by Father Mark Goldasich
So, how do you eat an elephant?
The head of the parish facilities committee posed this question to me last Sunday. Although we answered in unison, “One bite at a time,” I doubt that either of us has a taste for elephant.
Naturally, the question is not about eating an actual el- ephant, but how to approach a daunting task. You can’t do everything at once, nor should you. Therefore, it’s helpful to take a deep breath and then go after things a little — one bite — at a time. Seeing only the big task before you can be intimidating, fear-inducing and paralyzing. When chopped into smaller tasks, however, it suddenly becomes much more manageable and less threatening.
This concept is nothing new. If you enjoy doing puzzles, for example, this is how you approach the task. You whittle away at a blank crossword puzzle one clue at a time. You tackle a jigsaw puzzle one small piece at a time.
That seems to be an awfully practical way to approach Lent. Now that we’re a few days into it, reality has probably set in. Wow, going without coffee, pop, Face- book, chocolate, TV — or whatever — for the entire season seems an impossible or unbearable chore when viewed as a whole. Forty days without gossiping?!? Six weeks with no Doritos?!? The temptation is to give up before you even get started.
What should you do? Don’t look at Lent as a whole; just take it one day
at a time. Each morning, simply ask God for the grace to follow through that day on your Lenten resolutions. (And if you slip up one day, it’s OK. Dust yourself off and get back on track the next day.)
Secondly, seeing the ultimate goal can also be a great motivator. Maybe we need to take a page from our Eastern Catholic sisters and brothers who celebrate a feast called the Forty Holy Martyrs on March 9. According to Mary Ellen Hynes’ “Companion to the Calendar,” these martyrs were Christian soldiers from various countries in the Ro- man army. They died in the city of Sebaste in Armenia in the year 320. The emperor Licinius wanted them to renounce their faith, but they refused. As a punishment and an incentive to change their minds, they were sentenced to die by freezing, forced to lie naked on a frozen pond.
One of their number lost heart and sprinted for a warm bath that the emperor had prepared to tempt these Christians. However, a pagan soldier was so inspired by the faith and courage of the other 39, that he went and joined their number.
The lesson from this feast is that the 40 days of Lent give all of us a choice: to give in to the temptation of “giving up” Lent, or “to die to whatever is not life-giving in us.” What kept those 40 martyrs going was where they put their focus. That tempting warm bath would eventually grow cold, but life with God, they believed, would last forever. The ultimate goal was worth their temporary suffering.
We, too, have a greater chance of being faithful to the season of Lent if we focus on the goal — being a holier person, a more authentic Christian — rather than on the immediate pain that this season’s disciplines may bring.
This is hard to do in our instant gratification world. We expect things in the blink of an eye and are not used to waiting for anything anymore. Be that as it may, Mother Nature pays no attention to us. How many of us are weary of this winter, with its numbing cold and snow? No matter how much we long for the warmth of spring, however, it will only spring up in its own good time.
Lent teaches us, as well, the valuable lesson of waiting patiently and suffering with endurance. Easter will definitely come . . . but in its own sweet time.
So, until that blessed day arrives . . . elephant, anyone?