Throughout the years I have experienced many different types of Lent. I've experienced the "I probably would have made a good monk" types of Lent. I've survived the "is there even a God" types of Lent. There have been Lents where I experienced the consolation of the Lord daily on my journey. During other seasons of Lent I have felt the dry, barren absence of the Lord right up until the Easter Vigil.
Thankfully each Lent is different and the Lord meets us where we are and where we need Him. This Lent has been one of the most difficult for me. My prayer life has been weak. My resolutions to "give up" things have been laughable. Yet, I'm filled with hope and joy because Lent isn't over. Like this life, there is opportunity to change, to do better, to try again right up to the last minute.
That is also the great gift of Reconciliation. We are able to confess our sins to God, to start anew, and to do this over and over as needed. It's a little Resurrection available to us in this life! It's a great gift that allows me and you to die once more to our sins and be born again.
I know without a doubt that as I walk toward that confessional my tempter is throwing a fit. He is threatening, pleading, accusing, and mocking. I also know without a doubt that as I walk out of that confessional he is plummeting to hell, for a time. He will return and our battle will continue, often over the same sins.
Recently during a time of reflection before Confession, the Holy Spirit helped me to realize that a few of the sins I was preparing to confess I have been struggling with for well over 24 years. Yes, that is a long time. Yes, I want to be healed of those. Yes, I have prayed for healing for much of that time. Yes, I have asked others to help me. Yes, I know, in a way, what the man at the pool in today's Gospel was going through.
For 38 years he had wanted to be healed. For 38 years he had prayed for that healing. For 38 years he had asked to be put in the pool but someone always stepped in his way. He never gave up and neither will I.
There are many lessons in today's Gospel. First, I can learn patience and perseverance. The man in the Gospel struggled for 38 years. So far I've struggled with some sins for 24. However, we're not keeping score by years. This struggle with sin or physical ailments can teach us to be patient with ourselves and others. This same struggle can teach us to persevere because God looks at the heart of our effort rather than the "success". The true "success" comes not when we overcome these obstacles but when we accept them as our cross and, more importantly, trust in the grace of God to help us with that cross.
Another lesson is that there are far worse things than physical ailments and problems. It is striking when Jesus appears out of the shadows and whispers to the man, "Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you." I want to cry out, "what could be worse than being in that state for 38 years!!!?" Yet I know that something worse could happen to him and to me.
Finally, I can see in Jesus' action that there is no wrong time to do the right thing. Charity trumps everything in the end. The reaction of the Jews here is heartbreaking. In response to their question, "why are you carrying that mat on the Sabbath," the man replies, "The man who healed me told me to take up my mat and walk". The Jews reply, "who told you to take up your mat and walk."
They completely miss the picture. They don't ask who healed the man, how he was healed or anything about his healing. The question is concerned with the law alone and their hearts remain closed. They remain in their sin. The once paralyzed man is now free and those who think they are free remain paralyzed by hard hearts.
During the remainder of this time of Lent let us strive toward healing. Let us do what we can but also let us patiently and persistently ask the Lord for healing, even if it is for the thousandth time! Let us all experience the "little Resurrection" of the sacrament of Reconciliation and may all those we meet rejoice in Lord's healing power as we continue to carry the "mat" of daily life.
"Any time is the right time for works of charity..." - Saint Leo the Great, pope
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