By Barb Arland-Fye
Holy Week has arrived and the self-assessment begins as we prepare anew to celebrate the salvific, self-giving love of Jesus the Christ. Did I successfully “give up” something for Lent? Check. Did I spend more time in prayer? Check. Did I engage in almsgiving? Check. At a superficial level, I “achieved” the goals of Lent. Beneath the surface I’ve discovered room to grow into the Easter season.
The thing I gave up for Lent was chewing gum, which may not seem sacrificial. God, however, provided ample opportunities to reflect on this minor sacrifice. The Catholic Messenger office has a colorful bowl of bubblegum and several jars of hard candy on the front counter. Chancery staffers stop by during the day to help themselves, which the Messenger staff encourages. During these past six weeks it seemed as if nearly everyone was unwrapping bubblegum and popping it into their mouths!
Earlier in the Lenten season I wrote how Father Thom Hennen, the Davenport Diocese’s vocations director, had advised in a homily that we should be realistic in what we give up for Lent. Otherwise we’re doomed for failure or, if it’s too easy, we’re doomed to forget about it! I must have chosen wisely because throughout Lent I vowed never to give up gum again. But I will reconsider it next year.
With God’s guidance, my insignificant sacrifice brought to mind the reason for it: to recall the greatest sacrifice of all; Christ emptying himself, taking the form of a slave, laying down his life for us so that we may enjoy eternal life with our Triune God.
OK. So I had this little thorn of sacrifice to get me thinking. But to really be present to God I need to take time for prayer, Scripture and those who need me. The dilemma: too much to choose from. Scriptural reflections filled my inbox faster than I could read them; the Little Black Book, which has become a favorite devotional, sometimes went days without me reading it. Then I’d read a whole week’s worth of reflections that offered new perspectives.
Take for example this gem from The Little Black Book for March 26: “Now, on the cross, Jesus forgives everyone involved in his crucifixion before they show even a hint of remorse … My first thought might be how I fail to show the same forgiveness to others. Better that my first thought be how Jesus has the same compassion toward me before I even turn to him. I need to believe that — really believe that — before I can do the same to others.”
Reflections by Fathers Richard Rohr and Robert Barron have challenged me with the truth that being a Christian requires a whole lot more self-giving. In Day 10 of Fr. Barron’s Lenten reflections, he unpacked the story of Abraham’s obedience to God. “What is Abraham willing to give away? That which he loves the most. What is the result? The increase of his being.” This message speaks to me today, when news headlines refer to Christians in the Middle East who are being called to make life-and-death choices because of the faith they profess.
Another component of this journey from Lent to Easter Time involves an assessment of whether I gave freely of my time, talent and treasure. What I’ve learned is that spontaneous giving requires me to step outside my comfort zone. It’s the struggle between selfishness and selflessness. A friend I visit at the nursing home, not frequently enough, always excuses me because I’m busy. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount requires me to learn how to make time.
I am thankful for a merciful God who welcomes even my small attempts to embrace the message of Easter and probably had a little fun testing me on abstaining from chewing gum.