|March 26, 2012 • VOL. 50, NO. 6 • Oakland, CA|
| Giving a gift for Lent
The whole journey of Lent is focused upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We follow the path of Christ through his public ministry to his death on Calvary. We rejoice with the women at the tomb with the revelation of new and eternal life. We know all this and the familiarity of these realities leaves us in danger of losing the significance over time.
I am thankful that the greeting card companies and party stores have yet to find a way to market Lent. I am not suggesting the insertion of new rituals of gift giving to mark this great gift of God to the world.
The confusion of the Easter Rabbit, colored eggs and Easter baskets is already enough intrusion into the marking of this feast! (Though I would never turn down an Easter basket full of chocolate, personally!)
It is, however, part of the Lenten tradition to give of ourselves. We give ourselves to fasting, prayer and almsgiving. And it is this tradition I want to unpack a bit.
According to the late Rev. Henri Nouwen, there is really only one authentic gift that any one person can give to others and to God. That gift is the gift of one's personal presence. No one can give my act of being present and spending my time with others and with God except me. This gift of time and attention is so special that no chocolate rabbit can hope to compare. This gift cannot be marketed, packaged or sold. It cannot be dyed various bright colors, either.
Yet, this gift can heal a wounded soul, give strength to the weak, shore up the weakening faith of one in doubt, bring laughter into sadness and hope where hope seems gone.
I think we underestimate the power of this gift. Fasting is giving ourselves over to God and putting him in control of our lives rather than living only according to our own appetites.
Prayer is giving ourselves over to focusing upon the needs and concerns of others while putting our trust in God.
Almsgiving pushes us to give of our resources to those without.
Calling upon the insightful Father Nouwen again, I would like to share with you his ideas regarding this offering of our gift of presence to others and to God in such a way that we become united with Christ in the act of Eucharistic offering.
Father Nouwen wrote that we are called to be like Eucharistic bread. We are called to be taken, blessed, broken and shared. What a marvelous itinerary for Lent.
To be taken is to be taken away by the needs of others making ourselves available and accessible even when this is not convenient or according to a busy schedule. This is certainly the purest gift of presence to another — to be there when we are needed rather than by appointment.
To be blessed, Father Nouwen explained, is to be blessed by the needs and sufferings of others. It is in those needs and sufferings that Jesus comes to meet us, calls our attention and pulls us out of ourselves.
To be broken is to admit willingly that no one of us has the answers. We are all sinners and broken people. Therefore, my gift of presence is an act of faith that Jesus is sufficient for our weaknesses and that his grace is enough in any situation. This is the gift of hope we can share by standing in our brokenness.
We are shared when we lay down our lives for others in these small gifts of presence. We are shared when we make ourselves available to the promptings of God to reach out to others. We are shared when our agenda becomes God's agenda.
Let us all, then, celebrate the most precious gift-giving possible by offering the authentic gift of ourselves for others. There is no better way to prepare our hearts for the celebration of God's greatest gift of all: the saving and abiding presence of Jesus whose pouring out of his own life leads us to eternal life.
(Rev. John Roche, SDB, is director of the Institute of Salesian Studies at Don Bosco Center in the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, and an adjunct professor at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.)
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