by Father Mike Goldasich
Fifty-six. when I think of Lent, this is the number that comes to mind.
Now, I realize that for most people Lent is associated with the number 40, referring to the tie Jesus spent i the desert, prior to beginning his public ministry.
I understand that. But I’m sticking with the number 56, which reminds me of a traditional prayer form, particularly appropriate for Lent: the Stations of the Cross. I’m sure that you’re still confused, because you know that there are only 14 Stations. That doesn’t explain why I associate the number 56 with them.
Quite simply, 56 is the number of times I get down and up down while doing the Stations of the Cross: “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.” (Genuflect.) “Because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.” (Stand.) A short meditation on the particular Station is then followed by a prayer. (Kneel.) After saying an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, it’s time to stand up again and move on to the next Station, to repeat the process.
Fourteen Stations times four times down and up (each) equal 56.
And, believe me, I feel each and every one . . . especially the older I
get. (I hope the Lord understands and forgives me when, at the Ninth Station where Jesus falls the third time, I can’t help but think, “Lord, you had the stamina to get up and continue; I’m not too sure I’m gonna make it any farther tonight!”)
Stations of the Cross are literally one of my Lenten “exercises.” And, like most exercise in my life, I’d avoid the Stations at all costs if I didn’t have a roomful of people waiting for me each Friday evening to lead them. So, what gets me through each time?
Well, first of all, I do find the Stations both prayerful and meaningful. Secondly, I’m convinced that it’s the grace of God that gives me the stamina I need to complete them.
Lastly, though, I’ve been doing something all along, yet never realized it: I take the Stations one at a time. If I looked at the whole picture — all 14 Stations and 56 downs and ups — it would be overwhelming, and I suspect I’d not even attempt it. But taking the Stations one at a time doesn’t seem so intimidating: down-up, down-up, repeat.
In last week’s column, I lamented the rationalizing and corner-cutting that I found myself doing in the first part of Lent. Some of that tendency to cheat comes from seeing the season of Lent as a whole — all 40-plus days of it. Just the thought of going without unlimited TV time, for example, for such a long period erodes even my best intentions. It’s a whole different story to look at things one step, one day, at a time.
I recently came across a story about the 19th-century historian Thomas Carlyle. After spending two years writing a book about the French Revolution, he gave his only copy of the finished manuscript to a colleague, john Stuart Mill, to read and critique.
Sadly, Mill’s servant used Carlyle’s work as kindling to start a fire.
Upon hearing the news, Carlyle went into a deep depression. He reflected on the thousands of hours that he’d spent researching and writing, now wasted. He couldn’t imagine doing the book again.
One day, however, as he was walk- ing along some city streets, Carlyle noticed a stone wall being built. It transfixed him. He saw that the tall structure was going up one brick at a time. Drawing inspiration from that process, he began to think of his writ- ing: Do just one page, one day at a time. It worked. He rewrote the entire book that had been destroyed. (Adapted from Rick Christian’s “Alive,” found in “Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion,” compiled by Craig Brian Larson and Drew Zahn (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 2002.))
Now that we’re at the midpoint of our Lenten journey, how are you doing? Is the only thing you’ve given up this year Lent itself?
Don’t get discouraged. It’s still not too late to make the most of the time remaining. Remember this wise advice from St. Ignatius of Loyola: A good or better decision is just one decision away.
So, go ahead. Make that one good decision to become holier, one day at a time.
And as Jesus shows us in the Stations, you just can’t keep a good man down.