Lent always seems to take us by surprise. Maybe that is how it should be: a jolt in the arm of “Ordinary Time” that wakes us up to the realities of what really matters so that we do not get too locked up in routine. It is time for something extraordinary.
So much of our lives can be caught up in patterns that, at first, we do not even recognize them as the addictions they are. At first sight, we often do not see. So the suggestion that one might be addicted to anything might at first be received as a bald insult. Yet any “un-freedom,” any accustomed behavior that we cannot imagine ourselves as doing without, is potentially something that we are mastered by, rather than the other way around.
We live in a world in which connectivity is very important. Blessed as we might be by all of the modern means of communication – iPhones, the Internet and instant messaging – we can also become slaves to them. The virtues of virtual communication can also become vices by which we attempt to control our relationships by relating to one another in sound (or sight) bytes, rather than engage in the kind of conversation that we can only experience in a one-on-one, face-to-face relationship.
It is customary during Lent to choose something to “give up” or to make some kind of sacrifice – to do something we do not find easy to do. So “choco-holics” (speaking of addictions) will give up chocolate. Smokers might do without cigarettes and so on. Or the couch potato might substitute an episode of Jersey Shore or Honey Boo Boo for an evening at the local gym. One particularly tough option would be to shut off the computer or cellphone for an evening and or a Sunday afternoon and to make a real personal visit to a friend or loved one or even a less well-known parishioner who might be in a hospital or a care center.
The most important visit any of us can make, however, is a session with our Lord. In addition to our Sunday Eucharist, a plan to attend Mass during the week or to spend an hour in Church before the Blessed Sacrament would connect us with the most real Person in this world and the next, the very ground of reality itself. If we want to really be in touch with the center and mystery of life, Jesus is our Man.
Our hope and prayer is, therefore, that Lent will be a time for all of us to deepen and extend our network of communication, to dip below the superficial levels of mere twitter and chatter into the source of all real love. The entire discipline of Lent, after all, is focused on renewing our relationship with Christ and with His Church, through whom He has chosen to continue His bond with us in this world.
Whatever pattern or (slight) addiction that we might be willing to put aside for a while so that our precious time becomes more available to God and the others in our lives who are longing for our attentive presence, that would be a good way to start Lent.
Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which begins with a reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return, that we can take nothing that we “have” with us into eternity, only what we “are.” What better way to prepare than to “get real” with our relationships and actually be present to God and one another in a more direct and personal way than usual. That would be something extraordinary.