I converted to Catholicism three years ago, after a lifetime of attending Baptist churches. I went because that’s where my family had always gone, and I didn’t question it much. I received much of what the pastors said as truth and didn’t delve too deeply into the theology behind the teachings, nor did I ask if there was anything deeper to delve into. I accepted it as what Christianity had to offer, and I shoved down the niggling questions I had about the “whys” behind the beliefs. Then a friend invited me to a study of Theology of the Body, based on Pope JPII’s about humanity and sexuality, and it revolutionized the way I saw the world, myself, and everyone in it. Faith and reason were reconciled. The truths I found there have changed my life, but that’s a story for another time.
One of my very favorite things about my faith is how we live out the liturgical calendar. Christmas begins on December 25th and is a season, not a day. Lent lasts for 40 days, and the celebratory Easter season lasts for 50. Even “ordinary time” is a season of ongoing feast days for the veneration of saints and martyrs.
I appreciate a good party, and I love that my Church does, too. This is my family’s first year buying a King Cake and flipping pancakes for dinner, a Fat Tuesday tradition that goes back many years and started when Christians cleared out their pantries of all the “fat” foods they planned to abstain from during Lent: eggs, milk, butter, and flour. The following day, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of my favorite season: Lent.
So many associate Lent with “giving up” things, of sacrifice or even self-punishment. But this year, I am so thankful for the opportunity to clear my life of those distractions that prevent me from hearing God speak to me, and there are plenty. I’ve chosen to limit my screen time and sleep with my phone in another room so I can clear my mind before I go to sleep and spend my time in prayer or spiritual study. I’m giving up all my favorite comfort foods, which is my vice of choice when I’m stressed or depressed. And I’m choosing to replace these with activities that will provide opportunities for growth instead. All things I should be doing anyway, but I don’t.
This past year of farming has been a season of spiritual stretching like I’ve never experienced before. We have moved into a camper, then (blessedly) a family lodge while we wait to sell our house. Our family has given up plenty of luxuries for the sake of keeping the farm going. We have sacrificed. And still, I have found ways to escape the hardships of our reality and sidestep the refinement that this path is offering. It’s pretty easy to do. I just drown out my discomfort with whatever distraction is easily available in the moment, and in doing so, I miss out on the voice of my Beloved, which usually manifests as a longing or ache in my heart. Whatever pain I seek to avoid is always a calling to a greater good, a dying to self that is painful and sometimes ugly. Sometimes, I rise to the occasion and meet it head-on, scared but willing to do what is asked of me. Other times, more often than not, I choose the path of avoidance, and I miss out on what my heart is trying to tell me.
This Lenten season, I invite you to join me in prayer as we, the Body of Christ, collectively hone our hearts to hear God’s invitation to love. May we all grow stronger through small sacrifices.