Column: Practice the art of Lent

by Father Mark Goldasich

Wow, have I been in a funk lately. Funk with a capital F.

I blame at least part of it on the harsh winter weather that we’ve been enduring . . . and the fact that there’s plenty more to go. But part of the funk, no doubt, has come from a sense of feeling “broken.” Do you ever experience days when you feel disconnected from friends, a lack of motivation, or a vague sense of unease? Have you ever had times when no matter how much you seem to accomplish, there’s always way more that’s left undone?

This is where I find myself right now. And, adding to the fun, along comes Lent. My prayer of late has been, “OK, God, what’s up?”

Well, if you’re going to ask God a question, you’d better be prepared for an answer, and it’s usually not the one that you’re expecting. In my spiritual reading lately, there’s been a lot said about the challenge of seeing ourselves as God sees us. This concept reminded me of a Lenten meditation from last year that I saved.

I hunted down the item and came up with the image that’s going to guide my Lenten season this year. Take a moment to picture in your mind one of the world’s most famous works of art: Michelangelo’s Pietà, found in St. Peter’s Basilica. This breathtaking, captivating, and haunting sculpture captures Mary holding the body of Jesus after he’s been taken down from the cross.

If you’ve ever visited St. Peter’s, you know the sculpture is protected from the public by a thick window of Plexiglas. You might recall why: Back on May 21, 1972, when the statue was unprotected, a mentally deranged man took a hammer to the Pietà and shattered one of Mary’s hands. Although the man was immediately restrained, the damage was done.

The meditation that I’d saved (from a booklet whose origin I no longer know) recalled this attack on the Pietà and noted that the best artisans from around the world were called to the Vatican to restore the damaged sculpture. For the first month, however, “the shattered hand was covered, and the artists simply studied the beauty of the whole work before attempting any repair.”

The meditation then challenged readers to take to heart these simple words from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: “we are God’s work of art” (2:10).

In other words, we’re not just ugly, unformed lumps of sinfulness; we are actually works of art, because we’ve been created by God in the first place and then made a member of Christ’s body through baptism. Since I rarely think of myself in this way, I’m using this image to guide my Lent. I find it very easy to concentrate on all that’s broken, all the failures, all that’s undone in my life. Yet even though those things are present, they are not the sum total of who I am. God sees us like those human artists saw the chipped Pietà: There is beauty and grace still present, just not perfectly so.

We all need Lent because no one is perfect. We live in a world damaged by war and poverty. We live in a land damaged by self-interest, greed and prejudice. Our families are often damaged by impatience and a general lack of respect and gratitude. And our own hearts are damaged — sometimes by the thoughtless acts of others, but, more often than not, by our own sinfulness.

Lent is a time for God to do some repair work to us, his special works of art. Our brokenness and our sins do not define us; God’s beauty and grace do. During Lent, we give God the chance to fix what’s broken and clean up what’s become messy.

One of the best ways to do this is to plan on receiving the sacrament of reconciliation in these days. In that sacrament, God reminds us of our essential goodness — we are truly works of art that have accumulated the dust and dinginess and damage of sin. Unlike the marble Pietà, though, we are able to work with our restoring Artisan — by adding our Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to the mix.

For Lent this year, let’s try picturing ourselves as God sees us — as works
of art “in progress.” That image alone might lift us out of our funk and help us embrace our Lenten disciplines as ways that the Artisan is readying us for display one day in his divine gallery of art.

Leave a Reply