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Column: Don’t knock the disciplines of Lent

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. he has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. he has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

I have a knack for finding the best stories . . . after I need them! Take this one, which would have been great for last Sunday’s Gospel about the Transfiguration:

Once there was a nurse who worked on a pediatric floor. To put the kids at ease before listening to their chests, she would plug the stethoscope into their ears and let them listen to their own hearts. Their eyes would always light up with awe, but she never got a response equal to that of four-year-old David.

After she gently tucked the stethoscope into his ears, she placed the disk over his heart.

“Listen,” she said. “What do you suppose that is?”

David drew his eyebrows together in a puzzled line and looked up as if lost in the mystery of the strange “tap-tap-tapping” deep in his chest.

Then his face broke out in a wondrous grin and he asked, “Hey, is that Jesus knocking?” (Adapted from an e-mail; no author was cited for the story.)

Last Sunday’s Gospel reminded us of the transfiguration of Jesus, when he took Peter, James and John with him up a mountain. There, as he’s talking with Moses and Elijah, these disciples get a momentary glimpse of who Jesus really is: the Son of God. In a sense, Jesus opened the door of his heart to his disciples. While this was meant to strengthen their faith and prepare them for Jesus’ eventual death, there are other lessons to be learned from the transfiguration as well.

By virtue of our baptism, we all have God dwelling within us, a spark of the divine. However, sin obscures that spark and prevents it from being seen. Lent is the time for clearing out whatever is blocking the Light. That’s where the three traditional disciplines of Lent come in — prayer, fasting and almsgiving, or doing good for others.

At the transfiguration, the voice from the cloud tells the disciples to “listen” to Jesus. That makes sense, because you can’t come to know someone without really listening. Especially during Lent, give Jesus a chance to talk to you, rather than monopolizing the conversation. I often put my folded hands right up to my lips as a not-so-subtle reminder to be quiet before God and just listen.

The next discipline for Lent is fasting. Like most people, I start Lent with the best of intentions on Ash Wednesday. But Lent is more than just a day; it’s a season. And that’s where it gets really tough: to live out my resolutions, no matter the cost. Fasting always forces me to confront my heart, which wants to rationalize away any difficult sacrifice.

Let me give you an example: One of my Lenten resolutions is to watch one hour of TV a day. I did great on Ash Wednesday, but then came Thursday, when some of my favorite shows are on. Let the rationalization begin. I started to question just what “an hour” means. Surely, watching the news doesn’t count; “the hour” should just deal with shows I enjoy. (And there’s no way that the news is a fun experience.) What about shows I’ve recorded? If I zip through the commercials, that should only count as maybe 45 or 50 minutes of “actual show,” thus giving me an additional 10 or 15 minutes to play with. And by “one hour” didn’t I really intend to say “one show”? That would then make it OK to watch an entire movie or basketball game and still be faithful to my Lenten promise. Naturally, “TV” does not include watching shows on the computer, right? Happily, with God’s grace, I’ve let common sense prevail and have come to the conclusion that one hour means one hour. Period. No hedging!

Fasting from something obviously frees us for something else. That’s where that last Lenten discipline of almsgiving comes in. My “less TV” time now gives me the opportunity to write notes to others, do spiritual reading, call neglected friends or have a meal out with them, chat with neighbors, clean out clutter and donate items to others, etc.

In a nutshell, then, prayer helps us to listen to God; fasting clears away the debris that weighs us down and obscures the spark of God within us; and almsgiving lets Christ’s love and care be experienced by those in need around us. It gives us a glimpse, too, of what our true nature is: We’re called to be saints, reflecting Christ’s bright light into the world.

Take a little bit of time this week to reflect on (or make!) your Lenten resolutions. How are you doing? Have you given up on them or rationalized them to the point of ineffectiveness? Take a few moments right now to quiet yourself and simply listen to your heart. Become aware of that familiar and distinctive “tap-tap-tapping.”

And, taking a cue from little David, let’s recognize that sound for what it truly is: Jesus knocking, reminding us of how close he is to us . . . and asking to be let out into the world.

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Fr. Mark Goldasich

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