Ah, the beginning of Lent! As a convert, I always enjoy Lent quite a bit -- I have some cradle Catholic friends who give me a look of patient perseverance when I say this, indicating that I may be the special treat they'd personally like to give up.
But I like Lent. It's hard, I admit. But since it is all about Jesus and the hardships He suffered, the temptations He overcame, the voluntary sacrifices He made, it only makes sense to join Him in His sorrows. I mean, we're ALL ABOUT joining Him during the Christmas celebrations, right? The twinkly lights, the gaily-wrapped packages, the tree be-decked with ornaments and the table be-groaned with tempting foods. I've heard plenty of people say that they're sick of the commercialization of Christmas, and I've known folks who have decided to opt out of a Complicated Christmas in favor of a Simplified Christmas, but I've never heard anyone say (other than John Grisham's Luther Krank in Skipping Christmas), "No, thanks. I don't think I'll participate in any of the merriment this year."
But trying to get people to volunteer to make personal sacrifices? To go without, whether the going without means sweets, X-Boxes or the internet, well, that's a whole different deal.
That's where the Church comes in so handy, I guess because misery loves company? No, that's not it. It's more like standing together, being a family in good times and in bad. Like all families, the Catholic Church, counting their members in the billions worldwide, has its regular everyday folks, the crazies, the jerks, the posers and the ones who are so good, they give you hope that the name they pass on will be one that honors everyone. During this time of year in particular, we're all gathered around the same sparsely-laid table, hanging together and waiting for the feast of Easter. It's so much more than what some call a "community" and definitely more than what other Christians see as just a mystical body of believers, tied loosely together by a common belief in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, but divided by so much more.
That's not to say that all Catholics are in agreement. As a family, there are feuding members and members who don't want to have anything to do with one another, and others who are crucially disappointed in how things are being done. There are others who decide to bail altogether and seek their own way. But in spite of all that, there's that excerpt from St. Paul's epistle to Timothy, the young bishop, that can be found in the first letter, third chapter, fifteenth verse:
"But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth."
The church -- the Church -- is the pillar and foundation of truth, the household of God, the home of all Christians with the sacraments as their birthright. At the time of this letter's writing, it was obviously very young, not to mention highly illegal. But it existed and was constantly gaining new members. The truth that the Church holds in sacred deposit is that same truth that Jesus mentioned when He said in John 16:13, "When He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on His own, but speak what He hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming."
That was an important verse to me as a convert, both spiritually and historically. Since God had led me to question what I believed and why I believed it, I wanted to make sure I was going to end up someplace that had ALL the truth, the whole thing, even the parts I didn't necessarily want to have to acknowledge as true (hello, birth control?) I wanted all of it, the exalted, holy and uplifting truth and the ones that made my soul exalt and the hard truths that made me feel as fretful as a four year old, even while I was bending my knee to them in acknowledgment of their validity and importance, despite my petulance in receiving them.
I wanted it all and I got it, along with the tuna casserole I'm serving for dinner on on this, our eighth Ash Wednesday as Catholics.
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