The Christian who goes through life systematically avoiding sacrifice will not find God, will not find happiness. What he will have been taking care [of, is] to avoid his own sanctity. (1)
This Easter will be my 10 year anniversary of my conversion to Catholicism. The first year was an extreme high for me. Visiting our Lord in adoration several times a week & attending daily mass lead me to, what I thought was, a permanent residence on Mt. Zion. Jesus and I had hourly conversations. I was with my Lord and He was always with me. Every decision, every joy, and every pain, was discussed with, celebrated with, and survived with my Jesus.
The upcoming Lent, my first Lent, I was gun-ho to "give up" something - to experience this desert of faith that we are asked of as Catholics. Honestly I do not remember what I "gave up", but the experience of that first Lent altered all my lents up to the present day. Desert? Oh yea. I was in a desert. My Lord was no where to be found, no where could I hear Him. No where could I feel Him. By the middle of Lent, I was on my knees "ugly crying" (you know, the kind of uncontrollable sobbing where you can't breathe, your mascara is running, your eyes swell just about shut), pleading for Him to never leave me again and vowing that I would never go through a desert again. Even if Mother Church asked me to. How dare she ask me to experience a desert! How dare she expect me to lose the closeness that I had! And how dare she ask that I do it every year!!! This can't be what she would want for me.
When I hear the word 'Lent', a little part of my spirit shivers. The experience of my first lent has left a permanent scar on my soul's memory.
But why does she ask us - why does the Church see this desert as something so important as to repeat the exercise every year?
Come to a week before this lent. In prayer, hilariously, I am asking God to "take this away from me". "Can I just ignore it Jesus? You don't really need me to participate in Lent, do You?"
For some reason, I feel compelled to participate this year - though the feeling is like the the time I was about to zip line. Being petrified of heights, the feeling is similar to stepping onto that platform, seeing the drop below me, with the end - my survival - off in the far distance, almost unattainable. But there is this urge. And then, as soon as I am finishing the "do You?" of this toddler like
Um.. what? I'm sorry, there's wax in my ears. [finger in ear.. squeak squeak] One more time?
That sentence - THIS IS WHAT HELL IS LIKE - is what my first lenten experience was. I had spent a year in high heaven (see what I did there), and that 1st lent was the depths of hell. I was without God. I kept reaching, scratching, clawing, grasping for Him; yelling, shouting, screaming His name - and it felt as though He would not save me, wouldn't come back for me.
Hell is the absence of God - it's knowing that He's just on the other side of this wall, but I cannot be with Him. This is the wall that we build through sin, being lukewarm, and being systematic in our walk of faith.
I don't think my parents taught be about death very well - or maybe they did and I just didn't absorb the idea well. I am petrified of death. And it's solely based on the idea that I will be without God. It's this weird idea that I am only going to experience God while here on earth, because I am not worthy to be with God in the eternal. The promise of our faith & hope of our salvation is the complete opposite, yet I have been battling this demon of doubt since I was maybe 6. To this day, I have a period of 1-2 months a year where I wake up in panic attacks, having nightmares at night that one day I'm going to die.
This upcoming season, something has been altered. There is this peace that I can see off in the distance, but I'm being asked to trust the Lenten experience. ::shiver::
Ok, so Jesus, what do you want me to do? ....
This year, I'm giving up my time. I've pulled out 2 books this year, along with using my Bible, the Diary of St. Faustina & "In Conversation with God" are the two books that I will be leaning on this year. I'm realizing I am perpetuating my own fears by not participating in Lent for the past 9 years. The Church is SO SMART! Haha! Lent is a time when we are supposed to recollect ourselves, acknowledge our sins, our immense need for Jesus and re-recognize that HE IS OUR SALVATION. He is our only way to heaven! If we don't recenter our lives on Him, we are lost. We are in Hell.
The beauty of the Holy Spirit is that He teaches how to pray, yes? So in His intelligence, He has led the Church to an annual re-centering. We are so human. If we didn't have this season, we would stay mundane, systematic, robotic in our faith. It's the "going through the motions". How beautiful that our God knows we need the reboot. And that He is patient and loves us through it. Even when we purposefully ignore it for 9 years.
1. "In Conversation With God: Daily Meditations of Lent", Thursday after Ash Wednesday - Francis Fernandez