|Paul Gustave Dore, A Midnight Dreary|
Having arrived nearly at its end, I am just now getting around to talking about Lent. I haven't any profound meditations on the theological and liturgical meanings of the season. Rather, I offer some insight into my own Lent.
Historically speaking, I don't like Lent. It is long, and it comes at the most dreadful time of year when the snow has been around interminably, the skies remain a consistent, brooding, dull gray, and people having grown weary of the cold become listless and sulky. Moreover, for the ten years during which I was in formation, Lent hailed the arrival of Seminary Evaluations. Though a necessary evil, no one enjoyed the process. "Dreary", I suppose, might describe how I have known the season of Lent. This year was different.
As far as my own penances go, I adopted two principally. First, I would get out of bed by 7:00 AM or earlier. While this does not seem a sacrifice to most people I suspect, it was a major sacrifice for me. I hate morning. It is a deeply painful experience for me to be required to communicate with parishioners in the sacristy as I prepare for the 7:00 AM weekday Masses. I am generally much better by the end of Mass, but prior, I am best left undisturbed. This penance has proven a nearly total failure.
Second, in keeping with a months long argument I have been having with the Lord and the revelations I wrote about on the occasion of my thirtieth birthday, I decided it was time to take up arms against my vanity, swallow my pride, and ask for help in losing weight. In the first week of Lent, I saw my dietician for the first time. Though she forbade me from eating nearly everything I like most, this resolution has proven enormously successful. Thus far, I have lost around twenty pounds, my mood (even before the early Mass) has improved tremendously, and I find a new joyfulness.
Likewise, I redoubled my commitment to my prayer. My reflections the last time I wrote are connected to this action. I find that the Lord is taking me more and more into the mystery of his own pierced heart. There are times when I hang with him on the Cross, knowing full well his presence, but crying out with him, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" These are what I can only describe as a hard consolation; they reveal the depths of love and are filled with a simultaneous experience of agony and joy. My heart has been pierced, and to be a good priest, I must allow it to be pierced over and over again.
Arising from my prayer have come both a new and insatiable desire to be holy and a longing to sacrifice. The latter of these is connected with my celebration of the Mass and with what I wrote in the previous paragraph. Such sacrifice, I believe, will lead me to holiness. For my people who read this, please remind me to be holy. Don't let me off the hook. I can do nothing for you if I do not attempt to be holy myself first and foremost.
In a new way, the Lectionary readings for the season of Lent have had profound meaning this year. I have preached repeatedly on the need to use Lent as a time to tame our wills. All that I have preached has been equally applicable to myself as to my people. I seem to be listening to myself in a way that I had not always done before.
Holy Week and Easter now loom before me. I will sing the Exsultet for the first time at the parish in Custer this year before baptizing (and confirming) my sister-in-law and my niece. Easter promises to be especially glorious.
All in all, the Lord has been doing tremendous work in me this Lent, and it has been a joyful season full of hope, gratitude, and gladness. These adjectives, I find, are much more satisfying than is "dreary".