by Father Mark Goldasich
Well, most of Sacred Heart Parish in Tonganoxie will not be celebrating Lent this year.
You see, at the 4 p.m. Mass on Christmas Eve, I thought I told the packed church, “Welcome to our first Mass of Christmas!” But everyone laughed for some reason.
Suspicious, I asked, “Uh, did I just say Easter?” The nods and applause told me that, yes, I’d inadvertently said, “Welcome to the first Mass of Easter!” After Mass, many folks told me it was the best Lent that they’d ever had. Others remarked that it was so painless and quick that it didn’t even seem like Lent.
Yup, leave it to me to mess things up. Anyway, for those in my parish who will be celebrating Lent this year — and for the rest of us — this column is a call to spend time, now, preparing how you will celebrate that season. Often we wait until Ash Wednesday — March 1, this year — to even think about Lent.
By the time we come to some decisions, it’s usually a week or two into the season and we figure that it’s too late to get started, so we resolve to do better next Lent and give up. And the pattern repeats itself year after year.
Please don’t let that happen: If you plan today for a meaningful Lent, you’ll be all set to go full steam on Ash Wednesday.
I like to do jigsaw puzzles. Recently, I put together a “shaped puzzle.” This is different from the usual rectangular or circular ones. As its name suggests, the outside border of this puzzle has an irregular shape, forcing you to employ a different strategy to complete it. The one I did was shaped like Sherlock Holmes, clad in a cape and deerstalker hat, smoking a pipe.
In more traditional puzzles, you start with the outside frame, since it’s easier to spot those pieces, and then move to the inside. With a shaped puzzle, you have to switch your pattern: You work from the inside out, assembling the interior first and, last of all, the irregular outside frame.
The inside of the Holmes puzzle, for instance, had scenes from his famous cases, like the Hound of the Baskervilles. You worked on these first, then moved outward.
Isn’t Lent a lot like a shaped puzzle? The call to repentance and transformation has to come from the inside out. We start by changing our hearts and gradually our outside behavior follows suit. The penitential practices that we undertake during Lent mold our hearts to be more like Jesus’. While it’s work to “keep Lent,” the rewards are well worth the effort.
If you’re looking for a great place to start your Lenten planning, be sure to read Benedictine Sister Judith Sutera’s excellent suggestions on pages 8 and 9 of this issue. I especially like her encouragement for folks to take time away from home for a retreat, even for a day.
And you can’t use the excuse that you wouldn’t know where to go for one, because all the pertinent information is on those pages! Just as many people plan spring break trips and somehow find the time to be away.
Challenge yourself this Lent to take a “God break” as well.
Each Lent, I go back to a practice suggested by Father James Shafer: the “1-1-1.” Make a concerted effort during Lent to overcome one sin that nags you; give up one thing for Lent (and it doesn’t have to be food); and then add one spiritual practice, like reading a spiritual book or going on retreat. This “1-1-1” is simple and doable, no matter how busy we claim to be.
Lent is ultimately a matter of attitude. I’ll end with this reflection by an anonymous writer, entitled “The Winner”:
The loser is always part of the problem; the winner is always part of the answer.
The loser always has an excuse; the winner always has a program.
The loser sees a problem for every answer; the winner sees an answer for every problem.
The loser sees a sand trap near every green; the winner sees a green near every sand trap.
The loser says it may be possible, but it’s too difficult; the winner says it may be difficult, but it is possible. (Found in Medard Laz’s “Love Adds a Little Chocolate.”)
For Lent 2017, which will you choose: to be a winner or a loser?