Lately, during weekday Mass celebrations, I have been asking people, “So…how’s your Lent going? Are you getting there?” It is just under three weeks until we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. So…. how’s your Lent going? A lot of the time people tell me that they have given up such and such for Lent and they are still good, sticking to the plan. That is a good thing. But I wonder, and often ask, “does that make room in your life for God?”
After one of the Masses, someone asked me, “So, padre, how is your Lent going? Are you getting enough days off?” The answer to the last part of the question is “no,” but that is part of the good news/bad news of being part of a wonderful, growing, spirit-filled parish. I have one day off a week. One week I drive to the Orlando area to see my sister and my mom. The next week I take for myself. And so the cycle goes. But “time off” is different than “days off.”
Getting time off and making room for God has to be intentional. I make time for spiritual reading, private prayer, musing, writing this column, and other such things. But God is full of surprises. Intention or no, God can intrude on your plans, and make room. Last week, I spent one of the mornings at the Pastoral Center in St. Petersburg at diocesan meetings. On the way back via the Gandy Bridge, I had a moment that came and I wanted time to sit with it. You know the beach/ sandy areas on the south side of the causeway? I just pulled off the road and let God make room for me. It was a good moment.
This week God made room for me at the movies. I went to see “Risen” starring Joseph Fiennes. The movie takes a different view of the events from Good Friday to the Ascension of the Lord. A Roman tribune (military commander) is ordered by Pontius Pilate to quell the rumors of a risen Jesus by finding the body, arresting the disciples, and putting the matter to rest before things get out of hand. He is good at his job. He finds Jesus and the disciples. The telling of the story is respectful, biblically sound (taking a few creative liberties), and tells the story of a person making room in his life for Jesus. Room the tribune never intended, desired, or expected, but he comes to realize that his deepest desire for peace and a “day without death” is ultimately found in following Christ. The tribune finds and begins to understand Hope.
And Hope does things. Hope creates faith in a better future and therefore leads one to act, to actually do something to bring about that better future. Without hope it’s incredibly difficult to press ahead, to face the challenges of the day, to do anything but merely get by. With hope you can risk extraordinary things, do extraordinary things because the future is not only open but also promised. Hope is not optimism, for while optimism involves the expectation that things are eventually going to get better, hope asserts that no matter what may come, no matter how bad things may get, God’s word and promise will prevail. Hope is located beyond our immediate circumstances.
Hope can be rather dangerous. Hope can’t be contained or defined or managed. Hope creates something new wherever it is sown. It is hope that fuels change, change in our lives, our homes, our parish, our communities, and our world. Change can be hard because whatever hardships or restrictions we may now endure, at least we know them, whereas Hope beckons us to an unknown future.
Hope is at the heart of the Christian faith. For what else is life in light of the Resurrection than a life of hope? Hope that death does not have the last word. Hope that we will be more than we are now. Hope that God will bring all things to a good end.
At movie’s end, 11 apostles and one Roman soldier, each on their own path, set out to change the world because they made room in their lives for God. Such is the power of Hope. Such are the fruits of an afternoon at the movies.
My Lent is getting there. I am Hopeful. How about you?