Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Blessings unexpected

I finally have a chance to look back on the season leading up to Easter.

I was determined to make Lent count this year.  I'd been feeling myself drifting a little.  The penitential season begins by reducing you to nothing - the key phrase of Ash Wednesday is "you are dust and to dust you shall return".  By extension, it is a time where you can rebuild yourself from nothingness.

I had decided to use the season for a real challenge: to purge myself of impure thoughts and deeds for the 40+ days of Lent.  This was fortified by getting to Mass at least twice a week and attending confession once a week.  I chose to keep a Lenten diary which would be separate from my day to day diary.  Reviewing it has been instructive.

Our Lady Help of Christians church, East Brunswick, Victoria, Australia
The first thing I noticed was how excited I was to be able to receive the Eucharist again.  Long time readers may recall that I had been self-excluding from communion for a year or more.  That is, I expected to fall into the sin of adultery.  Hence, no absolution and therefore no communion.  Being able to receive it again felt incredibly special.  Specifically, I felt like I really WAS part of the family again.  I think I caught an echo of what the Prodigal Son must have felt when his father welcomed him home.  If I had gained nothing else from Lent, this would have been enough.

It was, however, not the only thing I gained.  Another insight I found was how much sin, at least, where fleshly desires are concerned, stems from boredom or having unused spare time (or both).  Certainly, it was in idle moments that I found myself most sorely tempted.  On the other hand, on quite a few days my Lenten diary read "too busy to sin!" when I'd been fully occupied at work or otherwise.  In one of my Dad's favourite phrases: "an idle mind is the Devil's workshop".  And when nothing else worked, the intercession of St Agnes and St Maria Goretti never once failed me.

Skull of St Agnes (image credit: Michaelphillipr)

But wait: there's more.  Making this commitment to keep fleshly desire under control gave me an utterly unexpected clarity about my (not entirely voluntary) celibacy.  For one thing, after the first few days, I realised how freeing it was not to be under the dominion of my own body.  I realised how much safer I felt with my brain, rather than my instincts, in charge.  In the last few weeks, I came to realise how little I'd ever actually enjoyed "fleshly pursuits".  And on 17 April, I began to wonder if I might, in fact, be one of these people (this last is a good deal less interesting than it might otherwise be, given my state in life: practically, it is about as interesting as learning one has A+ type blood).

Finally, I think that at some level this feeling of committment made it possible for me to look at the tragic burning of Notre Dame cathedral with less pain than I might have otherwise had.  It is, indeed, a tragic and shattering loss, but I also found myself thinking: this is our chance to build something even more to the glory of God.

Some denominations spurn observing Lent.  This is a pity.  I can say from experience that setting yourself this challenge has brought blessings I never even knew I wanted.

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