Praised be Jesus Christ! For those of you who read the Catholic Life magazine from cover to cover, you may recall Bishop Callahan quoting the Eastern philosopher Lao-tzu: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It’s a great quote because of the reality that the end depends upon the beginning. For Christians, the hope of an eternal Easter is in part contingent on how well we lived our Lent. And Lent is a journey, one that sees us striving to move toward greater freedom in our heart to love and obey God and to treat His people as He treats us. Some have likened Lent to a spiritual road trip, an image that may seem to be at least a thousand miles long. An article I came across recently spoke to a similar spiritual journey, one that involves a future priest’s desire to visit as many of the world’s basilicas as possible. Did you know that there are 1,760 basilicas in the world, 84 of them being in the U.S.? The author has already visited 190 of them, including all 24 in Canada and all but 5 of the American basilicas. Something about his goal and his dedication causes one to reflect on his motivation; i.e. why does he want to visit all of these churches? One motivation has to be beauty and that is something we grasp instinctively. People travel all the time to see something beautiful, and we’re deeply affected by these experiences. While truth sometimes fails to convert us, and goodness can be a threat to our insecurities, beauty is the one reality that almost universally touches us where we’re most vulnerable. Lent is meant to be a spiritual journey that moves us ever closer to the Source of all that is beautiful. Prayer, fasting, and alms giving have long been the means that open the eyes of our hearts that we might more and more see what God sees and marvel at its glory. The old Latin maxim was nascantur in admiratione – “let them be born in wonder.” The life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus are the most beautiful and inspiring moments in the history of the world, but only the eyes of deep faith can experience this. All the more reason to live more fully the sacrificial nature of Lent, as it prepares us to taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Visiting basilicas could be no more than an architectural adventure that will ultimately fail to move us spiritually closer to the Lord. Or it could be a tangible living out of the spiritual pilgrimage that is the whole point of our earthly existence. For those who are home bodies, the life of Flannery O’Connor might be more your speed. She was a Catholic author who died of lupus at the young age of 39 in 1964. Though she travelled but very little, her greatest adventures were lived out in her imagination and in her books. Whatever our limitations might be, that part of us is almost always accessible and Lent is an invitation to go deeper into our soul so as to encounter God and rest with Him there. O’Connor had remarkable faith and it proved its beauty by allowing her to carry her cross with courage and to find God in her suffering. O’Connor had heavenly help from the Archangel Raphael, as she said the following prayer every day of her life: “O Raphael, lead us toward those who we are waiting for, those who are waiting for us. Raphael, Angel of happy meetings, lead us by the hand toward those we are looking for. May all our movements be guided by your Light and transfigured with your Joy. Angel, guide of Tobias, lay the request we now address to you at the feet of him on whose unveiled Face you are privileged to gaze. Lonely and tired, crushed by the separations and sorrows of life, we feel the need of calling you and of pleading for the protection of your wings, so that we may not be as strangers in the province of joy, all ignorant of the concerns of our country. Remember the weak, you who are strong, you whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene and bright with the resplendent glory of God.” So, whether your journey of a thousand miles be in the world or into the depths of your soul, it goes better with help from above.
May the Lord, who has begun so much good in you this Lent, bring it to fulfillment when the time is right!
Your friend in Christ,