What are some of the modern hardships we find difficult to bear?

Well, try this: spend a few moments respectfully listening to someone you can't stand, or somebody that no one else likes, either. I once heard of a monk who got into some sort of trouble at a monastery. At meals, no one would sit with him, except for one other monk, who went out of his way to spend just a few minutes quietly eating with him, and letting him know that he still mattered.

That lone monk was being Christ to another.

Or if that seems like too much, try this: Fold a twenty-dollar bill and slip it into the poor box. Pray for a stranger, or even an enemy. Skip dessert and send the money to a bread line. Take time to write a letter to a soldier overseas. Visit the sick, the aging, the shut-in. Light a candle for all those who are lost, frightened, uncertain, or alone. Buy a bagel for the homeless woman you see at the train station every morning. Say a rosary for peace.

Mark this season of giving up . . . by giving.

Plant these small seeds of sacrifice. Tend them. Nurture them. And then let the roots take hold.

And, in time, grace will grow.

Two years ago, everyone was marking the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. The media were full of stories. Where are the flower children now? What has happened to them? Well, one of them worked at my office in Brooklyn, a grandmother who swept floors and emptied trashcans and had long hair she wore in a braid. She chatted with me one night about her memories of going to Woodstock as a young woman. She seemed happy to remember what was, and content with what is—where her life had taken her.

It got me remembering the song "Woodstock," by Joni Mitchell.

We are stardust,
Billion year old carbon.
Caught in the devil's bargain.
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Isn't that what Lent is all about?

Caught in the devil's bargain . . . we've got to get ourselves back to the garden. We've got to be as good as we once were, at the beginning of time.

If you remember the readings from last Sunday, they hinted at the same idea. The first reading, from Genesis, took place in the lush garden of Eden. But then the gospel unfolded in the barren wasteland of the desert. How did we get from one to the other? Human history, and human nature, chart our journey. But Christ's life and ministry sought to draw us back to Eden—calling us to holiness, drawing us closer to what God first intended us to be.

We are stardust, we are golden . . .
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.

And so, last week we began, where every gardener begins, with dirt. On Ash Wednesday, we became part of it—and from that we begin the slow, hard work.

Think of these 40 days as our time to tend the seeds of grace, to harvest what has been planted in the ashes. To give them nourishment. To help them grow.

How do we do that?

Let us pray more deeply. Live more simply. Remove the weeds of distraction.

And let in the light. The light of Christ.

If we do this, we may well be astounded at the minor miracles that have blossomed on Easter morning.

It is all grace, amazing grace, and it leaves us transformed.

Out of the ashes . . . we might again be stardust.