Holy Lord God, help us to begin our Lenten Journey with open hearts, filled with your Joy. Help us to give ourselves up to spiritual efforts, to cleanse our minds, our souls, and our flesh. Help us to take pleasure in the good works of the Holy Spirit and to accomplish works of love that will witness to the love given to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
It may sound strange to suggest that we can anticipate joy while we are heavy laden in Lent. We anticipate Easter with every step of our journey through Lent, but why stop there? No, I do not mean to suggest that we do not experience the joy of Easter after Easter. I mean why stop with anticipation? Why not experience joy now?
As Norman Wirzba, Professor of Theology at Duke University, notes:
“Let’s get clear about our most basic commitments and attachments and then determine if they have their impulse in a clean heart. The time of Lent is not about saying ‘No’ to anything made or provided by God. It cannot be, because everything God has made is good and beautiful, a gift and blessing that God has provided as the expression of his love. If there is a ‘No’ that has to be said, it will be a ‘No’ directed to the distorting and degrading ways we have developed in appropriating these gifts. We do not appreciate how in mishandling the gifts of God we bring ruin to ourselves and to the world while we are in the midst of having a good time.”
We have so many Lenten traditions and practices: giving up, denying, abstaining, or taking on labors which curtail other areas of our lives even as gazing north denies us the vistas of the south. We are, after all, creatures and seemingly incapable of multidimensional action, but we are also Christians and blessed by the indwelling power of God.
If you have already begun your Lenten practice of denial and fasting, that is perfectly fine, but add one more component—God. Lent is really focused on us—maybe too much. Instead of dwelling on the crack in your armor, look to the armorer for help. Instead of lamenting the circumstances that brought you to this point, celebrate the potential and possible wonders ahead! Instead of seeing failure and weakness in the mirror, witness the miracle and wonder of a child of God!
There is a story of a woman in Lent…
“I thought that serving in a shelter would distract me from my cravings, and I specifically stayed out of the kitchen, but now I stood before the table anxious and angry. Angry that I wanted to eat so badly, not because I was hungry--but because I was addicted, and anxious that I would not be able to fight off the urge and I would fail again. By the third week of Lent I hated food, because I hated myself for wanting it, and I hated God for making it so good. When the people came in, my anxiety grew unbearable, as they took the food all I could think about was, “There won’t be enough for me!”
I heard her crying before I saw her. She had already received a plateful and one for her daughter, but I had not noticed her, I was focused on the food. Now I saw her, crying as she fed her daughter, and I heard a co-worker say that they hadn’t eaten in two days. Now I saw her, I saw her, not the food—now, I saw her.
I have served at the shelter every week since that day. I am filled with joy that I am so loved by a God who makes such wonderful things for us. Where once I craved food to fill me up, now I am filled to overflowing with God’s love as others are fed. Sometimes I sit with them and talk about the abundance of God and the joy God has for us all. I always ask them about their life, and they always ask me what it’s like to be the cook.
Peace in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†