It is Lent. From Ash Wednesday to Easter, for 40 days Catholics are preparing to celebrate Christ's death and resurrection. Like Jesus' 40 days in the desert, we spend this time praying and fasting so we can shed distractions and attune our focus on God.
Since I was a kid, I remember following the custom to "give something up" for lent. Back in my childhood days it was usually something like chocolate or tv shows. It was the tradition and I didn't think about the deeper meaning behind it much. As I got older, and began to take my faith more seriously, I started to realize that there is in fact a profound reason why we abstain from pleasures we are attached to: If there is a God that loves us so much that he died for us, the least we can do is work on getting over our candy addiction and redirect all those thoughts and energy to building a relationship with Him.
Of course, like Christ's time in the desert, the Lenten road is not always smooth; There are temptations. Keeping to our resolutions, what we gave up or took on, is not always easy. Sometimes it can even seem impossible. Unlike Christ, we easily give in and believe those lies whispered to us. One little failure and we are further tempted to become discouraged and give up altogether. For me, sometimes I try to take on too much, or I want to just "get there" already, and just be holier, better, closer to God. After a little mess-up, I realize how little and imperfect I am and I become afraid that it this road is impassible, that I'll never get there.
Last Sunday the Gospel was the story of the prodigal son. This famous tale recounts the life of a man and his two sons. The younger son, tired of work of his father's farm, decided to claim his share of the inheritance and leave in search of a more exiting life. After squandering his wealth and ending up dirt poor in a pig sty, the son realizes that he should just admit his mistake and return home. His Father welcomes this youngest with open arms and holds a feast in honour of his return.
In his homily, the priest asked the congregation, "Will you accept the Father's forgiveness?" Every time we fail, no matter how badly, God is waiting for us always to return to Him. The priest encouraged his listeners to go to confession and emphasized that God is waiting to forgive us. Can we accept it, though? Can we swallow our pride and humble ourselves enough to admit our mistakes?
This lent I'm learning a little more each day that this whole journey is about just that: humility, acceptance of our imperfection and reception of God's perfect love. It is about becoming small. We need to shrink to let God in more. It is about the little things too. We need to learn to love more in every little task we do, no matter how mundane it may seem. It is about letting God guide us and be our source of strength. We need to let go of trying to be in control, because we can't be, and trying to control everything all the time is exhausting and impossible and therefore anxiety provoking. On the other hand, letting the One who is truthfully in charge is freeing.
Madonna House foundress, Catherine Doherty, says puts it wonderfully:
"Sometimes thoughts creep into my mind like shadows, whispering, "You're going to have a whole day of problems." But I don't have to listen to those voices. I know that I don't have to face all those problems at once. Everything is a work of love done for Christ's sake, and all I have to be concerned about is doing the duty of the moment. This is where my anxiety turns to joy."