I was really not into Lent…

For years, I really was not into Lent. It was a sad time. I really just wanted to fast-forward through those forty days and get on to Easter.

A few years ago though, I was on a “purposeful living” kick. I was attempting to be present in each moment. As we entered Lent, I realized I would have to be present in Lent. So, I prayed that I might be able to accompany Jesus in His suffering that Lent. I resolved to live Lent purposefully – to be present with Him in His pain.

In my prayer I envisioned myself crouched down, ready to receive a football – I said “all right, I’m ready. I can take it. I’m with you, Jesus.”

You know that old adage, “be careful what you wish for because you might just get it?” Ooh. Let me tell you, be careful what you pray for too because you may just get it – and more.

What was I thinking? 

It was the hardest Lent of my life. Every kind of hardship, difficulty, and temptation arose. At one point, I wondered why I even believed in God – a concept that previously would have been completely foreign to me. All kinds of things arose, one after the other – like a barrage of cannonballs – and I felt like I just wasn’t strong enough to handle them. I prayed, “Oh God, I think I prayed the wrong thing. I’m really sorry. Can you take it all away? I think I’m not strong enough to do this Lent thing with you.”

After coming clean with God about my complete and utter spiritual wimpiness, I opened a prayer book to the Anima Christi prayer. I had seen the prayer before, but this time it seemed to jump off the page at me. I resolved to pray it every time a difficulty arose. Things got easier. It became my “go to” prayer that Lent. In fact, it became one of my favorite “go to” prayers of all time.

_____

ANIMA Christi, sanctifica me. Corpus Christi, salva me. Sanguis Christi, inebria me. Aqua lateris Christi, lava me. Passio Christi, conforta me. O Bone Iesu, exaudi me. Intra tua vulnera absconde me. Ne permittas me separari a te. Ab hoste maligno defende me. In hora mortis meae voca me. Et iube me venire ad te, Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

SOUL of Christ, sanctify me. Body of Christ, save me. Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O good Jesus, hear me. Within Thy wounds, hide me. Suffer me not to be separated from Thee. From the malicious enemy, defend me. In the hour of my death, call me. and bid me come unto Thee, that with thy saints I may may praise Thee for ever and ever. Amen.

_____

The more I prayed this prayer, the stronger I felt. The more I prayed it, the more I realized too that the Christian faith is less about taking things upon ourselves than handing them over to Jesus. He already suffered for us. We need to trust that He has suffered perfectly and hand every trouble and every difficulty over to Him. In all things, we are made strong in him – not by our own power – but though His sacrifice.

Yes, He wants our presence, we remember him asking his disciples to wait and stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane. He has already done the suffering and dying though. He wants to give us Easter.

This realization was a transformative moment in my faith journey. Everything became easier, I felt lighter. The hardships, difficulties, and temptations still kept coming at me, but they didn’t rattle me. I felt grounded in Him because I was both painfully aware of my own limitations and also wonderfully aware of His complete abilities. Praying this prayer led to a gift that I couldn’t have prayed for – an unshakable confidence in Him.

During that same time, I came across a musical setting of the Anima Christi by composer Msgr. Marco Frisina of the Diocese of Rome. The harmonies are gorgeous and it remains, to this day, one of my favorite pieces.  Truly, it is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. Having studied classical and liturgical music myself, I have come to regard Frisina as one of my favorite composers of the modern era.

So, before a recent trip to Rome, I remarked to a friend, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if somehow I could hear some of Frisina’s music while I was there?” It was a completely “blue sky” thought – a totally unlikely happenstance.

The fact is though, God always speaks the language of our hearts – and He happens to know what’s in them too.

While attending Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, I heard familiar harmonies. I whispered to the woman standing to my right, “Isn’t that Marco Frisina?” “Si,” she replied. There was Msgr. Marco Frisina himself conducting the Anima Christi. Tears welled up in my eyes. I had prayed to accompany Jesus through Lent that year and found strength through this prayer. Now, I was sitting next to the composer, conducting a live performance, of this most beautiful setting of this prayer. It was like a gift just for me. Only God knew what I had prayed, and only He could know what an incredible gift it would be for me to hear this prayer that had been pivotal in my faith journey, in live performance, while sitting right next to the composer. It was a gift beyond words.

At that moment, I realized more than ever before, that God hears each one of our prayers. Each one of us is loved. Each one of us is cherished. He loves us so much that He wants to fulfill even the deepest desires of our hearts.

I sat there with tears streaming down, completely overwhelmed by His love.

As we enter this Holy Week, let us realize that this Love is offered to each one of us – He waits for us to come to Him so that He can give us His love.

As we contemplate His ultimate sacrifice this week, let us remember that we have nothing to lose in going to Him except our own suffering, pains, and troubles. We can accompany Him, and in the silence of our hearts, lay down our burdens at the foot of the cross.

Believe me, there is no better offer.

Setting of Anima Christi by Msgr. Marco Frisina, Performed by Choir of the Diocese of Rome

Advertisements

New Year, New Beginnings

Everywhere I turn, I see articles about cleaning-out and organizing.  It’s “out with the old, in with the new,” as the old adage goes.

I recently read a great article by Joshua Becker, an author who promotes “minimalist living” by getting rid of all the “stuff” we don’t really need. In it, he said, “You don’t feel the weight of something you’ve been carrying until you feel the weight of its release.” What truth!

The same process of purging that he promotes for the home, can be effective for the mind and spirit too. How many things do we hold onto that clutter the mind and spirit? How often do we hold onto things spiritually that that hold us back and weigh us down? What would it feel like to live without all this “stuff” – to live freely and unencumbered?

I remember hearing a news story last year about a man in New York who, before Christmas, would open his answering machine to people to anonymously confess things that were bothering them. He said, “People sometimes really just need to get things off their chest and they feel good when they do.”  I remember thinking it somewhat odd that a fraction of what the Catholic Church has offered for centuries in the Sacrament of Reconciliation was being featured as a national news story.

Although most people don’t enjoy that “moment of truth” as they step into the confessional, the exit is always a great moment, marked by a complete freeing and unencumbering of the spirit. The beauty of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that not only can one “get everything off ones’ chest” though, but one can also be assured that God has heard this confession and has given forgiveness. What a beautiful and profound offer!

Yet, even saints, who went to confession frequently, have sometimes forgotten just how much God offers us. Take, for example, St. Faustina. Having believed she had already offered everything to God though her vow of consecration to Christ, she asked in prayer what more she could offer. She was confounded by the response, “My daughter, you have not offered Me that which is really yours.” She continues,I probed deeply into myself and found that I love God with all the faculties of my soul and, unable to see what it was that I had not yet given to the Lord, I asked, ‘Jesus, tell me what it is, and I will give it to you at once with a generous heart.’ Jesus said to me with kindness, “Daughter, give Me your misery, because it is your exclusive property” (Diary, 1318).

God offers to take not only our sins, but even our misery. He offers to take everything that holds us back and pulls us down. It’s up to us to accept His offer though. “New Year’s” happens only once a year, but every day God offers us a life unencumbered by regrets. He constantly offers us new fullness of life, abundant in grace and blessings. It’s up to us to accept this gift though.

It’s up to us, like St. Faustina, to let go of misery and give it to God. We can place it in His hands or put it at the foot of the cross – either way, now’s the time to clean out. Go to confession. Give Him your sins. Give Him your misery. Give it to God…and let it go.

“Few souls understand what God would effect in them if they should give themselves entirely into His hands and allow his grace to act.” – St. Ignatius of Loyola