking about his daughter a few days ago. He said, “She’s priceless.”
That, multiplied by infinity, is the way that God loves us.
The Catholic Church is the single best vehicle for His perfect love that we have. His love is freely available to us in the Eucharist. His forgiveness and willingness always to restore broken relationships with us is there for the doing in confession. He is there in the teachings, and in the beauty of our Church.
The day I entered the Catholic Church was the day when I entered the sheltering place of faith where I no longer had to strive. I could just know that He was God and I was His. The Catholic Church is the spiritual home where we can lay our burdens down and rest in His grace.
My best Lent was the Lent in which I received the grace of the sacraments of the Catholic Church. It was truly my Passover.