Do you ever feel like being anonymous when you go to pray?
That’s how I felt today, on Ash Wednesday.
I purposely went to another Catholic church, one where I wouldn’t recognize any faces and where I could enter quietly through the side door to sit in a darkened pew.
I didn’t have any expectations either. I simply chose the children’s Mass; it was the service led by Catholic school students from the adjacent school. I guess I was longing for some quiet time mingled with the sweet sight of children in their navy blue uniforms; it’s a familiar scene that brings back cozy memories.
But I was startled by the sermon.
I didn’t expect a gray, balding priest to be smiling and giving the students a “thumbs up” from the altar. That wasn’t what I saw over at my parish. I wasn’t accustomed to his beaming nods at the kids and I certainly didn’t expect to be affected by his simple explanation of Lent.
He delivered his sermon in child’s speak; it was a spiritual lesson spoken with simple words intended for children, and it wasn’t long-winded and filled with finger-pointing dogma. Quite the opposite.
His words were soft and encouraging.
“It is never too late,” he said as he began the service. He gazed across the pews and I felt him searching out the bigger bodies in the back of the Church. Looking for Me.
“Even if it’s been years since you’ve been to confession. Even if you’ve stopped going to Church all-together. Or if you’re not doing right in your relationships with others. Even if all this is true, you should know. It’s never too late, because God is a kind and merciful God who loves you just the way you are.”
“This is the message of Lent. It’s never too late for God.”
This priest gestured energetically about a boy and his chocolate milk.
“Today I was holding the Church doors open as the third graders entered, and one of the boys said to me, “ Oh, Father it’s going to be SO hard to give up my chocolate milk!” Laughter from the kids.
Because, you see?” the priest continued. “This little boy knew all about Lent and how hard it is to give up what we like. But let me tell you why we do this.”
He explained that during Lent we focus on three things.
“We pray a little more.”
“We work on our hearts.”
Fasting, he explained, is when we have one full meal and two little ones. And after you’ve gone all day without your usual food, it’s this sensation of hunger that can remind you of God. And Jesus. That’s why we fast, and why we try to give up something we truly enjoy.
We do this so that we can open up an empty spot inside us… so that God can come in more easily.
(Hmm. I liked his visual metaphor. Letting go of some stuff we like. So we can make more room for God).
I listened while he gave examples that would mean something to the children sitting in the pews.
You could give up video games. Texting. Playing time before your homework. Sleeping in when the alarm goes off.
But wait, he said. Giving up things is not all of it. Oh no. We must work on our hearts. We must also DO things that will make our heart grow closer to God and to others and this happens when we are Givers. And when we practice kindness.
And we need to remember, small things matter.
- Like choosing NOT to talk about other people.
- Not fighting with your brother or sister. (Spouse or co-worker)
- Giving up our fast food trips and saving the money to give to the poor. (Or giving up manicures or Starbucks coffee)
The priest ended his sermon with a plain question for you and me.
“What can you give up in your ordinary life… that might help you
think about God
during your day?
This is the spirit of Lent…
that was taught today to the children,
and enjoyed by me.
Do you celebrate Lent?
Are you giving up something?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.