Lent Is Not About Me

The University of St. Thomas Office of Mission sponsors daily Lent reflections, each  written by different members of the University community.

This morning’s reflection was written by Professor Bernard Brady, chair of our Theology Department, and the first thing Bernie admits in his post is that he doesn’t like Lent.  He writes “The truth is that I’d rather eat than fast, daydream than pray, and keep my money in my wallet than give it away. But it is more than that.  Lent asks me to do things I would rather not do — like, look at my conscience, reflect on my actions, and examine my attitudes.  Lent “invites” me to look at the real me.  Lent makes me uncomfortable.”

Even worse, Professor Brady writes, while doing all of these things that make him uncomfortable, “Lent tells me, directly and boldly, that I am not the point of all of this.  Lent tells me that Lent is not about me!”  Referring to today’s first Mass reading from Isaiah, where God instructs his people to cease evil and do good, Bernie writes

Our spiritual lesson for the day is this:  Purifying myself is not about me.  It is about, to cite Francis again, mercy. Isaiah’s second message is prior to his first.  God shows mercy to us, indeed, “the name of God is mercy.”  Thus the logic of Francis:  The more we are aware of our sins, the more we are aware of God’s mercy — the more we can meet the wounded on our way with mercy.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus offers another take on, “It’s not about me.”  The Pharisees in the reading think they are the greatest; they act like they are the greatest; they expect others to treat them like they are the greatest.  Jesus, sounding illogical, says firmly, “The greatest among you must be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

In a world where our tendency is to think it is always about me, it is good to be reminded that Lent is not about me and my sacrifices, but about God’s love and mercy.

Note: You can subscribe to our daily Lenten messages here.

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One thought on “Lent Is Not About Me

  1. “In a world where our tendency is to think it is always about me, it is good to be reminded that Lent is not about me and my sacrifices, but about God’s love and mercy.”

    If “not about me,” who then does the New Evangelism call?

    Six years ago, I wrote a piece titled ‘God’s Refrigerator Door’ expressing the safety and comfort experienced when arriving home similar to school day’s end. Like a small child bursting through the door, “Mom, mom, I’m home, I’m home. Look what I’ve got? The school work of the day complete with stars, stickers or a hand written ‘Well Done!’ ” – soon to be proudly posted on the refrigerator door for all the world to see . . .

    In small group settings I often relate similar moments in daily life. In the design profession, even at my age, a stylish wrap dress with complimentary sweater or wrap, sassy heels, a hint of color for eyes and ‘pout,’ flowing strawberry blonde curls, a radiant smile and the warmest of greetings remains an acceptable entrance to most every encounter – though an image seldom similar at the end of a trying day.

    Stumbling through the front door with one three inch heel broken and clinging with small brad and scrape of leather to a once proud pump; stockings frayed at both knees from the first of many stumbles highlighting scrapes, bruises and complimentary coagulated reddish-brown patches on both; drywall compound encountered, smeared and caked unknowingly to my bottom; mascara artfully applied earlier now streaked and blotchy as if eye-black grease had been applied before battle (for each day’s encounters most often produce tears of joy, and occasionally sadness); and wood or metal shavings entangled in my curls from not heeding, “Don’t squeeze through that ‘tiny opening’ (proverbial door cracked slightly ajar) I’m not sure what you will encounter.” – “I’m home, I’m home!” Home, and always waiting is Jesus. . .

    It is only in gray tones His eyes and smile are revealed. Though there is never anything more comforting after a most trying day than arriving home to the arching of His eyebrows, His wry smile, and ‘What did you do – even I your Lord didn’t see that coming, what happened? Come here, let Me give you a big hug, clean you up, sit you down and let’s talk about your day.’ – Arriving home each day, no matter how the day unfolded, to His Son, to share and ‘post’ the day’s events as if on God’s refrigerator door for all the world to see is the comforting blessing that renews resolve for each new tomorrow. . .

    It “is not about me and my sacrifices, but about God’s love and mercy.”

