by Father Mark Goldasich
I’m sure you’ve heard about the parish priest who met one of his elderly parishioners while out taking a walk.
Since this guy rarely darkened the church door, the priest said, “So, Henry, I haven’t been seeing you much in church. You know that you’re not getting any younger. Isn’t it time you started to think about the hereafter.”
“Oh, Father, don’t worry about me,” said Henry cheerfully. “I’ve got it covered. In fact, I think about the hereafter all the time. Yup, it seems like every time I come into a room lately, I find myself saying, ‘Hm, I wonder what I came here after.’”
The other morning after Mass, I was walking out with one of my parishioners (who, unlike Henry above, is neither elderly nor absent from church). When I asked how she was doing, she said, “You know, Father, I’ve been going through these past few weeks with a nagging feeling that something’s missing. And you know what it is? Lent!”
She’s right. Usually by this time of year, we’re already a week or two into our Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. This year, however, we’ve still got about 10 days before Ash Wednesday rolls around; Easter isn’t until April 24!
The last time Easter was so late was back in 2000 when it fell on April 23. A close second was 2003, when it was celebrated on April 20. According to some quick research, the earliest Easter can occur in the Western calendar is on March 22; the latest, on April 25. Incidentally, the date of Easter — the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring — was decreed way back in 325 at the Council of Nicaea.
But I digress.
And that’s no surprise, since I’ve been very scattered lately, finding it hard to focus or concentrate. In other words, I’ve been busy, but not productive; constantly in motion, but not really getting anywhere. And you know what? I think that it’s because I (gasp) actually miss Lent. Now, I can’t say that I look forward to Lent each year, but I know that I need it to reset my life.
For me, Lent is a time of realignment, illustrated wonderfully in this little story:
Some boys were having a contest to see who could make the straightest track across a snowy field. Each one set out with high hopes and great enthusiasm, but only one kid succeeded in making a path that was almost perfectly straight.
When the others asked how he managed to do it, the boy replied, “It was easy. I just kept my eyes fixed on the lightning rod on the top of the barn at the end of the field — while the rest of you kept looking at your feet as you walked.” (Adapted from a story in Anthony Castle’s “A Treasury of Quips, Quotes & Anecdotes for Preachers and Teachers.”)
Whenever I find myself in this unfocused state, it’s because I’ve lost perspective. It’s as If I’m looking down at my feet, trying distractedly to find my own way. Like the boys in the story above, doing this gets me far off the “straight and narrow.” Especially during Lent, Jesus wants to raise our vision. By focusing on him and following more faithfully where he leads us, our lives can get back on track.
For my Lenten resolution this year, I’m returning to a practice that helps me unclutter my life in a fun (and productive) way. In the course of a day, many good intentions pop into my head: people to call, cards to write, meals to schedule with friends, etc. Although these things are important — and I do faithfully scribble a “to do” note as a reminder — I often don’t actually get to them.
My first step in preparing for Lent is to gather all of my (very many and) scattered “to do” lists. Each “good intention” will then be written on its own small piece of paper and tossed into a small tin “Lenten Task” bucket. Every morning of Lent, I’ll pull one out and do that good deed. The “fun” part of it is that I don’t know what I’ll be called upon to do each day — and therefore I can’t talk myself out of it! And because there will no doubt be more slips of paper in the bucket than days of Lent, I intend to keep at it until it’s empty. After all, who says you have to stop doing good just because Lent is over?
Even though Lent isn’t yet knocking on your door, why not get started today on planning what you intend to do during those special 40 days. Please don’t delay. After all, I don’t want you to show up scattered and confused in church on Ash Wednesday, wondering what you’re here after.