Lent is with us once again, dear friends. With it comes its invitation to turn away from sin and believe the Gospel; and its reminder that the time of salvation is now.
In the days leading up to Lent, I prayed that God would grant the grace to you and to me to accept that invitation now, and to do so with generous hearts.
When you stop to think about it, the invitation is a remarkably beautiful gift. It holds a promise of life, freedom, peace of heart and relationships with the Lord and neighbor that bring true and lasting joy to the human heart.
The turning away part can seem demanding. It’s not so easy to surrender any habits or patterns of life in which we have found comfort — even if we have the sense deep within us that these apparently good things leave us restive and searching for something more. I remember the 19 years in which I smoked cigarettes. On the one hand, I enjoyed them. They were symbols of relaxation. They soothed and relaxed. But, at a deeper level I really wanted to be free of them and could not find a way to do it. Finally, after I don’t know how many abortive attempts, I smoked my last cigarette. I remember that it was on May 11, 1975, at 1 p.m. All I can do is thank God for the grace to be free from a habit that seemed to soothe but was really hurting me.
As I try to make my own the invitation of Lent, the cigarette experience helps me. The memory of that spurs me to look at the patterns of my own life, to ask whether they are leading me in good directions, to explore the possibility that I may be so absorbed by the urgent and immediate that I am short-changing the most basic and lasting values we are called to honor.
The most common way I can fall prey to such illusion is to pray too little because there are so many important "things to do." I know better than that, and I don’t do it in a calculated and willful way. But, the fact is that "activity creep" can set in and yours truly can too easily slip into patterns of life in which prayer doesn’t have its proper, central place.
I confess that to you with some embarrassment. You’d think I’d know better and do better after all these years. But, the fact is that while I do try to be vigilant in such matters, I really do need reminders such as the ones that Lent brings to all of us. I am grateful for it and do ask for the grace for a renewal of my own prayer life through these days of Lent and beyond.
Were you writing this column, I wonder what past experiences you might remember, which like the cigarette experience caused you great difficulty but that left you with new found freedom. Or, how you might describe the challenges you experience in tending to the values, relationships and convictions that matter most deeply to you. I have little doubt that many common themes would emerge among those who took pen in hand to write about them.
As we move together through the weeks of his holy season, I ask for your prayers and certainly promise you my own.
And, please remember our great duty and privilege to pray for all sisters and brothers who are preparing for baptism or for reception into the full communion of our church at the Easter Vigil.
Peace to all.