The main reason I worked out yesterday rather than my usual Saturday was so that I could attend the retreat at the Washington Theological Union. Not just a good chance to get a start start on the Lenten season, the retreat also features Christ McCullough, formerly of St. Matt’s and now living in Nashville. Chris’s wife Amy is studying for a PhD at Vanderbilt, is why they moved away. They also just had a son, Luke, 21 weeks ago now.
Chris talks about Lent having three movements. There’s sin, then repentance, then reconciliation. I like how he uses the term ‘movements,’ sort of like the season is a symphony. He talks about how these movements are echoed in the three readings for mass tomorrow, the first Sunday of Lent.
First is a reading from Genesis 9, 8-15, where God speaks to Noah and his sons. “I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood,” He says. The second reading is from 1 Peter 3, 18-22. “God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water.” The Gospel reading is from St. Mark 1, 12-15.
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.
After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
So, going into the forty days of Lent, we read about the 40 days of floodwaters and the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. St. Peter tells us that the eight saved through water was a prefigure to baptism, which saves us all now. He goes on to say that baptism “is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” And Lent is a time for cleansing, and especially a time to appeal to God for a clear conscience.
Chris says something very interesting about sin and dirt, or sin as dirt. He says that we have to embrace our dirt, weird as that sounds. That which is most shameful to us, where we are most sinful, that’s where we find Christ. That’s where we find our cross, he says.
And that immediately strikes me as an awfully compelling way to see it, something that resonates with me and is helpful. The Lord tells us in St. Matthew, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” I always think of it, that taking up the cross, as acting like Jesus, or suffering for others like Jesus. And short of becoming a priest, or going to Calcutta and joing the Missionaries of Charity, how can I ever feel like I’m doing enough, like I’m taking up the cross and following Christ? But, thinking about it now, and in the context of what Chris said, Jesus says that one must deny himself and take up his cross. Not the cross, but one’s own cross. And maybe one’s own cross isn’t doing good works, it’s working on oneself.
But not working on oneself in a self-help or new age self-actualization kind of way, but working on oneself in relationship to God. Working on one’s sins. And there you go. There’s Lent. Moving from sin to repentance, from penance to reconciliation with God.
And later Monsignor celebrates mass for us in the WTU chapel. Chris had asked us to write down our offering for Lent, to offer at mass. I didn’t really do that so much as write down a petition, asking God to call me like he called to Samuel, where Samuel replies, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And, funny enough, we begin mass with a gathering song called The Summons, the first line of which is “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?”
Maureen asks if I’ll help serve at mass, helping Monsignor with the gifts. I’m self-conscious and don’t want to do it, and worry about doing something wrong, but I do it along with a woman named Patty. And neither of us really knows what we’re doing, but Monsignor helps us through it.
And it was good to see Chris, and Pat Durham was there, and Barbara Reck too. I’m glad about the day and about Lent.