I receive an email from a former student of mine. They were lamenting on life and Lent…
“I was at the shore over the weekend and I’m still playing catch up on everything.
I have not yet come up with a Lenten sacrifice. First I was going to stop any “no mindless web surfing– only go on the internet if I specifically needed to, like for work, or to pay your bills, etc, and then get away from it.” That hasn’t been working out so well.
Then I was going to give up soda but I’m already kind of been doing that since last year because I’m on Weight Watchers. For two consecutive Lents, I tried to give up coffee. I think we can all agree (and the state of Pennsylvania office for misdemeanor will back me up) that was a mistake that should not be repeated, and that God, all of his children and the citizens of the Commonwealth, especially those who travel on roads and interstates, REALLY want me to have that sweet, delicious, life-affirming beverage.
I cannot give up swearing for Lent AND continue riding SEPTA to work every day. The two are just mutually exclusive.
I don’t drink much. I don’t smoke at all. I haven’t been dating because I’m going to just die alone anyway – as a spinster – surrounded by cats and my Amazon purchases. I WANT to give up going to work but something tells me I haven’t thought that plan through.
I am the worst Catholic ever.”
I wrote to them and actually said that I felt there were the BEST Catholic ever. Engaging Lent is hard; it is not for the faint of heart. Engaging ourselves, our weaknesses, our shortcomings, deciding to do something to improve ourselves & then actually doing something is a challenge that many find difficult (thus they don’t do it).
During Lent, many people go on retreats. Even in the midst of the challenges of Lent, retreats can be spiritually, emotionally, and physically like “going to the mountaintop.” When we encounter a positive retreat experience, we want to “build a tent there,” – we want to stay – much like Peter, James, and John in the Gospel of the Second Sunday of Lent.
And yet, if you read further in today’s Gospel (from Luke 9:28-36), after all four men come down the mountain, they run into a man whose son is possessed by a demon and who asks Jesus to deliver his son.
Isn’t this just like the retreat experience? We can’t stay on the mountain – we need to go back, and often when we do – Just like Jesus in the Gospel – the FIRST thing we have to do once we return, is deal with “people who are possessed” (like family, people we encounter on the highways or people at work, for example). We immediately have to deal with Lent or – as in the case of my friend – Lent immediately begins to deal with us.
Lent is a time when the Lord can do something profound in your life; He can bring you up to the mountaintop. But the mountaintop does not always afford us wide vistas and clear views. Sometimes there are thick clouds at the mountaintop, where the sight-lines are limited. Even in the midst of the mountaintop experience, we might not always see things clearly. It seems unreal; it seems like we’re in the midst of a trance, a cloud where everything seems unclear and uncertain.
But we’re not alone. At this year’s “Man Up Philly” conference (March 2, 2013 at Archbishop Ryan High School and, yes, that is a shameless plug), the theme is “Strengthen One Another.” Notice who was on the mountain top? Peter. AND James. AND John. All later experienced the Passion of Christ and Jesus after the Resurrection.
It’s been a tough decade in the Catholic Church. But there also seems to be a sense of urgency. Its not a sense of gloom and doom, it’s a sense of “boom!” There’s a sense that something good is happening. There’s a sense that the Lord seems to be gathering the troops, providing courage and persistence. It’s about showing up, and staying around, and sticking with it.
How should we react as follows of Christ? “Remember this…Jesus says, “ I am – who I say I am. It’s going to get ugly but you are ‘my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter – in whom I am well pleased!’ I need you to be strong, I need you to believe.”
What’s been the latest transfiguration in YOUR life? Where did you get a real clear signal from the Lord, in a moment of clarity where you knew where you were supposed to go? Perhaps it was on a retreat at a place like Malvern – where God showed his cards and said, ” regardless of the hard times, you are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter – in whom I am well pleased.”