Job 7:1-4, 6-7
1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
What a joyful first reading we have this week, huh? Beautiful weather outside, our stained glass window back in at the chapel, and then…Job. Thankfully we know the end of the story turn out all for the good, but it still feels so heavy in the moment. In praying with the scriptures this week I was struck by the words those words though: My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope. What struck me wasn’t the hopeless tone but the passing of time. How often have we all heard or said ‘the older you get, the quicker time flies by!’? And isn’t it true? Often it is the case that things happen before we’re even prepared for it and we’re left looking back wondering how it all passed so quickly. Pretty frequently when I’m driving I’ll start thinking about something and before I know it the place I was driving to is a half mile behind me. When I’m driving I can make a u-turn and go back to the spot, but in time we simply have to resolve to be better prepared next time.
One of the times that I almost annually have to make that resolution is in the celebration of the Lent. It seems like every year I only realize it’s Lent after two weeks, start really doing my penances in the third week and then it’s half finished already! Last year I was playing at a golf tournament for the parish school in Paulina and they had food and drinks at the various holes. We pulled up to one hole and I started feasting on the stuff in front of me and looked around to see everyone staring at me rather shocked. One parishioner gently said, “Um, Father, that’s a pulled pork sandwich… and it’s Friday.” I know I’m not the only one either. This is because it’s hard to transition into the season so quickly. For those who remember the liturgy before the Second Vatican Council, you might recall the season of Septuagesima, which was a three week period prior to Ash Wednesday that helped the community to begin to transition into Lent so that folks were actually ready to go when time came around.
While we do not have that season in the Ordinary Form calendar, we can still employ the tactic of preparing ahead of time and beginning the transition into Lent. So I want to challenge you to join me in a simple three part activity this week to prepare for Lent. The formula is simple and we all know it from another context: Stop, Drop and Roll.
The first piece we need to do is take some time this week to just stop doing stuff. Carve out a bit of time – 20 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, whatever – and sit with the Lord. In the Gospel passage we just heard we saw a description of Jesus taking time from the craziness of His ministry to be in union with the Father. Imagine how overwhelming things must have been just on a human level to know that everywhere He went, Jesus was surrounded by people in serious illness looking for Him to a miracle. How town after town probably saw repetitions of the scene today where crowds block the exits of the home where He stayed. And yet He made the time to go away for private time in prayer. So we must follow His lead and stop everything else in attempts to rest with the Father.
In that time of rest, we don’t just sit there twiddling our thumbs. We speak with our Father and seek some understand of how He is inviting us to grow this Lent. Every one of us has something in our life that we could improve about our self; something we could do better, do more, or stop doing. So whatever it is that’s keeping us from becoming better people – drop it. Whatever that thing is that God is inviting us to improve – pray better, serve others more, sin less, grow in a specific virtue, etc. – focus on that particular thing for the whole season of Lent and find ways to make it happen.
Which leads us to the third thing: roll. Once we’ve taken time to rest with the Lord and discerned what it is that we ought to address this Lent, it’s time for the most important piece: we have to actually put it into action; we have to roll it out. A few weeks back we had our clergy formation days and part of it was on eating healthily. They passed out little three-partitioned plates and it had printed on it the food that went there. In the large part covering half the plate it said ‘fruits and vegetables’ and in the other two smaller portion ‘proteins’ and ‘grains’. While I was a bit confused how I would fit my whole steak into a small portion or how I was going to stomach so many greens, it was incredibly helpful to see what it should look like. In stark contrast was my health plan of the past 10 years that was so vague that it usually ended with me at McDonalds or Canes promising ‘tomorrow I’ll eat a salad’ and never following through on that resolution. When we have a desire to do something, it must be a concrete, measurable goal or we’re almost guaranteed not to do it.
‘I’m going to pray more this Lent.’ Awesome! How long are you going to pray? What are you going to pray? When are you going to pray?
‘I’m going to do some service for others.’ Fantastic! Who are you serving? When are you serving them? How are you going to do so?
‘I’m going to quit this bad habit.’ Great. What are you going to do instead? What are you going to do when tempted? Who is going to help you stay true to the commitment?
Easter is an incredible season, but it is only incredible because it is the fruit of the labor in Lent. Let’s make this Lent special. Live it with the intensity you would if you knew it was your last Lent ever. God has great things in store for us, dear friends. Let us take some time this week and hear the beginning of the plan.