Column: Here’s to a cheerful Lent

by Father Mark Goldasich

It happens every year as Lent begins — and this one was no exception. In the early days of this season, as the daily Mass readings speak of the Last Judgment, my mind flashes back to the seventh grade . . . and suddenly God turns into Sister Decolata, my teacher back then.

Before you call to have me committed to an institution, let me clarify why this occurs. The Last Judgment triggers an image in my mind of the Book of Life. Although the exact details are pretty fuzzy now (even the spelling of Sister Decolata’s name: one “l” or two?), I do remember that Sister had her version of the Book of Life. It was a poster with the name of each student in class written down the left side. To the right of our names was a long blank line. If we were good, we got a blue dot; if we misbehaved, a black one. I don’t recall how often those dots were put on the poster — or the rewards and punishments — but I do know that the poster was displayed on the bulletin board just inside the classroom door, meaning that everyone passing by in the hallway could see it.

It’s hard for me to get beyond this image of God as a heavenly bookkeeper, tallying up our good and bad deeds. But I’m trying, inspired in part by a recent e-mail. In this particular note, one of my friends said that the encouragement and support that I sent was “like having my own little cheerleader.”

That comment got me thinking: Do I perceive God as a divine bookkeeper or as a spirited cheerleader? Gradually, I’m coming to understand God as more the latter: God is on my side, God wants the best for me, God is cheering for my spiritual growth, especially during this season of Lent.

There’s a great story that illustrates this idea: Facing a momentous battle, a Japanese general decided to attack, even though his army was greatly out-numbered. He was confident they would win, but his men were filled with doubt.

On the way to the battle, they stopped at a shrine. After praying with the men, the general took out a coin and said, “I shall now toss this coin. If it is heads, we shall win; if tails, we shall lose. Destiny will now reveal itself.”

He threw the coin high into the air and all watched intently as it landed. It was heads! The soldiers were so overjoyed and filled with confidence that they vigorously attacked the enemy and were victorious.

After the battle, a lieutenant remarked to the general, “No one can change destiny.”

“Quite right,” replied the general. He then showed his lieutenant the coin: It had heads on both sides. (Source unknown)

During this season of Lent, will we dare to see God as this wise general? When it comes to changing our lives for the better, rooting out sin, can we envision God tossing a coin, winking at us, and then letting us in on the fact that the game of life is actually “fixed,” that it’s heads on both sides of the coin?

Being a game, though, means that life will naturally have its ups and downs, its failures and its successes. We shouldn’t be discouraged by that. In fact, last Sunday’s second reading contained a phrase that deserves repeating. The First Letter of Peter said that God “patiently waited” while Noah built the ark. That is what God does during this long Lenten season and throughout the game of life: He patiently waits for us to change — and cheers us on — one small step at a time.

This Lent I hope that we can all come to understand that by cooperating with God’s grace, not only can we win the game of life, but there really is no limit to the good that we can accomplish. And that’s really something to cheer about!

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