I spent a lot of Wednesdays and Sundays in a church that really didn’t recognize Lent. The pastor preached instant forgiveness and promised that God could not even remember your sins once you confessed them mentally to Him. He preached about Lent, Confession, Penance, and other Catholic practices only to mock them. He had a special vendetta against Catholicism and preached against it often. Until I entered the Church I always bought the story that, for Catholics, Lent was a dark time. It was a time for self flagellation. You beat yourself up for your sins. I was taught that Catholicism provided no outlet for the forgiveness of sins.
After being received into the Church I began to see the beauty in Lent. I saw that Lent was also a time for deeper praying. Our Lenten journey was to allow us to walk closer to our Lord and to hold Him all the closer. We do that through those Lenten sacrifices and through a deepening of our prayer lives. And, alms giving. That’s such a beautiful and sacred part of Lent. and, so fitting that a church which shares God’s special love for the poor would prescribe a season of charity so that we might enrich our own hearts by giving.
Lent was always important to my mom and me. She was a single mom and took me to church often. She sang hymns around the house during the day and quoted Bible verses to me that, I now realize, were learned directly from her Small Catechism. She grew up in a Lutheran Orphanage, the daughter of a Lutheran minister.
Her father had a brutal effect upon her life. Not only was he a bad father, sending her and her twin sister to live in an orphanage, but he was a terrible minister. He was defrocked due to poor moral conduct and ultimately wound up working on the custodial staff of the very home where he’d sent his daughters. For some crazy reason, my mom grew up distrusting ministers. Even crazier, I think, she grew up without her faith in God shaken.
One Lenten Wednesday night my mom took me to church. The lesson was about Jesus’ agony in the garden. It was told using a slide show. I can remember to this day a slide that was shot from above, through the trees, of Jesus praying while the disciples slept a short distance away. Something stirred in me at that time. I still cannot put it into words but that feeling has stayed with me. Today, writing this and seeing the picture once more in my mind, I am stirred with a desire to walk with Jesus.
But, Lent was also a time of mild fear for me. I knew very little about it but I knew that there was a time during Lent where the congregation washed each others’feet. Believe me, I wanted no part of that!
It was during Lent of 2013 that my RCIA course drew near the close and I prepared to enter the Church. It was a turbulent time for me, a pretty staunch Protestant, as I came face to face with the reality of what the first fifteen hundred years after the Cross meant. I realized that, if the Holy Spirit was real, and in charge of guiding the Church into all truth, Catholicism had to be the right choice for me. Otherwise, I thought, the first thing the Holy Spirit would have done after being charged with leading us to truth would have been to guide us into error. That just could not be. So, during Lent, I took the plunge into the Tiber and swam to the other side.
It was as Lent ended in 2014 that I sat in our congregation on a Holy Thursday and was swept up to heaven in worship as the choir filled the church with beautiful notes. Those notes seemed to swirl upward toward the great vaulted ceiling and were joined there with angel voices. It was the most beautiful time I’d ever experienced in church.
And, this Lent is sure to be a special memory for me, too. As I was on the handshake line after Mass, my priest asked if he could have a word with me. Was I planning on coming to the Holy Thursday Mass? Even though I knew immediately what was coming next, I admitted that I was.
“Would you be willing to have your feet washed?”