My niece Kathleen has an appointment with her obstetrician this morning. She is close to full term now. Since tests indicate that her unborn child is larger than usual for this stage of development, the chances are strong that the doctor will induce her. Kathleen is fine with that. In an exchange of e-mails yesterday, she told me that she hoped that the doctor would send her directly from his office to the delivery room.
I write these words on Ash Wednesday morning. Though it is a coincidence, I count it as a grace that Kathleen and her new baby are so present to me on this special day. She has loved and nurtured the new life within her for many months. Now, with growing excitement, she looks forward to the time when she can see and hold in her arms the little one she has carried for so long.
Although she never made a big thing of it, I know that these months have not always been easy for her. Nausea, fatigue and other discomforts have been part of the experience. But through it all, Kathleen has maintained a positive — even serene — spirit. I have noticed and have been impressed by that spirit in many expectant mothers I have known over the years. I have often wondered how they can go through so much and stay so beautifully centered.
I can ascribe it only to the fact that they keep their eye on the goal and have a daily sense of nurturing — even in the midst of side effects they would rather do without.
My gratitude on this Ash Wednesday goes to Kathleen and to so many expectant mothers I have known. They are helping me to center my own prayer, practice and thinking for these special weeks of grace.
Like you, I would like — in preparation for Easter — to do all I can to nourish the life that is in me by virtue of my baptism. I know that this means being open to God’s grace, which calls me to turn away from sin and to believe more deeply in the good news who is Christ.
It is not an easy task to turn away from sin. Habits are hard to break. We do not easily change the patterns of our lives. We have an attraction to them that can overcome even our knowledge that ultimately they do us harm. I remember how much I wanted to quit cigarettes during the nearly 20 years I smoked. I knew that cigarettes were destructive to my health, but they still held a powerful attraction for me.
Turning away is only half of the task. The other is our positive commitment to the Gospel, our desire and resolve to live in loving and faithful relationship to the Lord Jesus. In this, we experience the filling up of “empty spaces” created when we turn away from sin in our lives. And, we discover a pleasure that does not fade, a treasure that never loses its luster.
When I finally managed to quit smoking, there was some pain for a while. But soon enough the “emptiness” I experienced was “filled up” by the health benefits I came to enjoy.
I thank Kathleen for the reminder that in most human experiences there can be elements of joy and elements of sorrow. This reminder has been helpful to me because I know how easy it is to take my eye off the prize when I am discouraged or distracted by the effort that its achievement can take.
As you walk more deeply into this Lenten season, I hope that you will do so confident that the Lord calls you to new beginnings. And, I hope that you’ll remember that anything to which he calls us will be well worth whatever it may cost us to get there.
You enjoy the prayer of the whole community in your Lenten journey. Please keep us all in your prayers — especially our sisters and brothers who prepare for their baptism at the Easter vigil.
Peace to all.