Today’s Ash Wednesday. Wait! What? Already? I still have to put some boxes of Christmas decorations back in the attic.
Lent begins early this year–probably about the earliest that it can be. But, truth be told, Lent always kind of creeps up on me. I never seem ready to begin 40 days of fasting, prayer, and renewing my relationship with God.
Of course, my Lenten resolutions, like my New Year resolutions, end up having a very short life span. It’s hard to maintain any sort of consistent practice–whether it be fasting, doing charity, giving alms, or simply praying more–for 40 consecutive days.
This year, though, I have a little bit of a different attitude towards Lent, sparked by last Sunday’s Gospel reading. It was the story of the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5: 1-11). Jesus instructs the weary fisherman, including Peter, to continue fishing though they had not caught anything for many hours. Their reward is an overabundant catch of fish. Peter’s response is a very human one: he feels that Jesus’ gift of the great catch is not something he deserves because he is a sinner.
I often feel like Peter did. I never understand why God continues to be so good to me when I have so many faults and do so much that is wrong. Like many people, I often wonder at the way God works in the world and why so much suffering and struggle have to happen for people to find God in their lives. When I read this gospel story, I think of how mysteriously God acts in the opposite direction, too: God is always sending out gifts and graces to people like me who don’t deserve them.
This message is resonating particularly strongly with me this year, as our Church celebrates the Jubilee of Mercy. It seems to me that one of the messages of this year is that God kind of overdoes it when it comes to lavishing mercy upon humanity. Unfortunately, our response to that can sometimes be guilt. God is like the person who gives you expensive jewelry for Christmas when your present is a box of candy. The dynamic creates an awkward feeling inside.
So, here’s a suggestion for Lent. Instead of giving up something, indulge. So, instead of giving up chocolate, allow yourself to indulge in healthy food and snacks. Instead of sacrificing by doing volunteer work at a soup kitchen, allow yourself to be open to the gifts and lessons the poor can teach you when you are engaged in charitable work. Instead of forcing yourself to pray every day, allow yourself a half-hour to just be quiet with God and relax in Divine Love. God is lavishing mercy on us in a special way this year. Let’s learn to accept it and enjoy it.
This kind of exercise is especially helpful for folks who advocate for LGBT equality. I think that we get so used to the challenge and hardship of the work, that we forget to accept the victories joyfully. I know that even more than seven months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, I’m still having to remind myself that marriage is now a legal right for all. I’m reminded of a quip a friend once told me: “Just because you work for justice doesn’t mean you always lose.”
I hope that by celebrating God’s mercy this Lent, by allowing myself to receive and accept that mercy better, maybe I’ll help myself grow out of the attitude that nothing is really changing and start to see and appreciate the small miracles that abound around me each day.