“...Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2)
by Grace McGeragle, St. Peter's Parish, Nanaimo
Ash Wednesday—is it another day where I check the fasting boxes (like a “good Catholic girl”) and break with routine by going to a special service in the evening? Or am I missing something a lot deeper that’s going on? So the battle of Lent begins ...
I’ll confess it’s tricky finding something to give up when you’re a pregnant lady! And what if my husband’s shift at the mine runs too late for us to drive the 45-minute commute to the nearest service tonight? Did we miss our chance at starting this Lent properly? And what about all those inspiring Exodus 90 people—man, they’re just leaving us in a dust storm. How can a plain old everyday person like me enter the desert with Jesus?
St. Paul tells us in the Second Reading that today is the day of salvation. That means salvation isn’t something abstract, hovering around us after death—or awaiting us in some great and epic moment later in life. It’s given to us now: in the present moment.
I generally prefer to live in the past: brooding on the things I should have done better; feeling guilty about the people I didn’t invest in more (when I had the chance); wondering why I still seem to struggle with the same flaws I saw in myself at age 10. Or, I try to map out the future: developing intricate safety nets and plan D’s; dreaming about the great ways I might serve God; or deciding what a great prayer life I’ll have … starting tomorrow, of course!
Yet, as Mother Teresa said: “The past belongs to God’s mercy, the future to His providence, and the present to His love.” There’s that ‘present moment’ again.
Perhaps this Lent, I need to give up adulting, and hand God my cell phone, plans, finances, friendships, and most of all, the anxieties that take away my peace and sleep. Surrendering control is hard; especially when the cultural pressure is to be Wonder Woman, supermom, the perfect wife, daughter, friend, and ideally have an envy-worthy career on top of all that!
“Unless you turn and become a child, you cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 18:3).
Children enter this world in an incredible way, starting as a tiny cluster of cells, dependent on mom for growth and even survival. They’re born naked and bleary-eyed; receiving clothing, hygiene, food, even a name from others. I ask, along with Nicodemus: “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born?” (Jn. 3:4)
Catherine Doherty shared a powerful analogy of what being born again means, in her poem: Journey Inward.
There on this stone I must lay the cloak of selfishness that kept me warm. I am cold without it,
but I can walk faster, as my hunger urges me to.
Here, on this branch, I must hang my dress of self-love and compromise with the world.
I shiver now in earnest, but my feet seem to have wings… (Doherty, Strannik).
And so Catherine lets go, eventually, of all the articles of clothing symbolizing ways of refusing to surrender to God: self-indulgence, greed, and everything that is not of Him. Until she exclaims:
I am a naked soul, free and untrammeled, driven by the hunger of my love for God.
Driven by my love for God—on and on—on this journey inward.
I did not know it was going to be so easy, now that I shed all my garments …
...Yes, my soul hungered for God before it was even clothed with flesh (ibid).
Obviously, Catherine isn’t counselling us to leave all and become nudists! But her words do challenge me to strip away all the fortresses of self-reliance I've painstakingly built.
If I’m to become a child again, I need to walk as an infant does, with hands stretched upward, trusting that my Father won’t let me slip or be without. I need to embrace joy in the moment, rather than imagining all the ways a situation could go sour.
And there’s freedom in this path! I can reminisce with joy and gratitude about the friendships which carried me into this moment, and praise God for the times I was able to witness His love to someone in need. I can surrender the times I didn’t ‘have it all together’ or make the right choice, and rejoice in the fact that my God treasured me even then. I can quietly place the future into His care, and do only what is asked of me today. And I can allow wonder to permeate my relationship with God and others; dancing shamelessly in the knowledge that I am delightful.
This is Salvation, and it is now.
Perhaps that is the true intent of fasting; to remind me that I am a child (by removing the excesses with which I numb myself in order to play god and assume control of my life).
Rather than being a reluctant ‘to-do list’ item, almsgiving is my opportunity to be generous even when I feel I have nothing—allowing God space to provide for our family abundantly.
And prayer? Simply an invitation to rest in the arms of our God and discover anew that I am precious to Him.