I walked into his office and sat down for a one-on-one meeting. He looked at me and said with a smile “I know where you’ve been.” I had been too busy to look in the mirror since leaving Mass and was not sure what kind of mark was on my forehead. Was it a dark messy blotch or a light wistful, clearly-shaped cross? It’s usually an unattractive smudge that begs others to tell me to clean my face.
And then he asked the Question of the Season: “so what are you giving up for Lent?”
I had to take a deep breath and sigh. How do you explain what you are doing to someone who does not set out on the journey? And it would take too long; you’re here for a brief discussion. And you don’t have the words to describe how the preceding Lenten journeys shaped the one on which you now embark. And does he really want to know the answer, or is this casual, cordial talk?
What I want to explain but don’t is that what I plan to give up is not the point, because I know what I have to gain if I but set out!
What a gift we have in the season of Lent. The gift to imitate Christ, who fasted for 40 days and nights before he embarked on his public ministry. The gift to correct our course. The gift to heed John the Baptist and prepare the way the Lord, make straight his paths!
Yes, I could say how I intend to turn away from myself and my numerous daily indulgences (be it food or drink or unnecessary spending or reducing time on the computer to carve out more time for prayer). But that is not how I want to answer. That’s the easy answer. I don’t like easy.
And so I compromise, and without getting too personal, babble some response about Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving, and various ways to turn away from the temporal and emphasize the spiritual for the next 40 days. Then he calls me a Church Mouse, and I’m forced to agree, because from his perspective, and maybe yours, too, that is what I am. I receive this title with glee and can’t wait to laugh about it with my Church Friends.
In a sense, I gave up and give up nothing. In reality, I already have everything. What I do during Lent: I seek. I knock. I find. Love is already here.
In my so-called “giving up,” I discover God has multiplied my meager offerings.
In my so-called “giving up,” I discover everything, all along, has been a gift. And I return a portion, acknowledging the God of Love, the God of Abundance.
After having eaten too many Sunday donuts during Ordinary Time, Lent allows me to take my place once again as God’s beloved. I calibrate how far away from love I’ve drifted amid the storms of life as well as its many pleasures, and I allow the Good Shepherd to find me, pick me up, and carry me home.
During Lent, I imitate Saint John the Beloved and rest my head on Jesus’ chest.