    His love and mercy that inspires courage and offers strength to face each new tomorrow, in our attempts to be His presence in the world – encounters all, each are often surprisingly revealing – touching lives in ways we “didn’t see that coming.”

    This time of year is often most difficult. To tears did I fall asleep early last evening, to tears was I awakened and to my keyboard was I drawn. Five years ago the sectional and state hockey championships unexpectedly changed many lives – and three years ago I encountered and was comforted by my deceased mother and St. Perpetua in the same vision (the only night time vision I have ever experienced).

    Tears and laments of, “Lord it’s not fair, it’s not fair . . .” I often awake to in the middle of the night. I feel so helpless to thank both of them properly. As I turned four, my mother’s depression (at 34 it was mild, though taking hold and would later require increased therapy, two hospitalizations and shock therapy) was pulsating, her celebrated star hockey playing husband had received a salary increase upon retiring and no longer lead his team through effort and example on ice, but from behind the bench as the head coach. Two years of transition from player to coach became a balancing act of a modest increase in family funds offset by longer hours at the rink, away from home and on the road.

    Anxiety soon spiked off the Richter scale. Pregnant with her third, first trimester morning sickness, my two-and-a-half year old sister beset and miserable with severe eczema often brought my mother near wits end, my father suddenly fired from his coaching position less than a year after leading his team deep into the national championship playoffs for being ‘to nice’ to his players was devastating financially. My father (with at most a seventh grade education) had made his living from the sport he loved for over twenty years – and was suddenly struggling to support a soon to be family of five with the odd carpentry jobs he picked up during the summer off-season. The open pit iron mining industry was seasonal (spring through fall) and was in the throes of a spring lay-off that would last longer than expected – everyone with the most modest of skills was seeking odd jobs. With a modest savings account quickly dwindling, my father’s good name used for credit, no car, and my mother’s eldest under foot and one inquisitive question after another, my mother was more and more frequently at wits end. . .

    Upon turning four, out the door was I pushed, and to St. Perpetua’s hand was mine joined. “It’s alright, don’t be afraid.” And thus began her and my business and market place journeys accompanying my father on his walk-bouts to settle accounts, run errands, visit rink and sporting establishments as committed fan still adored and respected for his character and renowned past accomplishments – moments we shared in my ever expanding world, spiritually I was hers and continuing to this day.

    My mother used to say I practically raised myself. When she touched my arm and spoke to me before Mass the morning of March 6, 2013 she gave me her blessing and let it be known that it was indeed Perpetua who, as much as anyone, raised me in life and in faith. Perpetua is both mother and companion, the inspiration for my not accepting my gift of life – ‘you can give your life to the Jesus, I did and you can too, though differently.”

    Tears arrive frequently. “It’s not fair”. . . She deserves to experience the earthly encounters we share, not I. . .

    It is each of you, your sacrifices and joyous moments that inspire and are intended to be shared . . .

    If I may. . .

    MANY EXPERIENCES DEFINE WHO we are and prepare us for the blessings we receive. I smiled the first time Jared mentioned he enjoyed working two summers with Chad, a younger student from his high school. They both share the same birthday and during their summer vacations also shared the humid confines of the bag room at the private golf course near our home. “I like him a lot,” Jared often remarked. During the winter, Chad played a prominent role on their school’s varsity hockey team and received a scholarship to Colorado College. Both my sons and I proudly followed his high school and college career and continued doing so as he worked his way through the professional ranks.

    Chad earned NCAA Second Team All-American honors during his junior and senior years and set the bar quite high for his younger brothers. The twins had won a peewee “A” and two bantam “A” state championships and lofty expectations followed their team as they began their high school careers.

    During Chad’s senior year, Curt and Kyle unexpectedly helped win our school’s first championship, an accomplishment celebrated heartily. Sophomore success stirred dreams of a dynasty and their team set sights on repeating as state champions. A lopsided loss in the sectional finals the following year was devastating.

    So devastating that during a Sunday in mid-November, on the eve of the start of the high school season, Kyle told his family and texted friends that he would not be playing for the Eagles that fall. Instead he would play for the USHL team in Sioux Falls, S.D.

