Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
Welcome to Lent.
I have to admit, often Lent is a very difficult season for me if I am paying attention. There are a lot of obstacles and challenges that Lent seems to bring that call to question many things. But—you know—so often people come to confession to confess that they don’t have a faith that is strong enough or they have times of doubt and difficulty with many aspects of faith. This is not a sin! It is being human (which, last I checked, was noble and sacred). How easy it is to forget that faith requires a certain level of not knowing certainty. It is honest to have doubts. And it is, like any suffering, the path through them that causes us to grow. You never grow by walking around life’s challenges and problems, by remaining indifferent or intentionally ignorant. You have to go through them to grow. We must be confronted.
For this reason, the Stations of the Cross is so important. Jesus is carrying our cross, after all, not his own. And we can see in his example the way to carry our own. For a long time I thought that it was an unhealthy piety that always focused on how we “carry our cross” in the “vale of tears.” Well, maybe it is unhealthy to always be living out of that perspective but at some point, if you are honest, you realize that this is often the reality. If we weren’t supposed to carry it, why then does Jesus pick it up for us? That cross—the one that brings about the salvation of the world that we could never earn on our own—that cross isn’t the enemy. It is the effect of the enemy that we confront daily: jealousy, hatred, persecution, discrimination, violence, murder, pain and death. It does no good to pretend that these things don’t continue to crucify goodness, beauty and truth everyday. It doesn’t mean that we give in to all that robs us of our beauty, our truthfulness, goodness so that we are no longer good or true. The cross is the conflict that confronts us every day of our lives.
Coming to the Stations of the Cross gives us perspective. We see ourselves in the soldiers, in the women of Jerusalem, in Veronica and Simon the Cyrene, in Joseph of Arimathea. Ultimately, we see ourselves in Jesus, and the realization brings tears. Good tears, tears that we must cry in order to appreciate what Jesus has done for me, and for you, and for all his creation.
Speaking of tears, we saw a lot of tears this past week with the visit of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I hope you could come, I hope she filled our parish family with peace and joy.
Many were touched in ways they can’t really describe. That is okay, because words are really limiting. Others spoke to me after and wondered why they didn’t feel her (or Jesus’) heartbeat, the warmth of her hands, see any miracle. Were they not holy enough or was something wrong? I said of course not, Mary connects with people in the way that they need it at the time, I think. They said that they had such a desire to experience a wonder, a closeness of God through Mary. I asked them what they did find.
I sat back and watched you throughout the visits at different times. I will tell you the greatest wonder of all: hundreds, hundreds of you came with a fervent desire to feel her closeness, her heartbeat. What vivid faith filled the church. Just the desire that we all have that became visible: our hopefulness of a sign of her love, a love we obviously already believe in. It is as prevalent as the glitter that suddenly is seen all over the floor. (Might I add, not just around the image, but all over the church from wall to wall…) Not a person who was seeking came away without a feeling of peace and joy, a calmness or a sense of being loved. It is a testimony to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who historically came not to give some kind of stern warning or vision of hell as she has done in other instances, but to simply remind us that she is our mother, what more do we have need of? I have to tell you, it was the experience of love that caused the people of central America to be baptized at a rate of 3,000 per day in the days after the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She has a lot to tell us about our modern day, about respecting life, about caring for one another. As Patroness of all the Americas, she has a lot of work still to do.
The image will return again, one more time on next Sunday and I expect that there will be quite a crowd. We do what we can, but let us all be glad of the outpouring of love—both ours to her and hers to us—which makes us each day more of a family, brothers and sisters to each other at Saint Mary.
Now let’s get busy with Lent.
God bless you.