I don’t think I’m the only one who hasn’t been having a very good Lent this year. By which I mean I haven’t been having a very bad Lent. I mean, it hasn’t been hard; I haven’t been taking full advantage of the opportunities this liturgical season offers in terms of increased prayer, fasting and alms-giving.
As a matter of routine I put away the little espresso maker, which is a source of great joy in our house, omitted the sugar in my tea, nixed the sweet treats. So, Lent feels a little like going on a diet. But the more important treasures of spiritual growth are a bit lacking for me this time around. I haven’t availed myself of weekday mass or Stations of the Cross at my parish. I haven’t managed to add to my meager devotions nor been challenged by sacrificial giving. It’s hard to feel the pinch with electronic giving. In a word, this Lent, I am pathetic.
It’s like I’m in the desert, but I’m just lying there waiting. Waiting to be dragged out at Easter.
I feel bad about this state of things. I feel bad about just lying there. When Our Lord was in the desert, He was fielding temptations from the devil himself! He didn’t eat anything! His desert was an actual desert—in was hot and bleak! He was preparing for His mission to redeem the whole world!
But then, He is God the Son, the Christ. I am a weak sinner. A weak sinner with concupiscence. And I’m weak. (I know it sounds like a proof-reading miss, but I meant it that way.) I’m just lying here in the desert of Lent like a slug.
But, you know, maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s the best I can get out of Lent this year.
There are lessons that can be got out of every circumstance. If all I can do is lie there, then I shall have to count on efforts outside myself. That’s good, too. “But he said to me, ‘My power is made perfect in weakness.'” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
It is okay to ask for—and count on—the efforts of friends, as well. Remember this one from Luke’s gospel?
“And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when He saw their faith he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ . . . ‘I say to you, rise, take up your bed and go home.’ And immediately he rose before them, and took up that on which he lay, and went home, glorifying God.” (Luke 5:18-25)
It’s good to have friends! Sometimes my friends and I seem
to take turns lying there and carrying each other a few inches, even if we can’t lower each other through roofs. I was moaning about this to my good friend, Carol. She suggested, “Just put some purple place-mats on the table and you’ll feel better.” She understands. We pray for each other as well.
But, even if you haven’t any good friends around to carry you to Him, all is not lost. The Church carries us. The whole cloud of witnesses, visible and invisible. In every Mass, we are all prayed for, whether we’re at that Mass or not. Whew! And it’s not just the prayers of those in attendance. The liturgy is the work of all God’s people. The Mass is the drawing back of the veil of space and time to attend both the sacrifice at Calvary and the heavenly banquet attended by the angels, singing “Holy, holy, holy!”
Another episode from the Gospels that may give you hope when you’re lying there in the hot desert, unable to get up, is the story of the poor paralytic who was lying in the portico by the pool of Bethesda, where healing could be obtained by the first person to enter the pool when the angel stirred up the waters each day. The poor man was lying there for thirty-eight years because he had no friends to carry him. Oh, my heart goes out to him every time I hear his story! What happened next?
“When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.’ At once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked.” John 5:6-9
Jesus did not carry him first to the pool to be healed. He gave the man the healing he desired!! Healing came to the man while he was lying there!
Another account in the Gospel of Luke tells us of a blind man, sitting there who seized the moment.
“As [Jesus] drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging; and hearing a multitude going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ And he cried, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And Jesus stopped, and commanded him to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me receive my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he received his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” (Luke 18:35-43)
If you’re having a pathetic Lent, maybe that’s okay. Maybe just lie there if that’s all you can do. Our Lord knows your desires and He will come to you. He may send friends to carry you to Him. He may offer you the grace you expected would come from the devotions you wish you were doing. He may pass by and hear you calling out. But He will hear your prayers, even if, like mine, they consist mainly of walking around muttering, “Jesus, have mercy on me.”
If you’re just lying there like a slug in the heat of the desert this Lent, be sure to offer the sort of prayer you can for all the others just lying there in the desert, because the prayers of a parched slug availeth much.