    “I let him make his own decision,” said Curt, seated directly to the right of his brother during a post game media session. “He came to me for advice. I said, ‘It is all up to you, it’s what you feel in your heart.’

    “Great brother,” interjected Kyle.

    “And so when he came to me and told me he was leaving I didn’t question him at all,” continued Curt. “I just said, ‘Good luck. Have the best year. We’ll be rooting for you. We’ll be making some trips.”

    The following day, Kyle had a change of heart. The first call he made to break the news he was staying at Eden Prairie went to Curt.

    “Me and then my mother,” Curt said. “When he called me and said he was coming back, it was probably one of the greatest moments. I think I had a couple of tears rolling down.”

    Kyle’s change of heart made headlines in the Star Tribune and on numerous radio stations. One of those sports reports caught my attention and also touched my heart. What a great friend and teammate; I’ll have to attend more games this season, I smiled. I did and enjoyed their season of success often from a top row seat. My father would have been proud. We often sat high in the stands and he frequently said, “You can see the play develop better up here.”

    During the season they developed into one of the most accomplished teams and retained a place among the top ranked schools in the state. Kyle led the charge, though it was the team’s up-tempo style that continued to catch my eye and nothing caught it more than their signature pre-game drill.

    Their sweaters have no names on the back and during their final drill the pace resembled the workings of an expensive Swiss watch, a symphony of motion where no individual stood out. That drill proclaimed they were a team and demonstrated a cohesiveness they exhibited during their many triumphs and a hand full of hard fought defeats.

    Their calm confidence was on full display as they marched, with smooth precision, through the most competitive sectional tournament paring. The arena settings became larger as the playoffs progressed and the semifinal found me scurrying to find a seat in a rink bulging beyond capacity. The opening face-off was eminent and I barely had time to catch my breath, when the woman next to me turned, gave me a big hug and excitedly exclaimed her older sister held a winning scratch-off ticket, a ticket that guaranteed a large payout. I gasped, calmed my emotions, responded to her excitement and joined in the conversation, a conversation that lasted the entire game.

    Lauri was accompanied by her mother, her younger sister and Tamara. Her sister Beth’s son and Tam’s twin boys were team members and their pre-game ritual was interrupted when they received the great news. Her older sister and husband are parents of two special needs children and the winnings were a timely addition to their modest incomes. The most unexpected and deserving of blessing, I reflected.

    Our evening ended on a winning note and Lauri asked for my email address, we were intent on sitting next to each other at the sectional championship game the following week.

    THAT WINTER, MY CHRISTMAS gift for my granddaughter was a series of mass intentions offered on the second day of each month, dates that coincided with her June date of birth six months earlier. The week before Christmas, I had called the parish office of her parent’s church to make the arrangements. The delightful, young woman I spoke with was filling in and we enjoyed a pleasant conversation as she recorded the dates and times for the mass intentions. As we exchanged good byes, she complimented me for my wonderful gift and mentioned, “Your thoughts and comments these last few minutes have made me think more about my faith than the Bible study session I’ve just completed.” I was pleasantly surprised, thanked her warmly and wished her and her loved ones a joyous Christmas.

    That evening, I filled out my check and wrote a Christmas card to Father Mike and the office staff. I left the envelop unsealed after adding a personal thank you for the young woman I had spoken to earlier, intent on calling the next morning to request her name. My phone call went unanswered and I was suddenly prompted to leave a message. I’ll call again tomorrow, I decided.

    IN MID FEBRUARY, THE parish office called informing me that Father had begun the intentions for my granddaughter. The call surprised me, I was more surprised when she inquired if I intended to send my payment. “Oh my God!” I blurted and proceeded to share with her the sequence of events surrounding my gift. “I believe I know where the card is,” I responded apologetically.

    At that moment, she introduced herself and also informed me the young woman I had spoken with was Sandy. Thank you after thank you accompanied many of the sentences of our lengthy conversation, a conversation that ended with my promise to mail my belated card and Joyce’s request that I stop by their parish office for a visit. “You have been a delight to speak with this morning,” she commented.

