Many religions observe the liturgical season of Lent, but we Catholics seem to be talked about the most. Our tradition of having ashes applied to our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is our reminder that we began as dust and to dust we shall return. We are told to go forth and preach the gospel and into Lent we go.
“What did you give up?” can be heard throughout parishes around the world. The idea is that we do some form of penance to acknowledge our sorrow for sin for which we have been freely forgiven. An additional approach is to do something special, something proactive, that will help us grow. I like to try to do both.
This period of special observance of the suffering of Jesus is a time we can focus on how our suffering can be used for His glory. That always was hard for me to grasp, especially during times of personal suffering. All the scriptures about “carrying our cross” to follow him seemed to fall on deaf ears when the pain inside was ripping me apart, especially when the “cross” was put upon my shoulder by a member of the clergy who represented Jesus. I didn’t want to hear about carrying a cross, much less that it was a blessing or something I had to do to follow him. Oh sure, I knew this was true and didn’t dispute it, but it felt awful during those times when just getting out of bed was a chore.
I told God many times that I could not bear that suffering alone, I needed his grace and strength, and I offered myself to him to do with me as he needed in order to accomplish his will. I offered him my pain, my grief, my sorrow and asked him to fill me with his love, his strength, his compassion. I literally threw myself on his mercy because I realized how utterly helpless I was.
At the same time, I was doing what I could on the human level: seeing a therapist, taking antidepressants, talking to friends and a spiritual director, and allowing my husband in.
Well, God is infinitely merciful. An Ash Wednesday miracle took place in my soul. I went to Mass to receive ashes and begin Lent. I had been suffering a terrible depression earlier in the week but was feeling a bit better. As Mass progressed, I sensed a surge of love for God in my soul, so much that I felt like I was going to explode. I didn’t know how to contain it, so I loved him back. We had such a strong communion as one, and sitting in his presence, as one with him, was the ultimate gift. There were no words for those moments, only love. There was no sadness, only joy. No pain, but peace. It was pure grace that God poured out upon me, something that he made happen and for which I was totally unworthy.
That has stayed with me, and when times of sadness come along, I am now able to thank him for them, to thank him for the honor for suffering with him. It is a genuine gratitude because it is a genuine honor to be asked to carry a cross alongside him as he carries his.
This is my message: implore the Lord to work in your heart. Offer yourself to him. Empty yourself of and ask him to fill you, and for that which you are unable to do, ask him to make it happen. I did this for years before there was any drastic change.
Have a good Lent. May the Lord help you carry your cross with his.