It is during Lent that I feel most closely united with the body of Christ. I do not doubt that this perception owes, in large part, to my personal sufferings due to spastic cerebral palsy. But there's more to it than that.
My confirmation name is Paul. As a 12-year-old, I chose this name in part because I aspired to be a writer — like St. Paul. From an early age, at least intellectually, I began to understand the role of suffering in our lives as a result of St. Paul's writings.
Understanding his teachings intellectually and applying them to daily life, of course, are two different things. Still, I owe my acceptance of my disability largely to his writings. In fact, I am convinced that what he had to say about the subject of suffering is as applicable to all Christians as it is to me.
One verse that has always resonated with me comes at suffering indirectly. “When I was child, I use to talk like a child, think as a child, reason as a child,” Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:11. “When I became a man, I put aside childish things.”
As a child, I thought of Lent as a time of giving up something I liked to eat — usually a snack food such as candy, cookies or potato chips. As a man I see Lent in a different light. Yes, I still believe it's good to give up something I like. But now I want to do more. Lent for me today is an opportunity to draw closer to the Lord as he draws closer to his time of suffering.
Two years go, I challenged myself to begin writing a death-row inmate as a Lenten act of mercy. That act sparked an ongoing correspondence with a condemned man. What started as a Lenten challenge has become correspondence with a man named Mark who has become a true friend. I've gotten to know a person whose heart has changed since he has been in prison. He's also a convert who has since become a Third Order Franciscan. The contact has forced me to put legs on my opposition to the death penalty. I've grown in my appreciation for the sanctity of all human life.
During Lent 2000, I began the practice of regular, weekly Eucharistic adoration. Initially my intent was to offer my time with Jesus and my going out of my way to sit with him one-on-one as an act of reparation. But it soon became a staple of my prayer life. Now I look forward to my weekly visits before the Blessed Sacrament. I've found it amazingly healing to be able to spill every-thing in my heart and on my mind before Jesus present on the altar.
Friends, relatives and acquaintances ask me to pray for them in adoration. I always say, “I will” — but, truth be told, with so much on my mind, I often forget specific names and requests. No problem! Each time I begin my time before the Blessed Sacrament, I state simply: “Lord, you know what people have asked me this week. More impor tantly, you know what they need. Part of this time is for them. Bless it and make it holy.” I know that he hears and answers this prayer — just as he hears and answers all my prayers.
I get so much out of my “face time” with Jesus. What started as a Lenten act of reparation has become a life-changing habit. It has forced me to plan transportation days in advance, work my schedule around that appointed time and go prepared as if all depended on me.
Soon after working Eucharistic adoration into my regular weekly routine, I realized that the fruit I gain from the time I spend with the Lord depends not on me but on him.
Just as Christ led me to Mark (and him to me) through a simple Lenten act, so he has led me closer to his own Sacred Heart. He'll work similar wonders in your life if you'll let him. There's no better time than this present Lent to let him get started with something new in your life.
Bill Zalot writes from Levittown, Pennsylvania.
- March 7-13, 2004