Last week there was no holy water at the entrance to the church. While I expect that on Good Friday, we’re only about half way through the Lenten season. It’s just one more reminder of how different things now are.
This Lent is, indeed, a desert: no water in the fonts, no Mass with the public attending, no gatherings for Lenten talks or Friday Fish Fry. But this is no time to be sad and forlorn. God knows how it will all turn out and will give us what we need, when we need it. It may be a challenge for us to participate in a Mass that is streaming from an empty church, but what a gift it is to have technology to bring it to us! We may not be able to physically receive the Body and Blood of Christ, but we can always make a spiritual act of communion. If we don’t believe Jesus comes to us through that prayer, then it is we who limit His abilities, not that He is limited to entering us through the physical realm. It is because we are in the physical realm that He gives us His Body and Blood hidden in physical form, since it’s much easier for us to understand and connect with Him. He is calling us deeper into faith in Him.
I can’t help but think about the lepers, from Jesus’ time through Saint Damien of Molokai, Hawaii and because of the contagiousness of the disease, they could not worship with the rest of the community. They had to be kept apart to keep the disease from spreading. While this bacterial illness is now curable, it can be very easy for us to shrug off the impact it had on society. With the crisis now at hand, we are getting a taste of how life can feel like it’s being turned upside down. Perhaps the next time we hear a gospel about a leper, we can realize the compassion that Jesus had for each individual. We can take the lesson and apply it to those who have been touched by this current affliction. Perhaps with every Hail Mary we say as we make sure we wash our hands for the appropriate length of time, we can offer it up to those who most need our prayers.
Last year I was in the midst of preparing to move from Pennsylvania to Virginia, so I felt my Lenten practices were a bit weak, since I didn’t want to commit to something I couldn’t see through during the move. I was excited to see the possibilities for this Lent in my new home parish. Now, I must admit, I feel like I have been robbed a second time in preparing for Easter. But I know God can make the desert bloom. Rather than focusing on what I can’t do or what I’m missing, I need to focus on what I can do: watch Mass online or on TV, read the Bible or a spiritual book, make all activities a prayer, and leave the results to God.
In praying the Surrender to the Will of God novena, one of the daily prayers got me thinking:
“And when I must lead you on a path different from the one you see, I will prepare you; I will carry you in my arms; I will let you find yourself, like children who have fallen asleep in their mother’s arms, on the other bank of the river”.
With the move down to Virginia slowly settling down to the last few walls to be painted and a few more boxes to be put away, I feel like I’m on the other side of the river. In so many ways and experiences in the whole moving process, from the decision to the execution, I felt that God was with me and leading me. I know God has not left me, but there is a bit of “what happens now, God? I don’t know this side of the river, which way do I go?” It’s like in Psalm 30 “Once, in my security, I said, ‘I shall never be disturbed’… but when you hid your face I was terrified.” (Ps 30-7-8) I think God has a lot more confidence in me, than I have in myself!
Perhaps it was because I was seeing His guidance through the process, I came to expect that it would always be there and always manifest itself. But just as a child’s ability to apply what is learned is hindered if the teacher is always there assisting him, we are given the time and opportunity to practice lessons we have learned. There are some days when I can look around my new home, smile and thank God for His generosity. There are others when I look around and think “it’s too much for me, or dear Lord, why did I get this one?” It’s not like there was another that I wanted more. In fact, the kitchen is so fabulous that I thought it would be snapped up before I would be able to put in an offer! Now, as described in the novena, I need to trust God and His will for me in my new home. He will provide for me while I’m providing for the needs of others, using my kitchen to prepare meals for various parish events.
While I don’t know how long I’ll be here, I don’t expect to move anytime soon. So why do I expect God to lay out the full plan for living here at this moment? I spent 22 years in my previous home. On the day I moved in I would not have been able to fathom what my life would be like in year 22. So, I must learn to trust God to nudge me if I start to wander too far off the path He’s leading me. I have to start walking, rather than looking around and wondering what to do next. Step one is to just put one foot in front of the other.
Our human nature causes us to fall all the time. When we choose not to do God’s will, or sin, remorse can immediately kick in or it may take awhile as we see the consequences, to feel it. When it does, we often promise to do better next time. Why do we put it off? Why do we wait? Why not make the right choice now?
Let’s take the example of judging others. There are numerous times Jesus remarked not to judge others, yet we do it all the time. I’m not sure if it’s any worse than in previous generations, but with the rise of social media, we can do it much more instantaneously and on a grander scale than before. Plus with the plethora of social media apps, temptation is never far away.
I use Facebook to keep in touch with family and follow a few companies that I regularly patronize. Everyone has different tastes and hobbies and sometimes I’ll see a posting with which I don’t agree, and I’m quick to think that it shouldn’t have been posted. The whole point of social media is to broaden our outlook and learn from one another’s differences. But our instinct is to disagree, perhaps post a negative response, or even think poorly of the person posting it. Once we catch ourselves in this thought process, what do we do? Close the app and say next time I won’t react? Or do we try to turn the situation positive by reaching out to the person or saying a prayer for them?
As human time is linear, when we commit a fault, we are not forgiven until we confess our sins. It makes putting things off until next time much easier. But God is outside of time and space, not to mention He’s the creator and master of it as well. If we put off making the right choices or repairing a breach caused by our sin until next time or until after our next confession, we are letting precious moments of grace go unblessed. These are times when Jesus lifts us up from our fall. Do we let Him, or do we linger on the ground and insist that we can get up on our own? While we do have to take responsibility for our choices and actions, we can lean on Jesus for assistance, not only to help us up now, but also to help us identify and avoid those times that lead us into a temptation that we cannot defend ourselves against.
Total failure is to linger in the fall from grace and refuse to accept it as a means out of our situation. When we stop and apologize to God (and any others we have hurt by our sin), we start anew in that moment. Don’t wait for tomorrow or the next time; reach out to God and begin again now. What are you waiting for?
How well do you receive God’s gifts? Do you accept them at once with joy? Or do you feel that you don’t deserve them?
God continues to pour out many blessings to us daily. From the basic gifts of life, health, and family, to the insignificant treats that are sprinkled throughout our day, I’m not sure it is possible to be able to thank God for all that we receive from Him. Some gifts, like family and our health, we can take for granted, complaining about them until we lose someone or have an issue. Others we may be oblivious to because they are events that didn’t happen or were able to be avoided.
There are other gifts that we may actually push away, thinking that we are being humble and trying not to take more than we need. What we need however, is very subjective. We may think we need more, and God may seem to be stingy with His blessings, when in fact He is giving us only what is truly needed to do His will. Or He may be providing more than what we think we need because He will be changing what we are called to do for Him and He is preparing us for His next calling.
Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, says, “I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” (Phil 4:12-13) While Paul relied on God and the skills God blessed him with to be self-sufficient, he also accepted help from the churches, like the people of Philippi. He rejoiced, not in the gift itself, but that it was a self sacrifice that would strengthen their relationship with God and Jesus.
God’s gifts are not like the ugly Christmas sweater we can take back to the store. The blessings may ebb and flow and we need to learn to live within the means of His blessings, thanking Him for them all — the wonderful and the challenging, the unexpected and mundane. For them all, we ask that we use them for His glory and are grateful for what He has bestowed.