Listening with the ear of our heart this Lent

February 16, 2024 | Life Lines

Each year, as Lent begins, I can’t help but remember a scene from Sunday Mass a few years back. A little boy sitting in the second pew with his grandmother pointed to the Stations of the Cross hanging nearby, specifically the ninth station, Jesus falls a third time. A look of confusion and concern came across his little face, and he furrowed his brow, trying to figure out what was going on in that scene. “He’s crying. He’s crying,” he said, looking up at his grandma. Although most of us were focused on how adorable this little boy was, I found myself looking over my shoulder to see what he saw: Jesus on the ground, the weight of the cross on his shoulder, a Roman soldier towering over him. This is where our path will lead us in the days and weeks ahead.

The road to Calvary over these 40 days will be marked by confusion and concern, sadness, and, yes, even moments of joy; not the passing happiness we think of when we hear that word but deep-seated internal joy, the kind that lives in our heart when we put our trust in Jesus. The stories that mark the path from here until Easter are powerful and familiar, sometimes so familiar they fail to move us, or, more accurately, we fail to be moved. We’ve heard it all before. There’s nothing new here. But God makes all things new, and the Scriptures are alive with the Spirit, who blows through the ancient texts to make a word, a phrase, a scene jump out at the exact moment we need it, if only we’d settle down and listen, as St. Benedict taught, with the “ear of our heart.”

We need reminders, someone or something to point out what we’re missing. Lent is that reminder, affording us the time and space to go deeper, to sit with stories and let them speak to us as if for the first time. What is calling you to transformation? What speaks to your heart?

On that Sunday morning in church years ago, an old man sat in the pew in front of the precocious little boy. Hunched with age, he was held up on one side by a younger man, his son, perhaps. The older man was dressed in a beautiful suit, his Sunday best. He stood for every prayer, even though he struggled to make even the slightest move, and his son patiently helped him up and down. It was a beautiful moment, this juxtaposition of young and old, boundless curiosity and fading youth, but with faith and grace swirling around both, around all. Taking in the scene that morning, I was moved by the reality of so many people from so many places with so many stories, all hungry for one thing: an encounter with the Divine. The same could be said of our Lenten journey.

We walk this journey together, even if we think we are walking alone. Faith and grace binds us to each other and to our God, and that is the stuff of which pure joy is made. Begin down the path today, and, if you get sidetracked, dust yourself off and begin again, knowing that you have companions, seen and unseen, lifting you up, a Communion of Saints, in which we all get to stake our claim. Stop, look, listen. Joy is hiding in plain sight, even on the road to Calvary, even on the cross, because joy is not fleeting, joy is not a feeling, joy is the knowledge that we have been saved by Jesus Christ, who invites us to join him on The Way today, every day.

This column appeared in the Feb. 15, 2024, issue of The Evangelist.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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