As Lent approaches, I feel compelled to share the same story that I shared last year about this time. It is actually not my story, but a story told by a priest who helps out at our parish – once in a while, he says the Mass that we typically attend on Sunday mornings, and he just happened to be saying this Mass again yesterday, just as he was last year on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. Since he shared the same story this year, I will too
This particular priest, Fr. Chuck, used to be an avid race-runner – he now calls himself a “devoted jogger” He was a member of a running club, and he and this group of men would run several road races a year. Because they ran the same races every year, they would all pile into someone’s car on the morning of the race and find their way to the start of the course without needing directions – they just assumed that they knew where they were going because of their past experiences. On one such occasion, the car of runners arrived at the place where they thought the race began, only to find that this year, the race had been moved to the local high school all the way across town. If they had been in the right location, they would have arrived with plenty of time to spare; as it turned out, they arrived at the new location just as the starting gun was going off. The good news was that the runners were coming towards them, so one of the men suggested that they join the throng and begin the race from where they were. They wouldn’t be able to run through the chute at the end of the race because that would mess up the times, but at least they would get to run. This is not the ideal way to run a race!
Fr. Chuck’s point to us was that when Ash Wednesday arrives, the starting gun has already gone off and the race has begun. We must prepare ourselves so that we are ready to start our Lenten journeys off on the right foot, rather than stumbling in whenever it seems convenient for us. Today, on the Monday before Ash Wednesday, we have plenty of time to ask Our Lord what resolutions he would have us make for this Lenten season. The point is not for us to be miserable for 40 days, thereby also making those around us miserable! Lent should be a time of great joy for us as Christians, because in its essence, it is a time of coming home for us. The spiritual disciplines, acts of service, and acts of sacrifice that we devote ourselves to draw us away from our attachments to this world, and lead us to fill ourselves with the true Bread of Life.
I am always amazed by how difficult it can be for me to begin my Lenten journey, and by how quickly I find my promises to be sources of joy! One year, I decided that before turning on the computer or TV on any given day, I would devote myself to a certain amount of spiritual reading, prayer/reflection, and writing in a journal. This was challenging, to be sure, and many days I didn’t get to finish these items until right before I climbed into bed. However, what began as a tedious practice soon turned into something that I craved all day long – I couldn’t wait to read that passage from Scripture, I longed to spend time with Our Lord in prayer, and that time of writing in my journal became a time when I could really put my thoughts in order. Like any habit, good or bad, the more that I did these things the more that I wanted to do them!
God bless you all as you begin your Lenten journey. Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!
Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing. ~St. Therese of Liseux