My priest is the absolute best. But admittedly, he makes me squirm in my seat sometimes. On occasion it feels like he should end his sentences with, “I’m talking to you, Abby Johnson.”
But honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. My priest challenges me and that’s what our spiritual leaders should do. After every Lenten season, he says something like, “If you aren’t transformed after Lent, then you are doing it wrong.”
That has always felt like a dagger to my heart, because honestly, I have never felt transformed after Lent. It’s just another block of time that goes by where I sacrifice something that is, in the grand scheme of things, trivial.
Because of this, I almost didn’t go to Ash Wednesday service. I know, I know. Bad Catholic. But I just wasn’t feeling it (not a good excuse). It was the evening and I had decidedly missed Mass. I felt guilty, but not guilty enough to actually go. My daughter had children’s choir practice that Wednesday night and I was there to pick her up. As I was sitting there, I realized that people were pulling in to the parking lot. Aw crap, I thought…there must be an evening Ash Wednesday service. As I sat there, I realized that I had to go. How could not go when I’m sitting right there in the parking lot?
Then I looked at myself. I was wearing yoga pants, a t-shirt, and running shoes. Not the best attire for Mass. I tried to briefly use that as an excuse not to go in, but my conscience wouldn’t let me. I found a sweater in my truck and threw that on. That was as good as it was going to get. I walked in to get Grace and told her that we were going to stay for Mass. She had already gone at her school, but like the holy little girl she is, she was excited to go again.
We walked into the church and found a spot to sit. My friend Heather met us there for the service. As soon as the service started, I felt a knot in my stomach. It was coming: Fr. Michael’s talk about how Lent should be a time of transformation for Catholics. And I would sit there, knowing that I must be doing something wrong, but not knowing what to do about it.
I felt emotional just a few moments in. I went up to get my ashes and had to stop my tears. I didn’t know what was going on in my heart, but I wondered if maybe this was going to be a transformative time after all.
Fr. Michael got up to give his homily, and yes, he made me squirm. How much time are we actually spending in prayer? How many times do we cry out to God? Do we only cry out if we need help, or are we in constant conversation with God, even when things are good? What could we give up that would allow us to spend more time discerning God’s Will? What if we spent less time on social media and more time reading God’s Word? Do we actually work to make God a priority in our daily lives?
So many questions in his homily. And unfortunately, I didn’t have the “right” answers. Then came the Eucharist. And I cried through the whole thing. And then the song…the lyrics, “We hold the death of the Lord deep in our hearts. Living, now we remain with Jesus, the Christ.” Then I was ugly crying. And my daughter was thinking I was crazy. I realized that because of my failings, I was failing her, too. I had to make this right.
And as I was praying, things came to me so quickly. It wasn’t about giving something up. It was about gaining something. I needed to add things into my life that would help grow my faith. I realized that, for me, taking something away wasn’t doing it.
So, I came up with a list.
- I would only listen to Christian music during Lent.
- I would read a friend of mine’s book, Filling Our Father’s House.
- I would stop cussing. (Yes, I know. I don’t need a lecture.)
- I would go to daily Mass when I’m home.
Let me tell you how many of these things I have been able to do consistently throughout Lent…um, yeah…none. I have cussed at least one time every day. I haven’t even started on my friend’s book. And sometimes, as I’m jamming along to Taylor Swift, I remember that I’m not supposed to be listening to secular music. I have only gone to daily Mass once out of the four times I was home and could have attended.
Yep, I have screwed up. And before, I would have just given up when I failed. But as my priest says, “Lent is a journey.”
I can tell you that there has already been a transformation in my life…even though I have screwed up. And when we screw up, we have to keep going. God doesn’t expect perfection from us. He just expects us to give our all to Him. He knows we will fail. He loves us anyway. And he wants our best…even if our best isn’t perfection.
So give your best this Lenten season. Don’t give up when you fail. Because let’s be honest, you probably will. Remember that Lent is a journey…a journey to a better life with Christ.
“Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I’ll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.”