His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. Matthew 3:12
I’ve read this verse many times in the last few weeks; contemplated it; realized how deeply it applies to our lives. There is remarkable meaning behind it and there is no better time than Lent to help our souls be harvested with the wheat rather than the chaff…
Although I was a cradle Catholic, raised by a very religious mother, reading the Bible wasn’t something we did, nor was it something I grew up doing. It was reserved for church. We would listen to the readings, the Gospel and the homily, dutifully pray the prayers we knew since we were little and hopefully apply the lessons learned at Mass to our daily lives. At night we said our prayers, we went to Confession as needed, received Communion and we considered ourselves “good” Catholics. Lent meant extra prayers, abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays, giving up something you liked—chocolate, coffee, candy... That was roughly the extent of it.
As I grew in years and had a family of my own, I grew in my Catholic faith too. I have learned so much more—from homilies at church, from my daughters’ Catechism classes, from missions I have attended, from various prayers I have discovered, books I have read, from simply being a mother and a wife, and yes, from actually taking the time to read the Bible on my own.
I must confess, some time ago, as a graduate student, I did read the entire Bible—cover to cover. I decided to start with page one and read all the way to the end—a very methodical approach. So technically I have read the whole Bible, but I use the term “read” loosely. Today I clearly see what a short-sighted, casual act it really was—I read it like I would a research text or a book. However, I forgot the most important details: faith, growth, study, contemplation, meditation and application.
Lately I started reading the Bible daily, but for shorter periods of time, with more meditation, and randomly, rather than cover to cover. The Didache Bible, with commentary based primarily on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, provides so much explanation with each of the readings and I find myself growing in the understanding of my Catholic faith. I realize how little I know. I realize my knowledge of my faith is at the level of a newborn baby, discovering that she can move her fingers. It was not until the last few years that I started to truly realize the power, love and beauty of a faith that was always a part of me, however, I was not always a part of it, even when I believed I was.
Each Lenten season I have tried to delve deeper into my own faith. After all, the 40 days of Lent are a time for us to prepare, meditate, get to know ourselves and God a little better. Knowing the suffering Jesus underwent, skipping that coffee or chocolate simply doesn’t seem to be much of a sacrifice.
I have always felt that religion is personal, immensely private. In fact, writing this and sharing it was a challenging hurdle for me, but one I chose to do this Lent. Seeing the ugliness and evil that has permeated our communities and our lives, I wonder if we couldn’t further cultivate the beauty of Lent to better ourselves and extend it to others: Create bridges of love, forgiveness and humility. Isn’t that, in essence, what Jesus taught?
During Lent, our souls can gain in purity if we find ways to love the way Jesus taught us. Maybe we can do more than give up coffee or chocolate. Maybe we share in a moment of genuine conversation rather than the superficiality of “how are you” without the expectation of an answer. Maybe we listen to a friend, truly listen. Maybe we bring in a neighbor’s trash cans. Maybe we volunteer somewhere that we might not have done so in the past. Maybe, in the tradition of St. Francis, we dedicate some time at the animal shelter. Maybe we just say hello to the person we pass on the street as we walk our dog. Maybe we just try and be better neighbors, citizens, family members and friends… Is it really that hard?
I am no authority. I am no expert. I am only a Catholic, a human, a sinner trying to grow in my faith. But my personal hope for this Lent is that my typical trilogy of prayer, fasting and almsgiving can extend further than it has in past years. I hope we all find our own ways to cultivate our faith, grow in our love of others, and build the steps of that stairway all the way to heaven so once we are called, our travels may hopefully be swift and easy.
Interesting Pre- Lent and Lent traditions from around the world
Ideas for expanding our own Lenten experience