by Kerry Patrick San Chirico
Lenten Transformation: Part 1
Part of St. Mary's Lenten Lecture Series 2003
The title Lenten Transformation is rather broad. Perhaps when you read it, you naturally thought of a transformation within the person who maintains the disciplines of the season, those being prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Well, you are partially right. A couple weeks ago, in preparation for the Lenten Spring, we read the story of the Prodigal Son. Thinking about this parable, it dawned on me that our activities in Lent can be likened to the Prodigal’s journey back to the father. We take stock of who we are, we prepare in anticipation for the eventual encounter, we rehearse our words, we are filled with anxiety about how we will be received. Struggling along that path, we might wonder how we ever got into this mess. We experience moments of rebellion, then humility, then supplication, boredom, expectant joy, then trepidation. Lent, as we often hear, is our journey home. In this way, Great Lent is a condensed lifetime, and we may find ourselves facing in microcosm, what we face not only throughout the year, but throughout our lives. Moreover, because the time is so condensed, both our victories and even more our weaknesses are seen in striking relief. Our shadows become stark, dense, taking on lives of their own. This is interesting, because in nature, shadows are the darkest when the light is the closest. So in those dark times, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, the Son is actually the nearest. As we were reminded last week, there is no place where God is not.
“For I am convinced,” St Paul confesses, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
And we read from the Psalter,
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139).
Now there is one significant difference between us and the Prodigal Son, of course. We know the father’s response to him when he arrived in those rags. Before the Prodigal even got those well-rehearsed words out of his mouth, the elder father was running out to greet him. And this is God’s fundamental disposition towards us, His children. Unlike the Prodigal, we can be assured of the Father’s embrace. We know that God hears the prayers of us sinners, that, as Fr. Antony reminds us over and over again, the love of God for us is as inexhaustible as God is Himself. This is good news.
The Lenten transformation is thus a coming to our senses, the realization of who we are in the Father. It is brought about by comparing our identity in Christ with the identity we consciously and subconsciously fashion out of the rags and refuse of the world. Of course, this is the meaning of that clichéd word spirituality. If you want a definition of it, consider this one: spirituality, in the Christian sense, is the process of growing into things as they are. It is the stripping away of all the illusions we attach to ourselves both inadvertently and willingly. This stripping away takes place by God’s grace through faith and by our participation in that grace.
Also read: Justice as Asceticism
KERRY PATRICK SAN CHIRICO holds a Master of Divinity Degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, a Master of Social Work from Rutgers University and a Master of Theology from St. Vladimir’s Seminary. He served with Habitat for Humanity in India from 1993-1996 and in the inner cities of New Jersey. He is currently pursuing doctoral studies in the theology department at Boston College and lives with his wife Sheri in Arlington, MA.