Recently I joined with some friends to help prepare a parsonage for an assistant pastor and his wife who were coming to their new church. The house required a lot of work to get it ready for habitation: new kitchen cabinets and appliances, upgrades to the bathrooms, fresh coats of paint in all the rooms, and lots of general cleaning. It was a messy but joyful job, one that gave time for a lot of quiet reflection and spirited fellowship with other Christians, as together we readied the home for this young couple embarking on a new chapter in their lives.
I often allow these types of experiences to serve as metaphors for my life. This one was especially meaningful as I entered into the season of Lent. It reminded me that this sacred time issues a call to believers to do our own spiritual housecleaning as we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord. Such inner renovations are not always pleasant, but they are always necessary if we are to come to a deeper understanding of the mystery of redemption that has played itself out in the world.
The Messes We Make
The steps we took to make improvements in the rooms depended on the choices that previous owners had made. The house was built in the 1920s and had gone through a number of structural facelifts over the years. Some, like the closed-in second-floor porch, had to be left as is. Others, like the awkward entrance to the master bath through a master bedroom closet, needed to be closed up and redirected through a non-load-bearing wall.
Bright, African orange walls needed extra coats of paint to clean them up. One bathroom needed minor upgrades, while others needed complete makeovers. The wall between the kitchen and dining room was removed to create a more modern and practical space for hosting. It all focused on creating a space that would suit the needs of a husband and wife, as well as a pastor and his helpmate.
In my own life, there were many choices I made that resulted in broken relationships, deep hurt, and consequences that could not be taken back. Sometimes I had to accept the damage done and learn to live with it. I had to close off doorways to painful memories and sinful habits and make a new way to places of healing and inner rest. Former ugly sins needed the cleansing covering of God’s forgiveness.
Some old ways of thinking needed spiritual updating, while others needed to be torn out and replaced with the grace-filled rebuilding power of transformative truth. In some inner rooms, I had to open up my heart to allow God’s love to create a new space to welcome the Spirit of Christ present in those around me. Ultimately the reconstruction plan was subject to the loving will of the One who was remaking me into a better man.
This Old House, This New Journey
Lent is a yearly reconstruction project for those willing to submit to the loving touch of the divine Carpenter. Like the careful planning that knowledgeable men complete before undertaking the demolition and rebuilding necessary to make an old house into a new home, Catholics have the beautiful blueprint of the Liturgy that lays out the plan for transforming the old man into the new. As we open up the Word and come to the table, we join with our family of faith remaking our lives and our Church into the image of the One who went to the cross for our salvation.
The Scripture readings direct our gaze within our interior castles where we come face to face with the clutter of our sin and selfish living.
The plan guides us as we tear down prideful thoughts and rebuild righteous convictions, rewire our damaged attitudes and re-plumb the depths of the parts of our souls disconnected from the Source of Peace. We cast off what is unusable, remodel what remains solid. Through the Eucharist, the plan for our redemption is once more laid out before us as we discover our original worth in the eyes of our Savior and receive the grace we need to rebuild our lives from the inside out.
The sacrament of confession, like a renovation plan, allows us to make a careful examination of the false fronts and faulty soul repairs we have done in desperation that need to come down. As we take our place in the Church founded on Christ our solid Rock, we come to terms with just what it means to be God’s beautiful building, rising up as a tower of strength for all the world to see. As we demolish the strongholds of pride, anger, lust, fear, and selfishness, we make way for the One who will rebuild us according to the eternal plan unrolled before the universe. Only in Christ, our cornerstone, can this sacred rebuilding take place.
Swept and Put in Order
At the start of Lent, Catholics receive the image of the cross upon our foreheads, reminding us that we are made of dust and called to turn from the meaningless of sin and embrace the Gospel. It is a call to enter into the inner realms of our soul, sweep out the refuse and clutter of the old occupant, and fill the rooms with rare and beautiful treasures that we discover as we walk the journey of Lent. It is a daily discipline of self-denial and an ever-deepening commitment to the renewal and restoration of our souls.
It is a journey that will carry us to the powerful days of Holy Week, where we can stay and watch as the stories of the crucifixion give us pause and challenge us to walk all the way to Calvary’s lonely hill.
I no longer concern myself with “giving up” things for Lent. Rather, I immerse myself in this time and contemplate the timelessness of Christ’s all-powerful, sacrificial love, the love that breaks into our lives, carries away our sin, sorrow, and selfishness and fills our hearts with a love that remodels us from the inside out.
As I hear the daily readings at Mass, as I spend time with devotionals like old friends, and as I fast from myself so that I can be filled with the One who is my great I AM, I am once more transformed. I pray that one day, my dim sight will reveal the glorious vision of the new man that, in Christ, I have become.
The Old Made New
The parsonage was beautifully transformed into a comfortable and practical living space for the young pastor and his wife, though I knew there were still many projects left undone. But that is the beauty of coming to call a sacred space our own. We accept the challenge of spending ourselves in joyful labor as we remake our homes and our hearts into places that reflect the beauty and the love of the Savior who comes to dwell within both.
Seeing the commitment of those who worked so hard to prepare the parsonage is a living reminder that I am part of a Body of believers working alongside me as together we remake our lives and the life of the Church into a worthy place where Christ may make his home.
As you move through the days of Lent, I pray that you will allow the Lord to do a spiritual housecleaning in your life, to tear down the old so that he may replace it with the new. May you find joy in the revelation of his glory, day by day and from faith to faith, as you travel this path of renewal and restoration that leads to the resurrection on Easter Day! God bless.