When you pray, go to your inner room,close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
Does it ever seem to you that Lent is a kind of play or skit that we put on each year?
Yesterday, we actors were going about our usual business, studying, praying, socializing, and sinning.
This one was leading a study group
This one was working in Jack’s
This one was preparing a homily
This one was riding around in a laundry cart with a crown on his head
We were just normal, living, breathing, drinking caramel macchiatos and consuming the spicy jambalaya of mediocrity.
But today the curtain is up and the play is on.
The stage setting is different, all wood and sand and bareness. All of the live botanicals have been moved out of sight and now occupy the hallway in front of my door, making third Anselm look a bit like an enchanted forest, without the gnomes.
The music is different. Dirges and songs of weeping, mourning for our sins, wailing our inadequacies and praying for patience from a God who seems to have grown cranky overnight.
The prayers are different, supplication, recto tono, delighted breast beating all in the name of penance for sins that, like the cranky God, seems to have manifested themselves overnight, perhaps the aftermath of too much ingratiating undigested jambalaya.
The food is different. We feast now on crunchy oatmeal and raisins, on gallons of tomato soup poured over the culinary landscape like so much blood on snow. Cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, block o cheese, the dietary staples of the spiritually constipated
Our demeanors are different. Lent is serious; this one is a mess already because he gave up (fill in the blank). The dour mask of insalubriousness has conquered the normalcy of just yesterday.
Spilling our macchiatos and overturning our laundry carts.
The unstable is closed
The vending machines are neglected
Thumbs are blackened
People are holed up in TV rooms watching the Passion of the Christ over and over
The curtain is up and the drama of forty days commences. We all have our part to play. Everyone study your lines.
But Jesus says:
When you fast,do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.They neglect their appearance,so that they may appear to others to be fasting.Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
Lent in our typical Catholic observance is very externalized, all gloomy faces and ascetical phylacteries.
But I wonder if Lent cannot, should not be more than an annual pre-passion play?
To me the season of Lent offers us two possibilities for us, for our community and for authentic discipleship.
First, it offers us the chance to have a clearer vision. Jesus went into the desert for forty days. The desert is a place where a clear head and little baggage are required. Is that not a good image of Lent for us?
Lent is a time to be honest, to say what’s what, to know the truth about our vocations and ourselves, to turn our sight toward inward housekeeping rather than outward stage setting.
Lent is a time to say what is true about myself, my community, my relationship with God. A time for us to put on the spectacles of the real and take off the rose colored glasses of hypocrisy, even innocent hypocrisy.
Lent is a time to go into the inner rooms of our imaginations and look around at what is there. To take an inventory of what is there, to reflect on what is there.
Second, Lent is a time for the renewal of hope. Lent that focuses on Lent and not on the hope of the resurrection is useless. Lent that uses its clarity of vision to see who we truly are, men and women renewed in the resurrected Christ is a blessing
Lent is a time to look forward to our transfiguration. Just as the catechumens are anticipating a change in the waters of the Easter Vigil, so we should anticipate something great. Why? Because God wants to give us something great. God HAS given us something great, something beyond the external diminutions of our practices, something that changes us from within, something beyond the lack of petty abstinences, something that is hoped for and the substance of things hoped for, something that is true to God and true to us, the Body of Christ.
Can this Lent teach us to yearn without compromise for the Body of Christ to be all in all in us? It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, Christ who lives in this community, Christ who breathes in our prayer, Christ who eats our meals, Christ who studies in our classrooms, Christ who suffers with our struggles, Christ who smiles in our joys, Christ who prays in our inner rooms, Christ who walks these halls, Christ who conquers our sin, our pride, our wills.
Can lent teach us to see clearly that we want to see nothing but Him, love no one but Him, worship nothing but Him?
Then Lent becomes more than a spectacle of ascetical actions. It becomes the living drama of the Son of God.
In an acceptable time I heard you,and on the day of salvation I helped you.
Behold, now is a very acceptable time;behold, now is the day of salvation.