by Orlando Hernandez
Every Lent I am confronted with the dilemma of what attitude I should adopt. What does my Lord want from me? When I have the blessed grace of experiencing His presence in prayer, when I feel Him so near, how should I react? Instead of the happiness that I usually feel, should I now offer Him only shame and sorrow for my many sins, for the countless times that I have chosen pleasure, gain, or prestige , instead of Him?
Should I, in preparation for Holy Week, especially mourn for Him, suffering on that cross for me? This is the time of the year when there are so many opportunities to “walk” The Stations of the Cross , in different churches, monastery grounds, or simply at home. I love Him so much. I weep every time I meditate on His Passion. It is so much like grieving for my father or my mother. So I guess that this is indeed a special time of penance, mourning, and sorrow? Is this the message: my “eternal life” is at stake; this is a deadly serious situation, and I should act like it?
In the Gospel for the Thursday after Ash Wednesday ( Lk 9: 22-25), our Lord predicts the coming of His suffering and death. He invites us to follow His example and join Him in His Passion everyday:
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
How do I deny myself, take up my cross, and “die” for Jesus every single day? The wonderful first reading (Is 58: 1-9a) for the next day, the Friday After Ash Wednesday, gives us great advice for Lent: Fast from selfishness, cruelty, insensitivity, superiority! We’re called to reach out to the Crucified and help them in any way we can to find freedom from oppression, hunger, homelessness, loneliness, hopelessness. Somehow try and help them to carry their awful crosses as we humbly carry our own alongside them. Jesus is there!
As to my attitude, my behavior, my state of mind, the Gospel (Mt 9: 14-15) says something interesting. The disciples of John the Baptist ask Jesus why His disciples don’t fast (or mourn?) as much as they should. Our Lord answers: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?”
When I truly pray, especially during the Eucharist, the closer that Jesus, the Bridegroom, comes to touch my soul, I must admit that what I feel is indescribable joy and happiness, better than any pleasure in the world. At moments like that it feels so easy to deny myself, to give up anything for Him. Sometimes during the wedding feast which is the Eucharist, I look at so many people with morose faces and ask myself, “Can’t they feel the joy?”
Right there is where I begin to totter and fall. I have failed to recognize the Crucified right in front of my face. And I remember that that joy of Jesus is actually so powerful that it pierces my heart and makes me weep uncontrollably. My smile disappears. Such incredible love given to me can make me feel unworthy. Why is it that after such an experience of joy I can go somewhere, have a number of drinks, and become cynical, angry, numb, and forget about the God that I had promised everything to? I am suddenly in a barren desert seeking desperately for my Lord! What happened to the person I thought I was?
At the end of Thursday’s Gospel from Luke , our Lord says: “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit oneself?” Then, at the end of Friday’s Gospel from Matthew, our Lord tells us : “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
Boy, do I have a long 40 days ahead of me! A cross loaded with bad habits to give up! A road filled with wounded people in need of love, just like me. Thank heavens that the Beautiful One is walking right there with all of us, and lovingly waiting on top of that sad hill, to give us salvation.
Beloved Lord, have patience with us! Help us to appreciate Your boundless love!