Calendar year, fiscal year, school year - they all start at a different time. Each one brings deadlines, expectations, and preparations. Each one brings a freshness, or a newness, to some aspect of life. Well, happy new spiritual year to you. It's a term I have completely made up on the spot to capture the aspect of Lent that I want you to chew on with me this week.
For a couple of weeks, we have been inviting you to bring in your palms from last Palm Sunday so that we can burn them, to make the ashes we will impose upon our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. Look at those palms - all brittle and brown. See how their wizened condition resembles the state of all your good intentions to be faithful to the Lord Jesus. When they were fresh and green, we raised them in salute of Jesus, shouting hosanna! and giving Him all glory laud and honor. How'd that go for you? Have you shouted more often since then something that more resembles Crucify him! or at least, Buzz off! as you pursued something that promised you far more pleasure?
Those palms can be a dreadfully accurate representation of the state of our souls. But not to be discouraged - the remedy is at hand. Lent, which can sound so menacing, actually brings new life where deterioration and disuse have taken their toll.
During this year that our Holy Father has designated the Year of Faith, use your Lenten resolution better to learn the content of the Faith. Choose a book by a great saint and commit to reading it before Easter. Watch the complete Catholicism series by Father Barron – AND use the accompanying study text. Choose some current hot topic and commit to finding out what the Church really believes and teaches about it – using books and articles from authoritative Church sources that will tell you the truth, not the usual news natterers. The Catholic Information Center downtown on K Street NW has a staff that can find you just the book(s) you need. The Bookstore at the Basilica has a good selection too. You’ll watch a lot less television if you keep up with this resolution!
Sit down with a blank sheet of paper and write a list of all the things that make you glad you are Catholic. Pick six of them, then resolve to share your joy about them, one each week, by talking about them to someone you know who isn’t Catholic.
Go to confession every week throughout Lent, or every two weeks. Make a pilgrimage with your family to a shrine or holy site – more than once. Go to Mass during the week – once a week, or even every day! Turn off the radio in the car during your commute – and say a rosary. Write one letter each week to someone, telling them that you are praying for them. And do it – pray, that is.
Choose someone you know who has stopped coming to Mass and practicing the faith. Fast and pray for them until Palm Sunday, then invite them to Confession, and Easter Mass with you.
Lent is powerful, but it is not magic. You have at your disposal the spiritual horsepower of the entire Body of Christ, the whole Church, turning away from sin and toward the Lord. But to get that power, you have to put your own power in – the power of your participation, your cooperation, that opens the floodgates of grace and mercy to make your relatively small efforts have really large affects in your life.
This Lent, don’t settle for “giving up” chocolate or anything routine or paltry as the only thing you offer as your participation in this great rehabilitation of your spirit. This is an amazing opportunity for you put the power of Christ and His Church to work in your life. It’s rather like rearranging the living room furniture while the college wrestling team is visiting for a cookout. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish with a little direction and determination. It’s how you initiate what God will make sure is a happy new spiritual year for you.