But this year when lent started, my heart and soul rejoiced. That first ash Wednesday mass where the altar was stripped of everything. I immediately thought "yup, that is how my soul has felt." I love the tangibles of the Catholic Church in her season of lent. The ashes being put on my head made me relieved. "Yes," I thought, "we are talking about death!" For a grieving person, death is always on my mind. To have the Church affirm that during lent death is also on her mind made me feel understood in a way that I havent in a long time.
As lent got rolling I realized that it is a season for grievers if there ever was one! The sorrowful mysteries-yes please. The dreary music that is so focused on pain, suffering, and death-yes again. For the first time in two years I feel like I can show up at Church and not have to fake a single one of my emotions. Im at peace in this somber mood where the heaviness of the cross is all too real.
In my prayer life I started lent with the same struggle I've had since Caleb died- God's goodness. I really wanted to feel God's goodness again, not just say it and swallow hard each time. I wanted to actually know it in my heart without a doubt that He was good. I felt called to "be led by the Spirit" for 40 days the same way Jesus was. Throughout all of my lent the Holy Spirit led me back into death. More people dying, more tragedy, more encounters with sadness and the source of death-Satan himself. All of these encounters reminded me of chapter 37 in Ezekiel when God instructs Ezekiel to "sit in the middle of the field of bones." This lent has felt like that-like Ive just been sitting staring at death, at all the bones.
But somewhere in the middle of all that we got a new Pope. Hearing the name Francis gave me chills. I love St. Francis. I know his story-how different he was and how radical he was for his time. How God asked him to do something no one else would do- rebuilt His Church. It's been said that St. Francis is the greatest person to have lived since Jesus. Wow-and our new papa is choosing Him as a model and his namesake! As I began to learn more about Pope Francis and read his writings I stumbled upon this letter. It was written when he was an archbishop, addressed to his diocese at the beginning of this lent. The whole letter can be found here. I want to highlight a few points and show how our Pope is one with sufferers.
"Lent is presented to us as a shout of truth and certain hope that calls us to say “Yes, it is possible to not slap on makeup, and not draw plastic smiles as if nothing happened.” Yes, it is possible that all is made new and different because God remains “rich in kindness and mercy, always willing to forgive” and He encourages us to begin anew time and again. Today, again, we are invited to undertake a Paschal road toward Life, a path that includes the cross and resignation; a path that will be uncomfortable but not fruitless. We are invited to admit that something inside us is not going well, (in society or in the Church) to change, to turn around, to be converted."
Wow! So much richness here. I felt the Pope affirming that small voice in my heart that has been whispering ever since Caleb died that says , "something is not well." The Pope gets it! There is suffering and for us to slap on a happy face and act like it doesnt happen would be wrong. Instead as he points out, "undertake a paschal road toward Life....a path that includes the cross...a path that will be uncomfortable but not fruitless." And that has been my experience. When I acknowledge that something is indeed not well and give into my grief, God always brings fruit out of it. When I try to shove it under a rug and feel guilty for having the sad feelings, then no one wins.
I don't know why this letter brought me so much hope. I think because I felt the Holy Father telling me personally that its ok to suffer and cry and be sad, but that is not the end. The paschal road towards LIFE. I feel a renewed flame in my heart as we approach holy week. I really am starting to feel God's goodness again. I have come to learn that just because I encounter death and sadness and defeat, it actually brings me closer to God. Maybe that is why I feel called to a ministry of death. The veil between this life and the afterlife is so thin when you encounter death. All of the suffering I have seen and felt has made the veil so thin that all there is left to see and hold onto is Christ. St. Paul said it perfectly in last Sunday's mass reading:
"Brothers and sisters,
I consider everything as a loss
because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things
and I consider them so much rubbish,
that I may gain Christ and be found in him" Phillipians 3:8-9
"For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him." There is something about that line that is haunting. I lost so much when Caleb died, but in the end it all feels like rubbish. I mean not my son of course, but the things that I used to cling to. All of this world just seems rubbish when compared to what I have gained, which is Christ. Nothing can compare to that relationship with Christ-not your children, not your friends, not your spouse. In the end it will be between me and Jesus and truly I cannot wait.
I know that by the spirit leading me into death this lent He will lead me into new life. I will not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to renew and restore my heart, time and time again. As we start Holy Week I will keep in mind that we are an Easter people.
"Come, Lord Jesus,Come."Revelation 22:20