Eager for Lent

Lent was an annual mystery for me from childhood to middle age. In my family, Lent was a “Catholic” thing to be avoided. Smudged foreheads and St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church draped in purple were to be shunned. Lent remained suspect in seminary. Scottish Presbyterians had little use for the season of ashes.  

In 1996 my sister in law Mary, for some forgotten reason, gave me a two-volume set of Lenten readers, A Lent Sourcebook - The Forty Days published by Liturgy Training Publications under the auspicious of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Why she gave them to me I do not know. The bigger mystery is why I bothered to venture beyond the first selection - Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris. - to read the daily selections all the way to Holy Thursday, a day I didn't know existed. Now, these two paper back books containing a wonderfully eclectic collection of readings look as old as I do. The pages are dog-eared, some spattered with mud from the Dominican Republic and one with blood from a New Orleans accident. These slender books have become mine just as much as I am theirs.

I am in my sixteenth reading. Why the attraction? I am not sure. Some of the readings I don't like at all. The Noah story taken from a 13th Century miracle play leaves me cold as do some of the heavy, depressing liturgies from the Easter Orthodox side of our faith. There is also poetry in abundance - something I never liked or read until these books made me. But I admit that even these pieces I look forward to each year - to reading them and catching the familiar phrase or seeing something brand new in something I thought I knew.

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

Beauty is not enough.…It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,

April comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

                                                  Edna St. Vincent Millay


Every year I can't wait to read again the stunning question, "Where are the Hittites? Why does no one find it remarkable that in most world cities today there are Jews, but not one single Hittite!"

I am drawn to new heroes of faith. In these thin volumes I have met and come to know three people who have changed my life. One is a young, sophisticated, secular Jewess named Etty Hillesum. (1/15/14 - 11/30/43) Parts of the diary she began in Amsterdam that ended in Auschwitz are scattered throughout this Catholic reader. Her growth in faith, courage and love astonishes me every year. Close to her time to board her train, Etty wrote: There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there too. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then God must be dug out again.

I knew nothing of Bishop Oscar Romero when I first read his name in my books. Born into El Salvadorian aristocracy, groomed to be Archbishop as a family entitlement, he became the voice of the poor, the needy and the love of Christ's church in a time of death and squalor. His life and his assassination while celebrating Mass with the poor marks Oscar Romero as a saint for all of us.

There is Flannery O'Connor, who loved peacocks and spent most of her 39 years living with lupus and her mother on a farm is Milledgeville, Georgia. I will never understand this deeply Catholic woman and her devastating insight into the Southern protestant combat with God, a God of unrelenting, swift and terrible mercy. But I love to be taken each year into her world, her heart and the sharp edge of her faith: "If the Eucharist is just a symbol, to hell with it!"

I eagerly return to my little books every year. They feed me and prepare me for Easter. They give me hope and lead me to trust ever deeper in God’s ways. All of this is to say I hope you find something always there waiting for you and Lent to arrive: Something to lead you through the strange and wonderful season of Lent to the great mystery of Easter. I hope you will be among those eager for Lent.      

  ~ Doug Moore


Posted on March 5, 2013 at 12:08 pm in Featured Content.

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