Every Lenten season, I think of Margie. We met our senior year at the university. As full-time employees and moms, we had time to do only what our responsibilities allowed. We also shared another commonality: Unexpected hardships always occurred to us personally during Lent. Relationships, money problems, work, school, and our respective kids had us living on the edge in octopus mode.
We quickly developed a buddy system on the telephone. Late at night when the kids were asleep, we took mini-breaks from studying and talked about our faith. We read and discussed Bible passages to keep each other awake when writing papers for class or studying for exams. We wondered how Jesus had endured so much when we were barely hanging on.
A few years after graduation Margie and I lost track of each other. But, year after year, I still remember the gist of our talks: Lent has always been a tough season to live through.
And this year’s Lenten season was no different.
Tuesday of Holy Week, I accompanied Steven to his doctor’s appointment. While we waited, I read through the Lent issue of the Word among us. Its focus? The Cross.
My immediate thought was the Resurrection; my secondary thought, the struggles. Lent is synonymous with Jesus’s suffering and subsequent crucifixion; but pain, persecution, negativity, and bad times affect the rest of us, too. Life’s crosses during Lent can be most unbearable.
I thought about Sister’s story… Bit by bit, the man shortened his cross in life to ease his burden. Unfortunately, when the time came to set it across the river, the cross was too short for the man to walk on it safely to the other side.
I also thought about the tiny cross story. On the day of their birth, St. Peter asked each baby in Heaven’s nursery to pick a cross. One baby was afraid to suffer, so he asked for the smallest one. He was born into a fine family that could provide him with everything, except he was born blind.
“The Glory of the Cross” notes that some individuals are healed quickly; others, not for a long time. St. Paul and Jesus suffered until they died.
It’s not so much survival of the fittest or “no pain, no gain;” it’s the dynamic tension (Lewin, 1935) we experience daily that leads to our discomforting disequilibrium. Regardless of the rose- or gray-tinted lenses we choose to wear in life, personal struggles effect change. And change brings about personal growth.
What’s really strange is how God’s timing or weird sense of humor always leads to some serendipitous, dramatic awareness.
Thanks to my broken kneecap three years ago, for instance, I was able to sit still long enough to read the daily newspaper. That’s when I discovered Jan Denise’s column in the “for ladies only” section.
Failures in life, she wrote, are simply God’s way of redirecting us onto the right path.
Oftentimes, we get a good idea and end up taking a wrong turn with it. It goes so badly that we feel terrible, but we shouldn’t have been on that path to begin with.
The lesson, I quickly surmised, is to accept our failures as opportunities for something better, as when my broken kneecap resulted in my discovering a very special relationship with the Blessed Mother through my Franciscan Crown.
Whether or not they led to my unexpected hospital stay Thursday and Friday of Holy Week, I may never know. What I do know, however, is that God was present in all the wonderful folks who took care of me and I felt safe. God knew I’d been having a very rough time, so he granted me alone time with him to make me feel better. After all, isn’t that what thoughtful loving parents do when their child is having a bad day?
The Lord manifests himself to those who pause while in peace and humility of heart….
God, in order to be able to speak to the soul and fill it with the knowledge of his love, leads it to the solitude, detaching it from preoccupations of earthly things. He speaks to the ears of those who are silent and makes them hear his secrets (St. Anthony of Padua).
Over the years I’ve learned that personal crises, especially during Lent, lead to reflection, dialoguing with God, and problem solving. So, in this respect, Lent is far more than the remembrance of Jesus suffering in the desert and dying on the cross.
Finding the way
Thanks to recent events I’ve come to the realization that Lent is the seasonal retreat through which God allows us to be tested. He knows that change is difficult and takes time.
For the most part we’re creatures of habit who adamantly resist change. Nevertheless, Lent is God’s time to evaluate our spiritual growth, reteach as needed, and reassess our progress. Moreover, Lent is God’s perfectly chosen time to help us make meaningful connections between our very complex lives and his master plan for us.
All God has ever really wanted is for us to “seek [him out], even perhaps grope for him and find him, though indeed he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:27); so he allows for scenarios that help us make that choice.
July 22, 2011
Jesus, illuminate my faith with the light of your resurrection. Speak to me, for I love to hear your voice! (the Word among us, July/August 2011, p. 43).
November 12, 2011
“Let us bear our cross and leave it to God to determine the length and the weight”
(St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, 1759-1852).
February 20, 2012
O Sweet Jesus, I desire neither life nor death but your most holy will. You are the one, O Lord, that I long for. If it be your holy will to have me die, receive my soul and grant that, in you and with you, I may receive everlasting rest. If it be your holy will to have me live longer upon this earth, give me the grace to amend the rest of my life and with good works to glorify your holy name. Amen.
October 22, 2012
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next (Niebuhr, 1934).
February 12, 2013
Let this truth sink in: God never tires of offering you his grace. He never tires of working with you so that you become more like him. In fact, he delights in taking his time with you! He wants to bring to perfection the work that he began with you, and he is willing to devote all the time necessary to do that— year after year, Lent after Lent (the Word among us, Jan/Feb 2013,
March 31, 2013
Though for a time (like Lent) we endure want and difficulties, we still fix our eyes on what is above, knowing what the empty tomb really points to. Christ is risen, and in him we now share in the promise of eternal life!
Jesus, you’re alive! In you I live and move and have my being! Alleluia! (the Word among us, Lent 2013, p. 70).
