This Ash Wednesday, here are three brief, thought-provoking articles that will hopefully help you enter more intentionally into this season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
“What are you discussing as you walk along?”
During Lent a few years ago, I decided to reflect intentionally on the questions of Jesus. By that, I mean the questions that Jesus asks as recorded in the gospels. It turns out he asks a lot of questions, and not a single one of them is innocuous. What I discovered is that if we are willing to hear him, his questions will jolt us, surprise us, trouble us, and potentially even transform us. The only thing that is guaranteed to not happen if you let Jesus ask you questions is that you will remain comfortable. And so my Lenten practice turned out to be quite uncomfortable—beautifully and wonderfully uncomfortable.
As a (mostly) unashamed lover of romantic comedies and teen movies, I have a particular affection for the frothy stories of the genre. When I watched the teen tearjerker Life in a Year (2020) late last year, I was actually quite stunned by what it had to say about love. Certainly, the movie has plenty of poorly-developed melodrama and contrived dialogue, and it celebrates several immoral behaviors as liberating exercises in truly “living,” but it also proffers what may well be some of the best images of love that I’ve ever seen in a teen movie. As the protagonist Daryn’s girlfriend Isabelle grows weaker and weaker from her cancer, Daryn puts aside his grand plans to secure acceptance into Harvard in order to be present to her in her final months. He shows a real tenderness as well as a remarkable maturity and a selfless commitment in his care for Isabelle. Conversely, albeit predictably, Isabelle, too, learns to give of herself by allowing herself to be loved.
For many years I heard phrases such as: “religious life is a higher calling than marriage” and “those who choose religious life want to live their lives entirely for the Lord.” But I rarely heard language which edified and elevated the vocation of married life. That was until I took a course with Dr. Timothy O’Malley on the Nuptial Mystery. This vocation, which can seem so ordinary, was illuminated through Scripture and the works of many theologians. I finally was able to grasp intellectually that which I had always known to be true—that the Sacrament of Marriage is holy and sacred, an icon of Christ’s love poured out for us on the Cross.
“What are you giving up for Lent?” In my youth, this question was fraught with the anxiety of choosing which I would rather give up for forty days: ice cream or chocolate. More recently though, I have tried to embrace the ascetic element of this liturgical season as an opportunity to examine how God is inviting me to let go and who God is inviting me to become.