Living in the Contradiction: A Lenten Reflection

Living in the Contradiction: A Lenten Reflection
Rev. Ronald R. O'Dwyer, S.J.

How do you do with contradictions? 

In the Gospel, we hear: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them . . . Don’t let your right hand know what the left hand is doing.”

And then, in a few moments, will we mark ourselves with ashes. Wearing ashes is the most visible and public sign of our faith that we make all year. Is it just me? Or do you find it weird that we do the ashes the day that we hear Jesus’ warning about performing religious action for all to see?

How do you do when an experience contradicts what you always thought to be true?

Have you had an experience here at De Smet where you were pushed to consider an idea that made you feel uncomfortable or caused you to get defensive? Have you met a classmate whose family lives in a very different way than your family lives? Or what about the day in social studies class when you learned that there was more to the single story of history that we were taught in grade school?

Part of being a Christian is learning to hold together things that appear to be very different, even opposed to one another. And that is why we begin Lent — this great season of looking inward — with such an outward sign like the ashes on our forehead. 

Giving things up is another outward sign we do during Lent. There are a lot of opinions on this. And call me old-fashioned, but I still think it is important to give stuff up for Lent.  

Our Lenten commitments are different from New Year's resolutions. The point of giving things up during Lent is so that we can experience failure. And, at times, we feel like dust. But God really loves this dust.

Look, a little bit of failure in our Lenten commitment can be a good thing. Our Lenten failures — whether it’s going face first in the Thin Mints or eating Lion’s Choice on a meatless Friday – can remind us that we don’t have to change for God to love us. It’s in the midst of apparent failure during Lent that we learn to succeed.

We give things up in Lent so that we can learn to live in the contradiction: That God loves us as we are, yet God calls us to be more.  

What will you do to be more this Lent? 

What will you do to be more loving? Text your grandmother to say, “I love you.” 

Start using phrases like: ‘thank you,” or “I appreciate you,” or “I’m sorry,” or “I forgive you.”

What will you do to be more religious? Why not actually try to pray during the afternoon examen? What about coming to Mass at 7:50 a.m.? Did you know we have Mass every day but Wednesday in the chapel?

What will you do to grow as a person? 

What will you do to be more of your true self? Take off the mask and be the real you: That is what God is really asking this Lent. 

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