Parishioner’s Pen 2.10.2023 – Rebecca MacMaster
If you’ve been at Mass in the last couple of months (no judgement) you might’ve seen me and anywhere from one to four little helpers at the side entrance, passing out hymnals. A couple of weeks ago, in the dreary depths of January where both sunshine and positive motivation seemed to have disappeared forever, I had one of my young helpers stop by. As I handed him the hymnals from the stack just a bit over his head, I told him: “good work!” and “thank you for helping!” and “wow you’re such a good helper!” As the opening hymn began and I started to usher him over to his family, he looked up at me and said “you know that you’re a really good helper too right? Thank you for helping me.” He went back over to his family and I continued on with the rest of my Sunday morning tasks, feeling a little bit brighter.
Lent looms in the near distance like the Ren Cen in fog. As the office starts to gear up for Lenten programming and liturgies and social content, I took a second to read the readings for the first Sunday of Lent. I struggle with Lent. I struggle to break out of the way I was taught about Lent as a child, where the main goal was to be So Good and So Good at restricting myself from the little things that gave me joy like candy or television or coffee or all caffeine or chips or pop or alcohol or takeout (all things I have given up in my 26 Lents, to varying degrees of success). An American diet culture kind of Lent. There was no theological richness or depth to the teaching – just the idea that if I restrict myself well enough over and over again eventually, I’ll shave a couple flights off of that trip up to Heaven (on a stairway, if you’ll join me in this metaphor). But anyways, I was sitting with the readings from the first Sunday, and one line from Matthew’s Gospel stood out to me:
“The tempter approached and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.’ He [Jesus] said in reply, ‘It is written: One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:3) (emphasis mine).
One does not live on bread alone. One does not live on the absence of bread alone, on the voluntary 40-day restriction of bread alone only to eat A Lot Of Bread on Easter Sunday. One does not live alone. I wonder about reframing Lent from acts of penance divorced from any cultural or societal context to a season of helping. I wonder about being models of good helpers for the young people in our parish – who are listening and paying attention more than you know. Maybe you’ll join me in reducing use of single-use plastic, an act of helping the planet, an acknowledgement that our actions impact all those around us. Maybe you’ll pick up a yoga or a daily rosary or nightly Examen or even just a walking practice, acts of helping your body and spirit.
If there is joy in January, there can certainly be joy in Lent, after all, no Lent exists without the promise of Easter. I look forward to being good helpers with you, partners in brightness.