Driving along in town to pick up our daughter in the new Catholic high school I got to thinking about Ash Wednesday and what it means to be repentant. The ancients would put on sack cloths, roll around in ashes and walk through town to prove that they are a sorry sinner. Since doing that in modern times would cause more serious result, what can I do this year that would be different and more in keeping with my personal relationship with God. I surprised myself one afternoon while driving home with carpool students in the car. I always ask them 2 questions after they're settled in and we are on the road home, "What was the best thing that happened and what was the worse thing that happened to you today." I give them the choice of which question they want first, but they have to have an answer for both. One day I asked the kids what they were doing for Lent? They all said what they were giving up, candy, chocolate, soda, etc, then I said, "OK that's your physical sacrifice, what about your spiritual sacrifice? What are you going to do to help get closer to Jesus? I don't remember the specifics, but they were not surprised or taken back by my question, they knew what I was talking about and knew they needed to do something spiritually during Lent as well. Nice.
In the past, I dreaded Lent, especially right after Christmas thinking about this dark season of sin and penance, it certainly was not a fun time to look forward to. During advent we are waiting, preparing a place in our lives for Jesus, appreciating the amazing gift of the incarnation to redeem the world. It's a miracle, a gift, the promised answer to prayers of old! During Lent, the time is spent as a time of examination, reevaluation, and sin. Pain, sorrow, torture and death consume the readings and the Friday stations of the cross are times of great sadness and remorse. Definitely, Christmas is more fun and pleasurable to live through!
OK, so here we are again with Lent upon us and there is no getting away from it. Absolutely, anyone can get through it without fasting, surely there are those who do not pay any attention to this solemn time of year, but what do they gain? Without a time of looking inward into our deepest of deep selves and working out some problem areas that we don't think we need to change any other time of the year, we would not make any progress with our relationship with God! If we didn't stop to ask that question that made Mayor Koch, of NYC famous: "How am I doing?" we wouldn't have to look inward for an answer.
So in recent years, I have come to welcome this season as a good time, as I stop to roll up my sleeves in the face of my sinful ways. Each year is a new opportunity; I may still be working on the same issues, though, but still taking time to chisel away a small part of the ways that hurt our Lord and stain my soul. Each year a smaller part of what makes me build walls melts away in prayer and mortification. Each year, I get a chance to tell God I am so sorry and I want to change. Each year, I get a chance to do this all over again, but each year I am that much closer to God.
What am I going to do different this year? Meditation seems to be the buzz word along with the Divine Mercy chaplet and the Jesus prayer. Making time for Jesus in these prayers and quiet time along with the mantra, "Eat to live, not live to eat." No snacking and drinking nothing but water...save on cup of coffee in the morning only. Physical and spiritual fasting, check!