by Father Mark Goldasich
Sometimes (often?) I should just keep my mouth shut.
Last Friday night before Stations of the Cross was one of those times. When I came into the room to lead Stations, I took a look at the crowd that was there. Before I could stop myself, my thoughts turned into words and those words came tumbling out of my mouth.
“Thank you for being here,” I said to the 20 or so people who were gathered to pray. “Well, I can tell we’re getting to the end of Lent by all of the empty chairs I see!”
The first Friday we did Stations, the room was packed. We even ran out of books and people had to share. Gradually, though, things like March Madness, spring break, the longer hours of daylight and warmer weather gradually chipped away at attendees.
It’s like this every year. But what if, just once, the reverse happened? It would be something else to have a small number of people in church on Ash Wednesday that gradually grew over the days of Lent — at daily Mass, Stations, eucharistic adoration, etc. — until the church was packed to the gills, not only on Easter Sunday, but during the Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. Wouldn’t it be great if our fervor to change our lives increased over the 40 days of Lent, rather than decreased? We seem to start out like gangbusters and then lose our steam and motivation.
It’s as if we come to the realization that our Lenten disciplines are just that — disciplines — and require commitment and sacrifice. And usually that’s not easy or much fun. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving demand something from us. So, we end up either abandoning them altogether or whittling them down with various tweaks and rationalizations.
Maybe on Ash Wednesday we should hand out these words from the Book of Ecclesiastes in addition to the ashes: “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning” (Eccl 7:8). It’s easy to stick with a resolution while it’s still brand new. It’s the long haul, though, that will truly tell how serious we are about conversion.
Since the late 1980s, I’ve regularly pondered the following story:
A wise old woman happened to be a pianist who had taught many students over the years. Invariably, when she prepared her pupils for recitals, she would have them practice the conclusion of the piece over and over again. Not surprisingly, the students would grumble because of the constant repetition of the last few measures of music.
When one would voice a complaint, the kind teacher would always answer: “You can make a mistake in the beginning or you can make a mistake in the middle. The people will forget about it, though, if you make the ending glorious!” (Adapted from “Stories and Parables for Preachers and Teachers,” by Paul J. Wharton.)
That’s true not only in music, but in sports. With baseball season now underway, MLB.com features videos each week about “walk-offs” — those hits in the ninth or in extra innings that win the game for the home team. And look at all of the dramatic finishes in March Madness games. For example, Aaron Harrison of Kentucky’s three-pointer to beat Wisconsin with 5.7 seconds left on the clock shows how to make an ending glorious.
What is true in music and the sports world also holds true with regard to our spiritual life. Honestly, it doesn’t matter much how well you began Lent, or even how you did throughout this penitential season. Making the end glorious is what it’s all about.
And how can you do that? It’s simple: Come and participate in these holiest days of the church’s year, especially if you’ve never done so in the past. Don’t skip from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Make plans to attend the Triduum — the holy “three days” — at your parish. Then be sure to invite several people to go with you. Offer to pick them up if necessary. This will keep you honest with your intention to attend these services.
Ending Lent by spending so much time in church with your parish family can only leave you feeling one way on Easter Sunday: absolutely glorious!