The suffering of Jesus is ultimately a story of triumph, writes Gerry Turcotte. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Gerry Turcotte: There’s a light ahead in our Lenten journey

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  • March 31, 2019

During Ash Wednesday Mass on the St. Mary’s University campus, professor of psychology, Fr. Peter Doherty, offered an inspiring homily. He spoke of the importance of the Lenten journey and the need for us to reach out and to support others, as well as the need to reflect on the importance of the “journey” of Lent — emphasizing that Lent isn’t a time period, but a process leading to discovery.

He reminded us that Lent offers us an opportunity to replenish our spirit, especially when the weight of the world has descended on us. The sacrifice that is made during Lent of giving up coffee, wine, television or whatever else is valued, should be genuinely challenging, but also an opportunity to reflect. Perhaps to find relief from things.

Most important, he suggested, was the need to restart our life’s journey and to change our point of view. He then asked us what was the only event in the Stations of the Cross that is repeated three times. “Jesus falling,” someone called out.

You could tell this was exactly what he wanted to hear. In a playful voice he began: “Far be it for me to question the authority of the Church, but I have always thought we needed to re-label those stations. It shouldn’t be Jesus fell. It should be, Jesus got back up.” Because the triumph of the story is not Christ’s downfall, but rather that He spent His last day on Earth rising, just as later He would rise again from the dead.

To me it’s a powerful, clear message of the importance of point of view, and one that has resonance for our time. Too often we perceive and walk in darkness, even when the light is ahead of us. (And no, it isn’t always a train heading towards us!)

It is the difficult lesson parents often try to teach their children, to take comfort from adversity and to find the positive; a lesson that we sometimes forget as we ourselves get older and the pressures of our time get heavier. But they are never heavier than the Cross.

This for me is what the Lenten journey has always reaffirmed.

Ours is a faith that asks not for vengeance but forgiveness, not rules but understanding, not hope but despair. And the narrative of the Stations of the Cross and the paschal journey provides one of the most remarkable reversals imaginable. Here is a story that shows the utter darkness of human violence, of intolerance, of rejection and betrayal. And yet it provides the most glorious truth we could ever hope to receive. Here is a moment of death that proves the possibility of eternal life; of grace from the utter wasteland of despair. It is truly, to paraphrase Hollywood, the greatest story ever told.

What I appreciated from the homily was how it found a way to connect us to that transcendent moment through the ordinariness of the every day. And by this I don’t mean that our lives are not sincerely challenged, some, of course, more than others. But rather that even from the depths of the darkest despair, the Lenten journey leads us towards hope — renewal. Certainly it is a reminder to take the time to rethink and reassess, to change our point of view.

Pope Benedict XVI, during an Angelus address in 2013, spoke of Lent as a time that “always involves a battle, a spiritual battle,” and as an invitation for us to reject false temptations that “undermine the conscience, disguised and proposed as affordable, effective and even good.” The Church, Pope Benedict explained, uses Lent to call all of us “to be renewed in the spirit, to reorient closely to God.”

Pope Francis, for his part, used his most recent Ash Wednesday homily to invite us to slow down.

“Lent is the time to rediscover the direction of life. Because in life’s journey, as in every journey, what really matters is not to lose sight of the goal.”

It is a cliché widely said that we should focus on the journey, not the destination — and surely here we are invited to rethink that adage. The destination is pivotal.

But there is no way to achieve it without falling … and more importantly, getting back up. It may be true to say that part of the Lenten process is a metaphor.

To surrender our consumption of coffee or wine is really not a hardship, and certainly not of the magnitude that this abstinence is meant to celebrate.

Rather, we understand that it is a symbolic deprivation, one that is challenging perhaps but hardly fatal. Yet it reminds us, in the doing, of what is at stake and of how we got here.

It reminds us in a gentle way never to take the gifts we have for granted. And in that wider sense, abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.

(Turcotte is the president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.)


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Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.