My February Column – Full Text

Lent has begun; I suppose you knew that already. What I really mean is that we are now in a process of rethinking our attitudes, examining our behaviour and acknowledging our sinful ways. Looking in the mirror on Ash Wednesday I see a marked man, literally marked with a large splodge of ashes on his forehead. Does sister Moira deliberately make my mark bigger or is it just my guilty conscience?

I’m marked as a sinner, depressing isn’t it? In this Year of Mercy I’m looking for God’s mercy, asking him to forgive my sin and hoping to prove by my fasting and good works that I’m worth saving. The truth is that my sacrifices during Lent can’t save me. I’m saved by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. That might seem an unhappy thought that I’m not able to save myself, but there is another side to it.

If the God who made the Universe and everything in it can go to the bother of saving me, not a group of people but me, then that is surely a plus. If God, who knows everything about me can still be merciful then perhaps I should take a leaf out of his book. Perhaps I should start being merciful to myself. If I can see myself as someone that God thinks is worth saving then I should think that too.

I can start to see Lent, not as a punishing time but as a time when I rebuild myself. Giving up red wine during Lent might not be much fun but I should be able to see it as something positive, perhaps even enjoy it (steady on there!). Well, if not enjoy it I can certainly be reassured by the fact that I can exercise free choice.

Coming this early in the Year of Mercy, I’m going to use this Lent to make some changes. The first thing I’m going to do is to have mercy on me. Yes, I’m starting with me. I’m going to face up to my faults and have a look at who I really am. I have to admit to myself that I’m not perfect (not a word of this to my wife) and see that it’s ok. I don’t have to deny my faults but see them as God sees them, the things I have to work on to improve myself.

That might sound easy but I think it’s what we used to call examination of conscience before confession. Like most people my self-image is not the same as the image others have of me. It’s not just admitting that my hair has mostly gone but admitting that I make mistakes more often that I let on. I need to take an honest look at myself to find what it is about me that stops me having that close relationship with God that He really wants.

I need to get a better understanding of that relationship. I need to stop seeing God as someone I can call upon when things tough but ignore for the rest of the time. God is not just someone I meet in church. God is not even someone I live with. God’s invitation is to share my life. This came home to me the other day at Mass. In the Eucharist Jesus comes to us, actually part of us. We say our prayers and then go off and continue life as before. How can that be?

How often have we seen news items of some personality shaking hands with their fans and the fan saying “I’ll never wash that hand!” ? What is it about me that lets me go away after Mass and forget that Jesus is actually with me? It’s a sign of how merciful He is that He keeps coming back. How would I behave if I could only see myself in communion with Jesus? It’s God’s mercy that makes me worth saving. I need to be merciful enough to see that I am too important to just regard myself as ordinary.

Christians have received the gift of Faith. They have been chosen to have that gift for a purpose. What is our purpose then? To misquote an old catechism answer, God made us to know Him and love Him. So getting to know God would seem to me to be a priority. How do I go about getting to know God this Lent? If you want to get to know someone better you need to spend time with them, talk to them and, most importantly, listen to them. Let’s take that in order.

I need to spend more time with God this Lent. It makes sense to be where God is to be found; I need to go to Him rather than wait for Him to come to me. That sounds like going to church. Lent is a good time for that because there are lots of opportunities for me to get to church and spend some time with God. Now I could go to Mass every day but unless I’m really participating, not letting my mind wander, I’m not really getting closer to God. That brings us to the second part.

I need to talk to God. I could kneel in church and recite Hail Marys and Our Fathers but not really communicate. How would you feel if your visitors came and recited poetry and then left? God wants to hear what you have to say. I’m sometimes reluctant to do that in case I give away something I’m hiding from God. As you know, that is really stupid because God knows more about me that I do. I’m really hiding things from myself. Talking to God about these things makes me face up to them and perhaps see areas of my life I need to change.

Last of all I need to listen to God. This can be a problem because God doesn’t usually appear to me to spell out what He has to say. Listening to God often doesn’t require the use of your ears. A deeper kind of listening is required. When God speaks to us it just requires us to be open to Him. Sometimes we know what he is saying but choose to ignore it because it’s not what we want. A lady in our parish was being asked by a friend why God doesn’t answer her prayers and give her what she requested. Her answer to the question was that God’s answer might be “No”.

So this Lent I’m going to have to get into church more often, not just Sunday Mass. I’m going there to visit God, not to chat with my neighbours. I’m going to concentrate on being with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

I’m going to have to pray more meaningfully, telling God what’s going on in my life and discussing the real issues, not the usual list of wants. I’m going to look deeply into myself to identify the really important things that God wants me to see to. Prayer is a two way communication and I’m going to listen out for what God is saying to me, either deep within myself or through the people God sends along to me. I wonder who they might be. Probably not someone I ever thought of a a messenger from God. It could be you.