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Lent: Perfection need not apply

| Wednesday, February 26, 2020

All it takes is a little spark. Just the beginning of belief. A belief that God is actively at work, even when chaos seems to be the dominant narrative of our lives. Hell, Lent itself can be a bit chaotic. Each year the Catholic Church sets the dates for Ash Wednesday, the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday) and Easter Sunday based on the first Sunday after the Vernal Equinox, which is the first full moon on or after March 21.

That was the best they could come up with? I literally had to do a Wikipedia search on the specifics for when Lent will arrive each year. As I write this, I’m realizing that I’m more of a Christmas person who wants a set date like Dec. 25 year over year. You can plan for Christmas accordingly, there are no wide variances like Easter. Just to make my point clear, take a look at the past Easter Sundays since 2015: 

  • April 5, 2015
  • March 27, 2016
  • April 16, 2017
  • April 1, 2018
  • April 21, 2019

Like I said … chaos. But maybe there is a method to the madness. What does it take for us to consider how a maverick season like Lent could meet us not where we’d expect to find it; rather, right when we need it? A season that intends to knock us out of our normal routine. A season that hopes, even prays, that with a few changes to our routines we may begin to see ourselves, our purpose, our family, our friends, the opportunities placed before us, just a little bit differently.  

One understanding of Lent that often overwhelms people is the belief that you need to have a perfect Lent. How do we often define a perfect Lent? It means that you’ve fulfilled everything that you said you’d do when you started on Ash Wednesday, but before you were impacted by the practicalities of not eating meat, sugar or both, giving up caffeine while also writing a letter to a loved one each week, etc., etc., etc. Sometimes, in those moments, we realize that we’ve been a bit too eager or didn’t plan for the unexpected complexities of life.  

I’ve heard too many people talk about how their Lent went south in a hurry so they just returned to their old habits and practices. What then is the purpose of Lent? To perfectly accomplish some list of stated goals for the mere sake of accomplishing them? If your answer is yes, here’s my advice: don’t start with a lenten practice. However, if you believe Lent to be a time to give faith another shot, to deepen your understanding of who you are and what God is calling you to at this phase of your life, then dust yourself off after a lenten fail and get back to trying. Lent has never been about perfection. It’s always been about learning that we are called to something more in the midst of our imperfection. That the chaos of our lives does not intimidate God in any way, shape or form.  

If you’ve made it this far, here’s my pitch. Each week of Lent, Campus Ministry will make an effort to help you out. Right outside of the marble ball in CoMo we have created an interactive space that will showcase a different theme each week and offer some suggestions for ways to practice praying, fasting, giving alms, serving and inviting. Further, there will be an image with a question intended to prompt some deeper reflection as you travel around this beautiful campus of ours. Come by, check it out and most importantly live it out. 

This season of Lent can be an amazing time of insight and perspective. One with personal insights about faith, hope and love. Are you willing to take the next step? Are you willing to trust God just enough with the chaos of your life? All it takes is a little spark. Just the beginning of belief.

Fr. Pete McCormick, C.S.C.

Director, Campus Ministry

Feb. 19

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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