I think this sums up a lot of what I feel about the terrible events in Pennsylvania. I have been sitting here for about an hour trying to summarize my feelings, to add to this but it is so difficult. The evil has damaged so many lives, directly and indirectly. It has affected me in ways I am just beginning to realize as I sit here typing. However, it has not affected my belief in God and His church.
Whether we like it or not, we have entered into the season of Lent. Let’s be honest, there is a lot of us who hate the season of Lent. The church wants us to give up things we might not want to give up. What for example?
The most obvious is we are told not to eat meat on Fridays! So for carnivores like me, this is a challenge. I like to eat meat. Giving up eating meat is a sacrifice. Sure you fish lovers can run out and have your Red Lobster favorite. If you are roughing it, you eat that tater sauce drenched McFish. Or at home, you have that coconut shrimp, baked walleye, fried perch… But I hate fish. Especially sea food.
A friend of mine hates fish as much as I do and has gone so far as creating a new food he calls chicken fish, which is really chicken. But I digress, this is about me and my sacrifice.
My vegetarian daughter just laughs, because she doesn’t eat meat, so giving up meat on Friday isn’t a sacrifice for her. While she might be fine with it, I can eat only so many grilled cheese sandwiches and boxes of Kraft Marconi and Cheese.
But isn’t that the point of the church is making to me? That it is a sacrifice for me not to eat meat on Friday; that it can be truly painful to watch someone eat a juicy burger while I try to swallow a fish sandwich. (Plus they look and see there is another one of those Catholics stuck eating fish.)
It was apparent that Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane didn’t want the bear the pain of dying on the Cross, especially when he knew some would not recognize his what his meant. Yet, he told his the Father that, “Your will be done.”
Granted, my sacrifice of not eating a cheese burger on Friday does not even begin to compare the sacrifice Christ made for me, for us; nor does choking down a fish sandwich. But, perhaps, it helps me remember how much Christ was willing to do for me. And, perhaps, I take the time to think about the sacrifices I can make for Christ.
Today, we begin the season of Lent. Many will run to churches to get their heads marked with ashes, but for what reason? For many, the devotion is something deeply personal. They realize that they live less than perfect and they need forgiveness. The ashes on their head is a public statement acknowledging this fact. Over the next forty days, they will make a special effort to change their lives and become better people.
For others, the mark is something to show they have participated in a tradition. This might be a positive or a negative; traditions are simply that way. If we take part in a tradition to recall who we are, to reconnect to others and the past, it is a positive. If we enter a tradition and we don’t know why, but take the effort to unpack what the tradition is about, it is also a positive. It is only when we don’t try to learn the meaning of the ritual it becomes a negative.
My personal challenge, and, perhaps yours, is to unpack the ritual and the tradition; to acknowledge my sinfulness; to spend time changing the way I live and become a better person (to become holier, but not holier than thou).
In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John 13:34) If we honestly look at our lives, we realize how often we have rejected God’s love. We may have rejected this love because we are afraid of being labeled as a Christian. We may have rejected this love because we afraid that God’s love might create a desire in us to transform our love. We may rejected this love because we felt unworthy of this love. Whatever the reason, God loves us.
Likewise, we may have been afraid of loving others unconditionally the God loves us. We may think the person unworthy because of the way they have treated us. We might be afraid sharing that kind of love might transform our lives. We might be afraid of being see as weak and vulnerable. Regardless, God expects us to love unconditionally.
Sometimes, when we love, we allow ourselves to become vulnerable, but never weak. Love always opens the door for us getting hurt. It is only through strength can we love.
“We are not called by God to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love. ”
Love is always transformative, it is impossible to avoid. Through love, we open ourselves to new experiences that cannot but change us. Sometimes these changes our painful. Sometimes they are not. Often, they make us better human beings.
Because love cannot be forced upon someone, it can be rejected. Some forms of love, when rejected, can be heart breaking. Many writers have suggested that when Christ said on the cross, “I am thirsty” (John 19:28-29), Jesus was reflecting on how many people would reject His love. His wish for them to receive his love was so great, his wish became an unsatisfiable need. Imagine dying for someone who doesn’t even recognize your sacrifice.
Most of us are not called to lay down our lives for another. But we are called to love. Who in your life are you called to love today?