The morning of day 4 of our Lenten Journey that I share with 2.19 Billion Christians? It cannot be. A century ago there were only 600 million recorded. Yet it can feel like we are only 600 million strong.
And even that number does not capture the loneliness of being a believer. Yes, having belief and faith in God can be a very lonely experience today. Yesterday at noon I was able to get to church. There is the consolation of the redeemer in the sacrament of the Eucharist, the comfort of the rituals, the wisdom of the liturgy, and a scattering of believers in the pews. Yet the experience for me was a very lonely experience.
Each of us carried into church the weariness of our sufferings and challenges of our deeply oriented secular world, spent sometime receiving graces and giving prayer, and left quietly 45 minutes later to return to an indifferent world. Sometimes the saintly most walk alone.
Once outside of the believer bubble we face unrelenting bombardment of human suffering, horrific clerical failures, negative news cycles, systemic injustices, and wide spread corruption on a national and global scale. Personally we may see these injustices directly affecting us or our loved ones. And on a deeply personal level we must also contend with our relationship with others and how they are treating us as well as how well we are living our the Christian ethos in our daily relationships.
Doing so with humility and in most secular circles without any reference to our spiritual principles can be daunting. Even with fellow believers, raising our shared beliefs when it is inconvenient is an easy way to kill a communication and possibly even a friendship. Many individuals do not hold the spiritual and moral norms of our faith despite perhaps espousing to do so and or even have been in the pew besides us Sunday past.
Belief has become a deeply personal experience that is not welcome in the public sphere. Genuine and non-ostentatious effort to raise our Christian voices are seen as hypocritical and ostentatious. To put it blatantly, our society including many Christians believe living Christian ideals as a nation is impractical, in-achievable, and idealistically naive. This is evident in our political representation (and votes) where we have anti-immigration, anti-social justice, and anti-poor poverty legislation. It is evident in our congregations as we have deep suspicions of the “other” on many different levels. And yet we believe and strive.
How do we persist? How do we grow? There are many tools of faith that exceed this post scope. Today I will share one from my morning reading from a Lenten guide (called the Little Black Book) that I picked up while traveling few weeks back when I visited a lovely church that had an open and warm greeting atmosphere as well as juice and cookies in the foyer for after church mingling. (I did not feel alone that day in Church despite being among strangers!).
The reading raised the idea of there are days when I think I am useless. There are days when I can’t seem to do anything worthwhile. The author challenges us to look at by what standards are we judging ourselves?
Are we judging ourselves by our individual standards or by the standards of others? Are we judging ourselves or others by material standards? Are we assuming we understand our role within the larger framework of good and evil or our role within the mystery of Divine Providence?
The author suggest that “God measures our worth by the love in my heart, the prayers on my lips, the faith deep within, the hope that never fails, the suffering patiently endured and offered to God.” I can certainly do better with the latter.
Saint Therese (the little flower) and other Saints have actually prayed to God to send them suffering so they may better serve him! I imperfectly in my prayers say “God, I don’t think I can handle anymore, but your will, not mine, be done.” Perhaps we should not be so focused on what we accomplish? This is so antithetical to western thought.
I so desire to write everyday to share my Lenten journey. Day two was wonderful and God provided me several living affirmations as I served others. Day three was quietly circumspect and day four just underway.
That being said I am living a Lenten journey while doing what God calls me to do. I cannot retreat from the world for forty days and live a contemplative life or writing blog post!. I am where I should be today. I do not know where I will be tomorrow or what sufferings or blessing will come my way. I do not know how my actions will serve God or serve as a vehicle for divine providence. I have only gratitude and surrender to God’s will.
This can be a very lonely experience, especially in times of spiritual aridity. This little sacrifice is feebly humorous when contrasted to the pain and suffering of others or to the greatest sacrifice ever given by the Son of God to redeem us before the father.
Perhaps let me simplify my message today with words from St. Catherine of Siena:
Have a wonderful and contemplative Lenten experience!