Failing and Winning at Lent

Failing and Winning at Lent March 24, 2018


This hasn’t been much of a Lent.

It never is, but this one was particularly miserable.

It started right off the bat after Forgiveness Vespers and did not improve.

We ended up without our regular ride to the church we love; we haven’t been able to get to Divine Liturgy since the beginning of Lent and I don’t know when we will be back. Perhaps after we move, which will not be for months at the earliest. Everything is up in the air right now.

For the first two or three weeks of Lent, I was too sick to go to Liturgy anywhere at all, and we didn’t have a ride anyway. Michael walked two miles to Mass. I attended Saint Mattress and complained to my icons. I couldn’t fast due to sickness, and some Fridays I couldn’t even manage to maintain my health while abstaining. I had horrible writers’ block, couldn’t write my Seven Last words meditations on time as I’d planned, and I’m not pleased with how they turned out either.

When we did get rides to a liturgy, they were in the Latin Rite and they didn’t always have a celiac chalice. I think I’ve received Holy Communion twice this whole Lent.

It’s been a mess.

Tonight, at a vigil Mass in the wrong rite in a church that feels nothing like home, I found myself sliding into Holy Week with nothing accomplished, nothing to be proud of, no fine feeling of having journeyed for forty days with any good purpose and reached anywhere. I didn’t know how to Lent this year. I flunked Lent.

I share my difficulties for two reasons: first of all, if any of you feel like you had a bad Lent, please know that there’s a plump lady in Ohio who is a worse failure than you are. Go forth into Easter with absolute confidence.

Secondly, and much more importantly: Easter is a gift. It’s not a reward. The Resurrection is not a brownie we get as a prize for finishing our bitter greens. It’s not a gold medal. Yes, we all have to run the race as if to win, but Easter is still not a gold medal. Because none of us are winners. We’re losers. We’re distracted children hobbling on broken legs toward a finish line we could never hope to cross on our own. Mercy carries us.

Easter is mercy.

Easter is a free gift for anyone who begs to receive it.

Easter is grace upon grace upon grace. Grace has nothing to do with transaction. It has nothing to do with buying and selling. We can’t trade in our penances for rations of grace, because we’ll always fail at penance and Grace will not allow herself to be rationed. Grace is freely given, if only we overcome our pride and beg to receive it. Grace abounds, overflows and overwhelms. Grace is tacky and inconvenient and never looks like we think she ought. We try to show up where we should be, we offer our penances, we run the race to win, and grace carries us– not because we earn it, but because we are loved. And we win, because we are in Christ who won for us.

I am going into Holy Week a child of God, a failure at Lent, a lame beggar from the side of the road whom the King brought into His wedding feast. We all are– and even more than that, we’re not only guests but the Bride of Christ. We didn’t earn it. It’s grace, because He loves us.

Whatever your Lent has been this year, shake it off and come with me into the glorious mysteries of Holy Week. I don’t know if I’ll write anything worth reading here, but pray with me. I’ve been given the grace to flunk Lent, and now I see the grace of Holy Week beckoning me forward anyway, with the unspeakable mercy of Easter at the finish line– and beyond that, Ascension and Pentecost, and beyond that Ordinary Time, Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time and Lent again until He returns and calls us all forth from our graves.

It’s been a mess.

It’s been a brilliant mess.

Grace is a mess, and everything is Grace.

(Image via Pixabay) 




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