“I think there were times in my spiritual journey where I didn’t so much doubt God’s existence, but doubted his wisdom,”…recalls Justin Aquila, 22… “in the sense that, you know, how the heck could he let Sept. 11 happen?”
One Lent, Aquila took a course on culture and the Holocaust at Eastern Michigan University, and after reading so many horrific accounts of survivors, he found himself questioning even more deeply why God allows evil in the divine plan. …
What Aquila found in all his reading was the basis for the theology of the cross, something that has played a key role in his spiritual life for several years.
“They talk about how Christ takes on the suffering in the world,” Aquila explains. “The cross is the taking of violence and evil and conquering them.”
The best image of this, Aquila says, is that when a sword is taken and planted in the ground, it forms a cross.
But what, then, does this have to do with Lent? For Aquila, Lent is a sort of spiritual boot camp.
“It’s that intense 40 days in the desert, like Christ,” he says. The focus is not on what a person gives up, but on taking stock of one’s life over the past year and examining what spiritual flaws and deficiencies need attention. …
“How can I better live a life of self-giving, Christ-like love?”
This, Aquila admits, is an uphill battle. In today’s world, a person who tries to give self-giving love is probably going to get abused and hurt, especially in a culture that promotes self-indulgence rather than self-giving. But to turn the other cheek, he says, is still the Christian responsibility.
“It’s a daily struggle,” Aquila notes, “and Lent’s a yearly refresher course on that for me.”
Charity Moss, 18,… is at an age basically designed for questioning one’s faith. These questions often arise after encounters with people of other religions and viewpoints, but they have also come up as she learns more about her own Catholic faith.
“It seems like everything is a sin,” she muses. “I’m like, how do you not sin?”
But even as she questions, Moss…tries to make a good Lent every year.
“I mean, Jesus died for us,” she notes. “Why can’t I do a little thing for him?”…
She never eats meat anyway, which immediately puts her at odds with one of the most visible hallmarks of the season. She has yet to find a suitable substitute.
“Last year, I tried to give up coffee,” she recalls. “When you’re addicted to coffee like I am, you can’t really do that.”
While she sometimes gets off track, Moss not only tries to make Lent important but, in doing it her own way, she finds a way to live the season more deeply, namely, by reaching out in charity.
“I do try to do things for people that I don’t usually do,” she says. “Say like there’s a person at your school that everyone’s so mean to and so rude to. And you’re seeing someone being hurt all the time. And then, instead of listening to these people say something and do something rude to this person, you go and you be nice to them and you help them. And then when someone says something, you stick up for them, because like wouldn’t Jesus do that for you?”
That Moss would have this deeper perspective of Lent makes sense since she has had more than her share of experiencing its mysteries, specifically suffering, death and resurrection. The suffering could be wishing she were taller or had the money to buy a new camera, hating it when people judge her or dealing with the pain of her parents’ separation. Death and resurrection, in her case, have come in the form of the deaths of three close friends in recent years and, in only the last couple of months, the death of her grandmother.
Having dealt with so much death among people she has lived and care about, Moss can give an accurate first-hand account of how God works on a person through a time of great suffering, making the individual stronger because of it, as well as opening up new avenues for grace.
“It seems like he brings people to me,” she says. “Suffering through all the death that I’ve been through, I can help someone who’ve never been through it. I guess he’s trying to have me help people who are going through things, as well as he’s having people come to me as a friend, and they help me through my tough times.”
Priests have Lent too. It seems obvious enough, but it’s probably good to remember that … priests are stil a part of the faithful, the everyday people whose walk with God includes the Lenten journey.
With his kind and humble demeanor, Father Joe Gaughan, pastor of Most Precious Blood Parish in Fort Wayne, provides a human insight into how a priest makes that walk. …
Father Gaughan’s experiences with these practices go back to his childhood when, as part of a family with nine kids, he recalls his parents being very much the spiritual leaders of the household, guiding the kids through the Lenten journey. Since the family ate most of their meals together, Father Gaughan’s most vivid Lenten memories are of the Friday meals of fish, a sign of their doing something as a family for God. Father Gaughan also recalls how, even this, his success in the Lenten disciplines was a little uneven.
“Almsgiving was never hard,” he recalls, “but fasting was more difficult.”
And it is this sort of insight that has shaped Father Gaughan’s understanding of lent, that it really is a time to acknowledge before God just how limited and in need of his grace every person is, whether it is due to weakness and sin or helplessness in the face of a major life challenge. …
As a pastor and a Catholic on the Lenten journey, Father Gaughan has found that awareness of one’s own limitations are helpful for having a successful Lent, that people sometimes try to accomplish too much and then struggle. One of his most fruitful Lents, he recalls, was when he resolved simply to wake up an hour earlier day and dedicate that time to prayer.
Father Gaughan also hopes that his awareness of his own limitations and weakness makes him someone with whom his parishioners can better relate, noting that he includes stories from his daily life and struggles in his homilies…
Father Gaughan says it’s okay for people to acknowledge their weak points because even the Scriptures include instances of holy people—Isaiah and Peter are two examples—becoming overcome and discouraged by their own weakness and sinfulness. He notes that, despite these weaknesses, these people did not give up, but rather allowed God to help them and then continued to do the work God called them to do.
“There’s nothing wrong with knowing who we are,” Father Gaughan concludes. “We’re people of needing that conversion. And with that too, to know our human weakness and to be honest with ourselves, it should help us to be more patient with other people. We’re all part of the body of Christ, and we all need God’s grace and forgiveness — and patience.”