    The Christmas card and check were as expected, tucked in with three others waiting for change of addresses to be procured. The following Tuesday broke bright, warm and glorious, a needed break from the harsh winter we had experienced. The evening before I had made three missionary Rosaries and was intent on including them in my mailing. However, that morning an inspiration to visit beckoned.

    My smile was radiant when I walked into the parish office and asked the woman nearest me if I could speak with Joyce. A pall of disappointment settled over me when informed she had stepped out for a moment. I settled my emotions and shared the events that led to my visit. Suddenly, a bright smile formed on her face.

    “I remember that conversation,” she exclaimed. “You were speaking with me that morning; I’m Sandy and am glad to meet you.” My smile reappeared even brighter.

    Sandy mentioned she only helped out on Mondays and if I had arrived ten minutes earlier, or later, we would not have met. “The Spirit works in mysterious ways,” I smiled. A Christmas card was delivered, Rosaries were presented and I shared the back story of my encounter with the Rosary maker I met in Tucson during the previous Christmas season. The conversation that followed became as spirited as the one we shared on the phone the week before Christmas.

    As we exchanged goodbyes, Sandy challenged me, “You came to visit and should consider attending mass with us on the days the intentions are being offered for your granddaughter.” I still do.

    THE FIRST MASS I attended was the morning of March second, the day of the sectional championship. I was fully aware only one intention is offered at mass, though I could not resist asking Father Mike to break with protocol. “Father, the mass intention this morning is for my granddaughter Abigail. Could you please include the Eden Prairie hockey team with her mass intention? Tonight they are playing for a trip to state.” I received a wink and a smile.

    “I’ll see what I can do,” he responded.

    Before mass began I faced a dilemma, what prayers should I offer up in addition to those for my granddaughter? Playfully I whispered reluctance to ask for an Eagles victory, knowing many such prayers would be requested by both teams that morning and throughout the day. My prayer was a simple one. Lord, please watch over them.

    I was comforted by my request and after mass stopped by the office for another visit. Fortunately I met Joyce, accepted her thank you for my Rosary gift and enjoyed a lengthy conversation centered on the events that had brought my granddaughter’s faith community into my life. As we discussed the gift of Spirit in our lives, a woman approached and replied to one of my comments. She introduced herself as Brenda, the Director of Adult Faith Formation. “That’s interesting; I’ve never considered that as a reason for the Holy Spirit coming into our lives.” The three of us continued our conversation for another fifteen to twenty minutes and as I left, Brenda extended me an invitation to attend their parish’s annual Life in the Spirit Retreat later that month.

    My day was fast getting away, I had a large restaurant and night club project that required attention and would not have the comfort of evening hours to get caught up, I had a championship game to attend. General admission tickets to the venue on the U of M campus had been purchased. Lauri and I had stayed in touch through email and decided to use text messaging to locate each other and ensure we sat together. She texted me hours earlier than anticipated.
    I received her message a few minutes after two, more texts were exchanged, schedules were uncertain and a phone call seemed in order. She answered excitedly and informed me she had just walked into Sally’s, a campus bar and restaurant near Mariucci, with Beth and her mother to enjoy food and drinks with the other parents. “Can you join us?” My project would have to wait, there was another restaurant in my plans.

    I felt honored to have been invited and experienced much more after locating my new friends. Acquaintances were welcoming, drinks and appetizers savored and introductions to the parents of other players were soon preempted with, “You’re the one who shared your granddaughter’s mass intention with our boys. Thank you so much.”

    When introduced to Curt and Kyle’s parents, I shared how Jared’s friendship with Chad had inspired me to follow their son’s careers. I recalled how Kyle’s change of heart touched mine and helped make possible my sharing that afternoon with them. Eventually, I inquired of Lynne about her recollection leading up to his decision. She was gracious in her telling and assured me the decision was his. She also shared the advice she offered him. “Throughout life you will make many difficult decisions, some with your mind and some with your heart. Though the decisions you make with your heart may not turn out as expected, you will never regret them.”

