Thursday, April 14, 2011

Refining Dreary

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". 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Won't You Stay

Over and over, I find myself talking of love, demonstrating that Christ on the Cross reveals love in its purest form.  "His love is selfless," I remind people.  He pours himself out freely, completely, faithfully, and fruitfully.  He holds nothing back for himself.  It has no desire to possess, to grasp, to take.  It only desires to give.  It is this same love that we find each time we receive the Eucharist, and each time that husband and wife reaffirm their wedding vows in the marital embrace.  It has no desire to possess, to grasp, to take.  It only desires to give

It is this same love, too, that a priest should express each time he celebrates the Mass.  I find, though, that my love is selfish.

As I climb the stairs toward my room each Sunday, I am filled with a deep sadness, loneliness, and aching.  I have spent the day with my people: Mass, Prayer Groups, Life Night, Confessions.  But, at the end of the night, they go home, and I wander to my room, wondering, "Do they know how much I love them?"

Sometimes I leave the rectory and go elsewhere, spending the evening with people, knowing that if I am tired enough when I return home, this longing to love and be loved will be numbed.  Sometimes I sit in front of the television until it has anesthetized me.  Sometimes I read until I can't keep my eyes open.  On my best days, though, I sit in my room and I wallow in the aching, wanting so badly to possess those whom I love, and knowing that were I to possess them, were I to be like them, were I to be going to their homes and families, and lives apart from me, I could not love them as I love them, for to be like them in that way would mean that I could not love them as a priest.

When last I wrote, I suggested that love will always wound us.  It always comes at a cost.  I suspect that I will pay for the love I find in Christ in weekly installments.

Jackson Browne seems to capture this sentiment in some ways.