How many times have you hear or said this recently: “This Lent can’t be over fast enough!”
I understand the sentiment behind it, I really do, but nonetheless, I must add a note of caution: “Be careful what you wish for …”
Yes, most people would agree that, in general, 2020 is not off to a very good start. And, surely, this Lent has been exceptionally difficult for nearly all people around the world. So many do not now have access to the sacraments or even to the interior of their parish church.
We are in Holy Week, and so many of the faithful will be at home, or in a hospital, rather than in a chapel. People speak about missing Mass; they talk about wanting to receive Holy Communion in almost any circumstance allowable by religious or civil authorities; folks are in such a state that I’ve even heard of people wishing to go to confession!
In addition, people are sick and some are dying; health care providers are exhausted and hospitals are overrun. So many people are out of work and out of money. It’s not surprising, then, that people are pining to put down the cross and take up some Easter joy.
I understand all that, but still I say, “Not so fast …”
Please don’t misunderstand me! I don’t want to give the impression of having too high a tolerance of anyone’s pain. As a priest, I am miserable not being able to administer the sacraments directly. The suffering brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak and its aftermath is real, deep, and sure to be long-lasting. Yet I can’t help recall Archbishop Sheen’s enigmatic exhortation: “Don’t let all that good suffering go to waste!”
What am I getting at? Well, it’s true that many people suffer most days and don’t have any relief in sight. There are also many people who act as if turning the setting of the electric blanket down to “Medium” is a form or martyrdom. And all too many—myself included, I must admit—too often see Lent as something to be endured, rather than embraced.
Lent is more than discomfort. If approached with a modicum of clarity, honesty and generosity, Lent reminds us of pain, vulnerability, loss, regret, the ugliness of sin and the costliness of redemption. If we’re not careful, Lent could even get us to thinking about (at least for a little while, and, preferably, from a safe distance) the reality of the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. For anyone comfortable in his mediocrity, he may grudgingly admit that he has to at least put up a good show during Lent, all the while eager to get it over with and get on to the high life of Easter before returning to the familiar grooves of ordinary times.
Perhaps, in God’s Providence, this Lent can afford us the opportunity to draw closer to the Crucified Christ and have a good, hard look at what sin does to love.
For many of us—myself included—perhaps Lent hasn’t cut very deeply in a long while. Maybe we’ve been through enough Lenten seasons that have not left any kind of lasting mark. Perhaps, in God’s Providence, this Lent can afford us the opportunity to draw closer to the Crucified Christ and have a good, hard look at what sin does to love. Maybe if we’re thrust closer to the cross this time, we might cry out with the poet Christina Georgina Rossetti:
Am I a stone and not a sheepThat I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy Cross,To number drop by drop Thy Blood’s slow loss,And yet not weep?
For all we know, we may be beginning our very last Holy Week in this life. Let’s resolve that this time we shall not shy away from Christ crucified. Let’s resolve to beg for the grace of having our hearts united with his Sacred Heart, and with the pierced, Immaculate Heart of Our Lady, so that, fully sharing in the pangs of sacrificial love, we may savor with them the sweetness of the victory won for us by our crucified, risen, reigning, and returning Lord.
In this especially sacred time, may we offer our broken and repentant heart, our crushed pride and pliable will, along with our grateful love to our merciful Lord. If we do that, then we can echo the words of the poet George Herbert, who wrote, “Love is that liquor, sweet and most divine, which my God feels as blood—and I as wine.”
In these uncertain times, with fewer places to hide, at a time when excuses are less plausible and more deadly, let’s ask for the graces of an unforgettable Holy Week. Let’s attempt to look at the crucified Christ without blinking, and offer to stay with him until his work is done.
When I write next, I will offer a meditation on Easter. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.