    As the afternoon folded into evening, I believe my playful recollections of the morning’s events lifted many spirits. We were filled with energy, high expectations and giddy after the drinks we enjoyed as we made our way over to the game.

    Too often, Mariucci had been the grave yard for our team’s state tournament aspirations. Two years earlier the Eagles had eluded the ghosts of seasons past on their way to their first state championship, though last season’s devastating loss was still etched in memory. The ghosts had returned and were swirling that night.

    Our boys were opportunistic early, though they should have lost, their opponent caught fire and controlled the play for large portions of the game. Early into the second period, I smiled and reflected, Lord, I should have included more in my prayer this morning, You are watching over them. Throughout adversity, their calm confidence remained as well as a resolute bond shared by the parents that willed their sons forward.

    The game went into overtime and the hand of God must have played a role, numerous opposing shots should have found the back of the net. Moments became excruciatingly long, anxiety swelled and suddenly time stood still. At the edge of the crease, the puck found Kyle’s stick. He resisted the impulse to shoot, gained control, stepped around a defenseman and buried the winning goal. Bedlam erupted, hugs and high fives were exchanged, they were returning to state.

    Kyle’s player profile in the Eagles Hockey Guide included a comment. Advice to Young Players: “Have fun and follow your heart.” How prophetic, I thought.

    Euphoria was contagious, relief welcomed, joy savored and Jill’s excited hug and comment touching, “You’re our good luck charm. You have to come to state with us; you’re part of our family now.” I was overcome with emotion and could not hold back the tears that welled up in my eyes. Lauri, Beth and Tam assured tickets were reserved for me and the tournament weekend became one of my most treasured. And yes, I attended mass before each game and offered the same prayer, Lord, please watch over them.

    The week of waiting for the opening round was filled with anticipation and anxiety; much more I am sure for the parents, family and friends of a senior laden team. Many of their sons had been playing together for more than eight years and the enduring friendships that had been formed were evident. It was their finale, the last tournament they would share a dressing room together and pull on sweaters with the same logo on the front. They had returned to hallowed ground one last time.

    My emotions were also stirring as I tried to comprehend what I had unexpectedly become a part of. My heart and mind remained unsettled and Saturday morning, before the tournament began, I transformed my reflections into words.

    One of the families reserved the upper room at McGovern’s Pub before each game and their graciousness allowed all to gather and share in the moment. During the three days of the tournament, while the team confidently won their first two games and claimed a place in the finals, I might have met them all, their entire hockey family. Being included, while they shared many of their treasured memories, allowed me to witness their adding precious pearls to the golden strands of accomplishment that joined them to one another. Many tournament gold medals had been earned by their sons and the last was soon to be contested. They had personal recollections to recall and I offered a couple of my own. The most notable, sharing memories of my father’s connection to the 1960 Olympic Team with the son and daughter-in-law of the gold medal winning goalie. I felt blessed to have been welcomed and accepted.

    During the afternoon of the championship game, I presented my reflections to Curt and Kyle’s parents. “This is for you and thank you for sharing this special moment with me.” I was able to express my appreciation for the gift of friendship to most everyone that afternoon. Though before we left and walked over to the game, I was overcome with emotion once more. My written sentiment had been shared and the compliments for touching their hearts brought a cascade of tears to my eyes.

    One mother’s was extremely emotional, “I have never, never been a Spiritual person, but what you wrote touched my heart in places I never knew existed.”

    Reflections
    Pre-game warm-ups, their heart’s rhythm, the music of their souls, the symphony that proclaims they are a team, a brotherhood of one; their performances, an expression of unity and the occasional crescendo of a solo performance when necessary.

    Bonds of friendship that have grown to inspire others, though at times stretched and resilient, became ever-lasting when one among them chose to follow his heart; a decision that helped each of them return to hallowed ground one last time.

    For many, fond memories of unexpectedly celebrating at center ice in St. Paul as sophomores and taking ownership of disappointment a year later at Mariucci prepared all for challenges to come.

