With the early days of the Lenten season now upon us, perhaps, like me, you already find the prospect of so many weeks ahead until Easter quite daunting. Usually, the First Sunday of Lent has not even arrived and I find myself war weary from the penitential season of Lent. I think by the time the Friday after Ash Wednesday comes to a close I am often thinking “Hurry Up, Easter!”
I am very good at being very impatient, which probably derives from the fact that I am the youngest of 4 siblings. I’m also the only boy in my family. My sisters all concur that this further accentuated my ability as the youngest to “get away with everything.” I’ve never argued with them on this point. For once we all agree on something. Being the youngest and lone son, following much later on the heels of your sisters came with many perks and few downsides.
I am also the youngest of the grandchildren on both my mom and dad’s sides of the family and hence the youngest of the cousins. As I grow older and hopefully wiser, there is always nonetheless the fact that in comparison with my siblings and cousins, I am the young, wild, unconventional, unpredictable one with “my whole life ahead of me.” This is not to say that it is those closest to me always reminding me I “have my whole life ahead of me.” Often it has been my own faulty perception of possessing immortality and agelessness that is the problem; a sense that I have all the time in the world ahead of me has often possessed me.
The expectations placed upon the “baby” of the family are different than for older siblings. They just are, for better and worse. What should not escape us, regardless of our placement in the family age sequence, is the urgency of life. And for long, it did escape me. So, on one hand, I’ve often had a mentality of invincibility, while on the other, a problematic impatience with people, things, and situations.
No Promise of Tomorrow
A good reflection for Lent to take to heart is that whether you are 34 or 94, tomorrow is not promised to us. There is no guarantee that the whole of the “life ahead of me” lasts any longer than the present moment. Certainly in the game of probabilities there is a decent chance that I shall live a long and healthy life. But this life has little certainty other than the proverbial death and taxes.
Far more important than living a long life is living a holy life that seizes each moment. Not only is the future ultimately out of our control, so too is the past. We can make reasonable plans for the future in a spirit of hopefulness, and we can address the mistakes and lessons learned from the past, but we cannot go back and should not dwell on what is no longer available for our amendment. When we speak of the Divine Mercy devotion that has come to us from St. Faustina from devoutly Catholic Poland, we should turn our thoughts to a trust in the Lord that is a radical act of reckless abandon to his love and mercy. Such an impassioned trust in our Lord captivated St. Faustina.
Surrender to trust in the Lord means handing over not only our concerns of the present moment but also our past and future, too. This is more challenging than it sounds, but hopefully easier the more we practice this. God does not want our present stricken with our past, every waking hour consumed with regret. Nor does he want our present overshadowed with worries of futures that might never come to pass. What we can realize is that God is with us in this now. We give over to his ocean of mercy all of the past. We know that his loving hands will hold us in the time to come. Father Jacques Phillipe composed a beautiful prayer of abandonment in his work, Interior Freedom: “Thank you, my God, for all my past. I firmly believe that you can draw good out of everything I have lived through. I want to have no regrets, and I resolve today to begin from zero, with exactly the same trust as if all my past history were made up of nothing but faithfulness and holiness.”
Trust in God’s Mercy
God our loving Father wants us to have radical trust in his loving mercy, a trust so full that while we don’t forget that we have sinned and excuse ourselves from amending our lives, we do run to him and embrace him with the clean slate that each new moment brings, behaving with the same filial trust in our Loving Father that we would have were it the case that we had never sinned. The past should never weigh us down with a sense of hopelessness and despair. Life is always worth living. Life is always worth moving forward into the great unknown of each present moment. In that unknown, God is assuredly there.
As I look back towards Advent for inspiration for this more lengthy penitential season of the Church’s liturgical year, I remember the words of Dr. Ronald Thomas, who once noted in the introduction in his book of Advent reflections, Prepare The Way (Note: The 2011 Edition), that in reference to making a return home to Jesus, “All we need to remember is that when we take our first halting steps toward Him; like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, He will run to us with His arms wide open.”
If our past makes us acutely aware of the pitfalls to avoid and the best paths to take in the present, then we know we have a healthy relationship with the past. If pondering upon the future helps makes us aware of our mortality and the serious responsibility to make good choices and strive to sin no more, then know we have a healthy relationship with the future. It is good and upright to have hopes and dreams for the months and years to come, and it is wise to make reasonable plans to live as securely as one might hope amidst the unpredictability of human life on earth. Nevertheless, let us not speculate, accumulate, and store up earthly treasures in a manner that forgets that we must always seek first the Kingdom of God.
Living in the Moment
Do your best in each moment remembering that as the days of our lives march on, all times are contained in the Lord. We may lay yet in the darkness of Lent, but the days are rapidly lengthening as Spring approaches. At the end of this dark spiritual night burns the Easter Fire and the hope of our resurrection in Christ.
Although it thus not healthy to live in the past dwelling on our past failings and sins in a despairing way this Lent, nor is it proper to impatiently wish that Easter was already here with my too often default Lenten attitude of “Hurry Up, Easter!”, it can nonetheless enrich our understanding and embrace of Lent by glimpsing the words of the Easter Vigil as the fire roars to life on Holy Saturday night and darkness descends. Moments later the Easter Candle is blessed: “Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega, All time belongs to him, and all the ages to him be glory and power through every age and for ever. Amen” Thus states the minister during the preparation of the paschal candle. Several times I have stood assisting in holding the paschal candle at Easter Vigils during this blessing, joyfully knowing that Lent was passed and Christ risen indeed.
Let us let Lent take hold of our souls, let us be sorrowful over our sins, yes, but let us look forward in joy to the Lord’s Resurrection, knowing that, as is stated at the Easter Vigil, that Christ is the Alpha and the Omega and that all time indeed belongs to him, including the present moment of these early days of Lent. Our God is present with us in each moment of our lives, not just in the happy moments, or the successful and triumphant moments, but in every moment of every day of every liturgical season. Let us then not embrace an attitude of “Hurry Up, Easter”, but instead may our attitude be transformed this Lent into “Hurry Up and Trust In the Lord” and “Hurry Up and embrace the present moment in Christ”. Our Lord and Savior is with us right here, right now, and that should always be enough for us to never lose our joy and become impatient. Jesus will be with us at Easter, assuredly. But he is also here right now. And this fact should fill us with a peace that the world will never be able to give us. May you have a Blessed Lent!