By Sister Sharon Havelak, OSF
I had to laugh when the priest began his homily on Ash Wednesday asking us if the whole past year seemed like one long Lent.
The night before, as I sat with the readings for the beginning of the season, I was stopped cold in the first reading with Joel’s exhortation to rend our hearts, not our garments. “OK, God,” I chided, “how much more do you want from us? How much more can our hearts take?”
The year certainly had enough low points:
- 500,000+ COVID deaths and grieving family members
- Rampant fear over the disease’s spread and rampant denial
- Loss of businesses and jobs and homes, as well as wide-spread hunger
- Drought, floods, hurricanes, wild-fires, tornadoes, excessive heat and record-shattering cold
- Civil and political unrest before the elections, escalating after the elections, leading up to insurrection at the Capitol
- The ugly specter of hatred and racism, exploding into rioting and looting
Somehow, the idea of giving up cookies and candy for Lent seems an entirely insipid response, completely missing the mark of what the season is calling us toward. I found two things happening in me.
One was the lure of sitting in front of the image of Our Lady of the Sign, an icon of the Incarnation. Over Mary’s heart is the Christ Child in a radiant circle of light. My prayer has become that I/we, like Mary, become bearers of the love and light and beauty of our God and bring some measure of peace and healing to our world, in our own little way, in our own little place. And that will be enough. I will have done my part.
The other is a story that keeps crowding my conscious (conscience?), a memory of very, very long ago when I was still teaching grade school. The area was poor; the kids were pretty tough. Two boys in particular seemed to demand a lot of attention, needing a bit of TLC. While I did a fair measure of scolding them, I also relished teasing them.
One morning, as I sat at my desk doing some last minute preparations for class, I felt a little arm around my shoulders. I turned to find one of the duo staring intently at me. “My dad said,” he told me gravely, “that you’re not as holy as you think you are.” And he walked away. I have no remembrance of what I had said the previous day to prompt that remark; I have no idea of what story he took home. All I could do is laugh!
And so, perhaps this Lent, what I need to do is simply to hold the hurt of our world in my heart and my prayer, while celebrating the beauty and goodness I find around me, with humility, knowing that it’s a small thing. But, then, bringing love is never a small thing. And I need to believe that, when it’s time, my heart will know what it needs to do.