    The morning of the 6AA championship game, a playful request added to a granddaughter’s special mass intention ended with a prayer to, “Please watch over them.”

    During the game, their efforts were bolstered by more than prayers. The energy in Mariucci that helped will them to victory emanated from you. As family and friends, you have been watching over them since the moment they laced on their first pair of skates. Your friendships and commitments to one another and their unselfish play were needed on an evening when the hockey gods were smiling on your sons.

    Hold those treasured memories close, for buttons, banners, proclamations and awards are never a lasting remembrance. In time they are taken off, taken down, filed away or forgotten. True remembrance comes from taking that which is very special and weaving it into the fabric of your lives, making your memories forever a part of you.

    Many of the threads you have fashioned during their childhood and high school years are gilded with gold, a precious metal that endures the test of time. One never knows how a journey together will be played out, when golden threads may be placed in the kiln to be fired, tested and finally completed.

    The love you share will continue to sustain you during your new todays and inspire you to embrace your new tomorrows. The life long bonds you have created and nurtured
    will allow you to continue turning,
    Ordinary moments into extraordinary experiences.

    Advice to young players
    and to everyone:

    “Have fun and follow your heart.”

    That evening, golden threads were placed in the kiln to be fired, tested and finally completed. The championship game between Duluth East and Eden Prairie became an instant classic, the first to require three overtimes to produce a winner. I am sure my Rosary, offered between the second and third overtimes, was well received. Though my prayer request, Lord, this evening will be memorable forever if we…, was interrupted by a whisper. “I know, I know, not my will, but Your will be done.”

    Legs were tired and minds weary as time raced and scoring chances continued to miss the mark. Unexpectedly Curt’s shot from the point, trickled between the pads of the Duluth East goalie, was swiped at and missed by the defenseman who had shadowed and punished Kyle all evening. When suddenly out of nowhere, a player made a desperate, diving lunge sending the puck caroming off the goal post, off the defenseman’s skate blade and ricocheting into the open net. The arena erupted, Kyle’s goal had earned their team another state championship.

    “His goal capped one of the greatest careers in state high school hockey history and will be required footage for every forthcoming ‘best of’ state tournament’ highlight reel.

    ’They have the best player in high school hockey, Mr. Hockey in my mind, (and he) scored the winner,’ Duluth East Coach Mike Randolph said about Rau, who finished the season with 41 goals and 40 assists. ‘I have nothing but respect for that kid. He could go anywhere he wanted, and he stayed in high school hockey.

    And he got rewarded tonight.’”

    A month later, to the day, I received a keepsake cook book, Game Winning Recipes, from Lauri. She inquired of the hockey moms hoping a copy, A collection of Recipes by Family, Friends and Fans, The Blue Line Club was still in print. “Dear Christine, God sure works in mysterious ways! Happy Birthday to you – my new, dear friend!” Love ya, Lauri. Her gift and their efforts touched my heart and will be treasured forever.

    I believe I also touched theirs. A copy of my reflections has become the first page in their son’s memory books.

    THE FOLLOWING SATURDAY I attended the Life in the Spirit Retreat at my son’s family parish. It was an uplifting day filled with gifted speakers sharing the role of Spirit in their lives, interspersed with break-out sessions, memorable conversations, new friendships and an offer to be a future guest speaker.

    The opening speaker’s topic was God’s Love and she delivered a passionate account of embracing His comfort after a personal tragedy. Her words are rewound and replayed in my mind most mornings. She solemnly recalled navigating the stormy waters of loss with a renewed desire to embrace our gift of life and the Spirit’s request to be God’s presence in the world. Her riveting description of Jesus’ last breath becoming our first, giving life to each of his children, giving life to us, giving life to me was so powerful. She professed the constancy in His love, a love that is there to fill our hearts in both the most sorrowful and joyful of moments, a love that is intended to be shared.

    She spoke of a love that encourages us to follow our heart and share our God given gifts, to experience and share in an abundance of His comfort and blessings, to experience all that is God’s Love.

    Who does the New Evangelism call?

    She deserves to experience the earthly encounters we share, not I. . .

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