The ‘Campaign’ of our Lenten Season
[The following personal reflections ‘failed to make-the-cut’ and therefore never evolved into ‘homily’ form this weekend, but I wonder if a few parishioners will still find some benefit from my interior wanderings one afternoon…]
Since Ash Wednesday—passed just a few days ago—I have felt drawn to consider more intensely how the Church views Lent from the eyes and heart of our liturgical life. So, with that goal in mind, I thought it might serve me well to return to the very beginning of Lent and its first liturgy that we just recently experienced here at our parish. This led me to re-examine the opening prayer of the liturgies of Ash Wednesday (certainly, I thought, that will give me a clear sense of the newness of the season, and the goals it has in store for me and for us).
The opening prayer, voiced by those who presided at our liturgies, and offered by each person who gathered together in our rituals, stated: “Father in heaven, the light of your truth bestows sight to the darkness of sinful eyes. May this season of repentance bring us the blessing of your forgiveness and the gift of your light.” I pondered that for several moments and, although I realized some images coming to the forefront of my consciousness, I also felt an unease…or an inner pang of longing…an ache for more; the prayer just wasn’t resonating as much as I was hoping it might. So I waited a bit more.
Then something interesting popped into my little mind’s eye: I could see our community gathering in a different way…something had changed…and I realized that my simple imagination was pointing me toward consideration of the Roman Missal, 3rd edition that I have been studying intensely over the last several months. “Great idea!” I whispered, as I feebly congratulated myself.
Anyway, I then looked at the opening prayer as it has been crafted for the revised missal which we will use in all future Ash Wednesdays, and I found a very, very different translation from the exact same Latin source as our current prayer. I was startled at the variances between the two and it opened up a deluge of thoughts and images that I had never honestly considered related, intertwined, akin to one another…. I share this new translation of the opening and first prayer of our season of Lent with you (from the newly promulgated 3rd edition of the Roman Missal in English):
“Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.”
Quite different from our current translation, right? Aside from making any qualitative judgments and arrogantly declaring which might be better or worse, more or less helpful or harmful; with all that aside, I just sat with it, and let the images come…and then the important personal questions—at least for me:
“is there really a battle that I am beginning to engage in?”; “am I really entering into a campaign of service?”; “and what about weapons that I am to take up?”; these were just a few of the questions, but each—I sensed—was going to be important for me to consider and discern, and then to decide how my responses to these questions are then going to impact my Lenten season. Of all of these, I’d like to simply consider one issue here: the issue regarding ‘battle’ or ‘campaign’, especially since I have a whole forty days and forty nights to consider the other issues that swirled around within me!
I had to acknowledge, almost immediately, that I had not considered myself engaged in battle. I am generally happy, content with my life’s little challenges and my personal responses to them; I am very pleased in my parish ministries and the wonderful people with whom I serve in priesthood; I have lots of fun teaching college students as a simple hobby; yes, all things considered, I had to admit I didn’t feel engaged in much of a battle.
And, of course, as I let my guard down, it then hit me like a sack of rotten, slimy tomatoes: “You fool!”
“Sure, maybe you’re not engaged in battle, but you should be!” “Look beyond your own little experience, because there’s lots rattling around you…and it might just surprise and throw you!”
And then a deep breath…the wheels engaged in their whirling and spinning…with lottery-like balls swirling around and popping—one by one—into clearer view: something inside me was witnessing what should have been obvious to me all along and, of course, I’m ashamed to admit it, hadn’t yet caught my narcissistic attention. But I couldn’t look away now…my awareness was peaking: the gravity of our human condition.
- Our youth are preparing and collecting and organizing themselves for a Midnight Run.
- Egypt, Jordan, and now Libya…millions of people beaten-down, are now fighting to stand up.
- Six of our parishioners are in Afghanistan and/or Iraq…I wonder if they sense I’m hoping peace and blessing for them right now.
- Catholics are lobbying the State this week for those who are voiceless around us.
- Our local parishes and we ‘leaders’ have been in a bit of a fiery cauldron these last several weeks because of some foolish, really foolish, thing.
- I bought groceries yesterday and didn’t even notice the final price tag…I’m really, really lucky that I’m not worried right now about the eventual credit card bill.
- Catholic Schools are in crisis: the State isn’t going to respond to various financial and systemic injustices, leaving the heroic families of our students to foot higher and higher bills…all so that they can try their best to do good by their kids…but isn’t that what the state should be trying to do as well?
- I haven’t seen one of my people at Mass in a long while…I wonder if something has happened.
And on and on it went.
Moments later, waking from the rapid-fire slideshow of my imagination, my initial question again came to mind, “am I engaged in a battle of some kind or another”? My answer was, “No, clearly not”. As others go homeless and unfed, I’m comfy in a rectory and quite sated. As people battle injustice…as others compromise and long to resolve differences…as families with young children fear rising costs and even higher unemployment…as some suffer illness and face painful losses…and on and on. As all this and more happens around me, I am here wondering what ‘battle’ might mean and whether or not a campaign exists.
I wondered then what to make of myself. Thankfully, before too long, I returned to the opening prayer that started my mind sprinting, and I am relieved to see that there is a renewed reason for Lent…in and around me.
Recall the opening of that simple yet concise prayer: “Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service…” Whew. The Lord—in His goodness, thankfully—is giving us this new season—just begun—so that I can ‘begin’ this campaign, a campaign that has been ongoing, yet was still waiting to be fully joined with my own service, my own authentic engagement and response.
And so: my Lenten Journey begins; my campaign starts.
A blessed ‘renewed beginning to this campaign’ for each of you as well.