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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lent and the Spiritual Return Home...

From ashes to ashes
Many years ago, when I was going through the darkest moment of my life (at the time), I remember turning to the only place where I knew I would not be condemned for my many failures and be welcomed with unconditional love. I returned home; to the house of my parents (with my tail between my legs!).

It's funny, I had moved away on my own, only five short years before. During that time, I was too busy in my own self-absorption to pay much attention to my parents.  I took them for granted and would only see them at family gatherings from time to time.  I never called, never went out of my way for them and never gave much thought to what they had to say (after all, I knew better).

Yet, when I came home one dreary night, beaten by my own pride, arrogance and selfishness, and not knowing where else to turn, they eagerly accepted me without conditions, prepared my old bed for me, and consoled me.

The same applies in our spiritual lives.

It's the story of the prodigal son, who shames his father by asking for his half of his inheritance (equivalent to saying I wish you were dead, at that time), traveling to a foreign land, blowing it on debauchery before hitting rock bottom, coming to his senses and realizing the wrong that he had done, and returning home to ask his father for forgiveness.

What's great about this story is that when the father sees him walking towards him from afar, he doesn't wait and make him plead for forgiveness.  He runs out to meet his son on the way, and before the son could apologize, puts a ring on his finger, a robe over his shoulder and sandals on his feet.

Without getting into all the symbolisms involved in the story (and I wrote a blog about this not long ago), suffice to say that the father was more than happy to welcome his son back home; just like our heavenly Father is happy whenever one of his lost children returns.

Something that has always stuck with me was written by well known theologian and former protestant minister, Dr. Scott Hahn, in his book, Reasons to Believe.  He writes that at the foot of the cross, when Jesus takes His last breath and dies, His home became our home. His Father became our father. And, His mother became our mother.

That thought, for me, is what Lent is all about.

It’s about returning home, repentance, penitence, healing and hope. 

On my way to work on Ash Wednesday, I heard the radio hosts, former Miami Dolphins' wide receiver, Jimmy Cefelo, and Manny Munoz, talking about what they were going to give up for Lent.  This is on secular radio, can you believe that?  Although, neither gave a definite answer to what they would be sacrificing, a good friend of mine is giving up social media (signs of the times) and another is giving up alcohol, which he does every year.

But, as I have learned in recent years, it's not about depriving ourselves in some abstract form of piety.  It's about conversion (which is never ending) and renewal.  It's about asking for forgiveness, changing our life, and growing closer to God.

If we fail to achieve that, then our sacrifices are done in vain.

When I asked my eleven-year-old daughter Tuesday night, what she was planning to do for Lent, considering Ash Wednesday was the following day, she gave me a very deep and well thought out, “I don’t know.”

To be fair, I didn’t know or understand what Lent meant at her age either (or for most of my life for that matter!). In fact, I often used the forty-day season (which ends on Holy Thursday) to jump start my annual diet. In other words, I would give up fried foods, or desserts, or chocolate, or other fattening foods.

It was less about God and more about me, which unfortunately, I still struggle with often.

But, in the last several years, I have adopted goals that are more consistent with what the Church recommends for the faithful during the Lenten season; prayer, fasting (which doesn't necessarily mean from food but could be from things that we may like more than we want to admit) and alms-giving (which also includes giving of our time and talent).

This year, among other things that I do regularly, I plan on focusing on my spiritual growth by reading and reflecting upon Thomas a Kempis' The Imitation of Christ, which is the best read spiritual book of all time, outside of the Bible.  I also plan on intensifying my prayer life, including a daily Rosary, and volunteering whenever I could.

All this, in preparation for the biggest feast of the Christian calendar year; Easter Sunday, without which there would be no Christianity.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday.”

Therefore, the Church calls us to make our small, albeit significant, sacrifices during Lent, to be united to the ultimate and everlasting sacrifice that was made for us on the cross and prepare ourselves to be reborn in Him on Easter Sunday.
And, as I did many years ago, when I returned to my parents' home and later returned to my spiritual home in the Church, it starts with humbling ourselves, repenting and taking that first step back, regardless of how far or wide we may have traveled...

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