By Kate Anderson
The only thing to ever come between me and an after-school snack was Ash Wednesday. O happy second grader, you delighted to pour a bowl of cereal for yourself that afternoon. Then those mortifying words were uttered before a single spoonful could be lifted to your lips. Wailing and gnashing of teeth, indeed. (Sorry Mom).
I cringe to consider my pitiful fasting when I remember every agony the Lord suffered for me, for all of us. Our prayers, fasting, and alms-giving seem a strange trifecta to pursue while the rest of the world has begun gorging on chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, and Peeps. On the precipice of another penitential season, we ourselves might be tempted to wonder if our penance really matters at all. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a helpful explanation:
“Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sack-cloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false.” (CCC1430)
Grumbling tummy and aching knees aside, it’s all a matter of the heart. And how blessed are we that the Church offers us a time like this to become healthy, body and soul? Though Kohl’s and consumerism would like to convince you that Easter is already in full swing, our liturgical calendar invites us to the desert first to spend 40 days quietly preparing with Christ. Rest assured, Resurrection joys will not pass you by if you embrace what appears to be a detour. In fact, the resonance of our Easter Alleluia’s will depend on the diligence that we put into our Lenten journey.
The only way to become an Easter People is the Way of the Cross.
Every moment, prayer, and sacrifice can be a step on this Way if we allow it to change our hearts. The Way of the Cross is not an ancient path leading to death; it is the truest way to life. We would be Froot Loops to expect Easter joys before taking up our crosses and following after our Lord. The “fast” way Home might mean going against the grain after all, so let’s join hands this Lent and walk this way together. Christ Himself sends us off with these words:
“I told you at the start, my other self,
my life was not complete
until I crowned it by my death.
Your “way” is not complete
unless you crown it by your life.
Accept each moment as it comes to you,
with faith and trust
that all that happens has my mark on it.
A simple fiat, this is all it takes;
a breathing in your heart,
“I will it, Lord.”
So seek me not in far-off places.
I am close at hand.
Your workbench, office, kitchen,
these are altars
where you offer love.
And I am with you there.
Go now! Take up our cross
and with your life
complete your way.”
-from Everyone’s Way of the Cross by Clarence Enzler
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Photo courtesy of Kate Anderson. Used with permission. All rights reserved.