Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"The Lenten journey"
by Bishop William S. Skylstad
(From the Feb. 24, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
At the beginning of every airline flight, the stewardess (or steward) gives the pre-flight instructions. The luggage is to be stowed, cell phones turned off, seat backs up and tray tables in locked position. There is the commentary about the possible need of oxygen masks. Exits located throughout the plane are identified.
Most of the passengers seem to be oblivious to the announcement. They have perhaps heard it dozens of times.
Not long ago I came across the story of a passenger who was oblivious to the message. At the end of the flight, the pilot indicated there was a problem with the landing gear. The stewardess again gave instructions, and this time everyone was very intent on what she had to say. Those instructions were very valuable as they faced a potentially dangerous situation.
So often in life and on our spiritual journey, we can take for granted where we are in relationship to the Lord and to one another. The Christian journey should never allow us to become complacent, let alone oblivious, to our calling and our responsibilities. Fortunately, each year, the season of Lent provides us an opportunity to be more fully aware and alert as disciples of Jesus and as members of a community of faith.
Certainly a very vivid and stark reminder of who we are and where we are headed is the very simple but powerful ceremony of the distribution of ashes. I’m always amazed at the popularity of Ash Wednesday, the attraction it holds for so many of us. Perhaps this devotion has become so popular because there is something very liberating about the meaning of the day. In the very complex world in which we live, the simplicity of the symbol and message stands in stark contrast.
Ashes are a powerful symbol of humility and our need for repentance. Ashes remind us of our mortality and our total dependence upon God. They speak of our identity and commitment to the Gospel. They also signify that while redemption in each one of us is yet to be fulfilled, we do not walk our faith journey alone.
We well know that at one time or another, each of us will end up as a pile of dust, or as ashes. We are mortal. The time is coming, for everyone.
The passengers in that troubled plane needed to listen. Lent gives us the opportunity to listen – to listen and respond ever more completely to our responsibilities as followers of Jesus, to listen and respond as we continue our journey of faith.
Lent also provides the opportunity for change of heart, a clearer focus on the vision of the kingdom of God. Our lives should be a journey of faith, but also a journey of conversion. Lent is the time when we put our spiritual journey in better order, when we really focus ever more clearly on God’s place in our lives. God has been so good to us! In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul reminds us that we “must put on that new person created in God’s image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth” (4:24). For all of us, St. Paul’s challenge is life-long.
Lent is a 40-day opportunity, a 40-day gift. I hope that by Easter, we will have grown in spiritual depth. That gift continues, and the mark of Lent 2005 remains with us.
This is the Year of the Eucharist. Like the pilot who announced trouble with the landing gear, and people really listened up, so Lent becomes an opportunity for “listening up” concerning the importance of Eucharist in our lives. During Lent, many people make a commitment to attend daily Mass. Others become more aware of the need for Eucharist as the Bread of Life, and the need we have to come again and again to the table of the Lord to be fed, to listen to the Word, and see Jesus in one another in community.
Several times this year already I have had the opportunity to celebrate Confirmation/ First Eucharist for young people in our parishes. Again and again, I see the eager anticipation of the young people as they approach their First Communion. After we have received Eucharist thousands of times in our lives, most of us aren’t quite that eager anymore. It’s so easy to take the sacrament, the gift, for granted. We become just like those airline passengers – the stewardess’s message went in one ear and out the other. It can be the same for us in terms of the Eucharist.
Jesus is the one who invites again and again. The celebration and the reception of Jesus in his Body and Blood are profound moments we should never take for granted. We should never become so accustomed that awareness and appreciation are weakened.
Lent is here. May we use the time well.
Much peace and blessings to all!
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