I’m not as giddy about Advent, the period of waiting before Christmas. The world is too loud, too busy. Lent is what I look forward to, the period of spiritual preparation leading up to Easter. It’s not as popular, I know. But I long for it. My soul aches for Lent.
I became Catholic in my 30s after growing up in a Protestant home, going to Protestant schools, and eventually attending a Protestant seminary to earn a master’s degree. It was during my time in seminary that I started dating a long-time Catholic friend. He never asked me to go to Mass, but that’s where we ended up. I found myself drawn to the space for silence, reflection, and the traditions of the Church.
The first time I went to Mass with him, I filed in line to receive the Eucharist. It wasn’t until we had walked all the way to the front of the chapel did he notice that I had been behind him the whole time. He whispered, “You can’t receive the Eucharist, you aren’t Catholic.” I’d taken communion at church since I was a little girl. It didn’t even occur to me that I wouldn’t be able to receive the Eucharist. Embarrassed I walked empty-handed back to our seats.
Later, I became engaged to this friend. The same qualities that drew me to my then fiancé, now husband — stability, mystery, space to be myself — drew me to the Catholic Church. Even though I was a Protestant seminarian, I found myself attending Mass most Sundays and frequenting a Catholic prayer garden in Portland called the Grotto.
When Lent approached, I wanted to receive ashes. Remembering the miscommunication I experienced when I went up to receive the Eucharist, I called St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland to ask a few questions. I was astounded when the secretary asked, “Would you like to talk to Father Joe? He’s right here.” I had never talked to a priest before. I told him I was a student at the local Protestant seminary and wanted to know if I could receive ashes. I don’t remember what he said specifically, but I do remember that he made me feel welcome and assured me that I could receive ashes.
Lent gives me a chance to feel spiritually clean again. After the busyness of the holidays, after the excitement of a New Year wears off, I can slow down. I throw aside all the extras I’ve piled on myself the past few months and simplify. I focus on the basics — prayer, fasting, and giving.
When I fast, I’m reminded of those who have little. My stomach growls as I eat less and abstain from meat. It’s a hunger I forgot was there because my life is too comfortable. I’m reminded that I am dependent on God, for even my food. Prayer helps me see our wondrous God better, clearer. I see God working throughout my day; in me and in the people I love. When I give, I’m reminded of when I had very little, and God walked me through it. In giving, I see how much I have and I am grateful.
Focusing on these basics during Lent opens space to hear God in the silence. When it is just me and that Still Small Voice, I remember the words from Ash Wednesday, Turn away from sin, Be true to the Gospel.
What is the Gospel? That we can have a relationship with God. Not only in the future but now.
My soul wasn’t aching for Lent, it was longing for God.
In the silence, I remember that God is here because I can hear God again.
In the silence and hunger, I realize I need more of Christ in my life. Not just on Sunday, but to eat and breathe Him again. I yearn for the peace that dependence on Him brings. So I look for Him in every quiet place and find a home.
It’s after walking through the quietness of Lent, that you can’t wait to sing Alleluia again. You remember what it means, to praise Him, for this wonderful life, for everything, for Himself. You wake up on Easter morning thinking, Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!