August 20, 2013
“This twofold mercy abounds in the heart of the Lord Jesus— his long-suffering in waiting for the sinner and his readiness in granting pardon” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux).
October 24, 2013
Father, I submit myself to you. I place my faith in all that you have done for me through the cross. Teach me how to yield to you in every challenge (the Word among us, October 2013, p. 44).
November 13, 2013
Lord, thank you that I have caught your loving gaze and that you have cleansed me with your love. Open my eyes to see your presence with me today (the Word among us, November 2013, p. 34).
March 16, 2014
July 17, 2014
“O Lord, teach me to seek you, even when my heart is dry and my mind distracted”(Father Gabriel in Divine Intimacy).
September 23, 2014
Jesus said to me: “How many times would you have abandoned me, my son, if I had not crucified you? Beneath the cross one learns love; and I do not give this to everyone, but only to those souls who are dearest to me”(St. Pio of Pietrelcina).
November 9, 2014
The crucifix does not signify defeat or failure. It reveals to us the love that overcomes evil and sin (Pope Francis).
December 11, 2014
No one, however weak, is denied a share in the victory of the cross. No one is beyond the help of the prayer of Christ (St. Leo the Great).
December 17, 2014
“The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross” (St. John of the Cross).
January 27, 2015
We must give alms. Charity wins souls and draws them to virtue (St. Angela Merici).
February 6, 2015
“Pain and suffering have come into your life; but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus—a sign that you have come so close to him that he can kiss you”(Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta).
February 22, 2015
“Go where you will, seek what you will, and you shall not find a higher way above nor a safer way below than the way of the Holy Cross” (Thomas à Kempis).
March 24, 2015
During this season of Lent let us pray that we will look for and at Jesus with the eyes of faith, love, humility and docility. As we gaze upon the crucifix as Saint Dominic did, let us make an act of faith in the one who always does what is pleasing to the Father.
St. Dominic, burning with zeal for perishing souls, pray for us! (Aquinas College).
March 31, 2015
“God is grasping the world through Christ, but it is a struggle” (Fr. Robert Barron).
April 1, 2015
“Even if you have not completely succeeded in the way you wanted, remember: our God is a God of second chances” (Fr. Robert Barron).
April 2, 2015
Are you familiar with the story of someone, in a time of doubt, asking Jesus how much he loved her? It’s said that Jesus stretched out his arms in the way they had been positioned on the cross and said, “This much.” In this holiest of seasons— Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, and the Ascension— this powerful image reminds us of the miracle of love that continues to transform us and all creation every day (Congregation of St. Joseph).
April 7, 2015
Be driven by the love of God because Jesus Christ died for all, that those who live may live not for themselves but for him, who died and rose for them. Above all, let your charity and zeal show how you love the Church. Your work is for the Church, which is the body of Christ (St. John the Baptist de la Salle).
January 21, 2016
God is love. He loves and wants to be loved; it is the basic law of his being. To realize this is to find the solution to all our problems (Dom Augustin Guillerand, The Prayer of the Presence of God).
February 13, 2016
In the course of a year our faith can sometimes become a weekly path of ho-hum routine. Lent gives us time to reconnect and re-energize our commitment to our Christian baptism so that at Easter we are able to reaffirm our baptismal promises with conviction. Help us, O Lord, to take this wonderful time of Lent to confirm and strengthen our commitment to share your love (Mary Joshi).
January 5, 2017
“Great changes may not happen right away, but with effort even the difficult may become easy” (Bill Blackman).
February 21, 2017
Do not be depressed. Do not let your weakness make you impatient. Instead, let the serenity of your spirit shine through your face. Let the joy of your mind burst forth. Let words of thanks break from your lips (St. Peter Damian).
February 22, 2017
Humility is the guardian and ornament of all virtues. If the spiritual building does not rest on it, it will fall into ruin (Thomas of Celano in Peace and Good).
March 12, 2017
“Lent stimulates us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and in this way to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must go, what path we must take in life” (Pope Benedict XVI).
March 22, 2017
Lent is a time to quietly examine our relationships. We examine our relationships with others as well as with the Lord. Too often we want to ignore, even criticize, the ones we come upon who give us the best advice. Lord, let me hear you speaking through others (Phyllis Zagano in Sacred Silence).
March 24, 2017
Fasting is not an end in itself but instead is, like prayer and the works of mercy, an expression of who we are before God and in relation to others. Fasting should make us generous, not self-righteous. Lord Jesus, show me the difference between what I truly need and what I may simply want (Pat McCloskey, OFM in Peace and Good).
March 27, 2017
Loving Jesus, you never ask us to do the impossible, but you often ask us to do something difficult. Help us to remember that you are with us always, even in times of trouble. And help us today and throughout Lent to be open to your grace (Pat McCloskey, OFM in Peace and Good).
Links of interest… Aquinas College: Dominic & the living word… Battlefield of the church militant… Catholic: culture / digest / mom… Courage to fail… Cross reveals that suffering has a purpose… Father Greg (YouTube)… Jersey girl gets wish to meet Pope Francis… Lent: about (more) / ashes / books (more) / calendar / call to conversion / called to be saints / cross / customs / days of penance fasting / first four days / history / in two minutes (YouTube) / meditations (more) / overview / prayers / praying / radio retreats / recipes (more) / reflections (more) / season / search results / this time (YouTube) / this year / toward the light (videos) / what is… Reinhold Niebuhr: Serenity prayer (Jesuit)… Seven penitential psalms (6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, 142)… the Word among us… Wounded by God…