For quite a few of us, perhaps somewhat surprising, Lent is our favourite liturgical season. Considering the choice over Advent and Christmas, I asked myself if this was a hypocrite’s choice because Lent seem ‘holier’. I don’t know if this is a common experience, but every time Lent comes along, I feel a tug in my inner self towards some self-examination. It is somewhat like a spiritual check-in, a stock-take of where my spiritual life is after a year. With some pondering, most of us resolve to do better.
Resolving to “do better” is a desire to be good rather than bad in how we live our life. Despite being armed with God’s graces every day, we will continue to face temptations and have the occasional stumble, the falling out of grace, into sin. We pick ourselves up, dust down, and try again. Sin distances us, so we make the effort to come back closer to God. Every time our spiritual footing slips, we hear the inviting call to return to our God.
Lent began 5 days ago on Ash Wednesday. The first line out of the readings was, “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God”. Lent is about this call: Return to the Lord your God. ‘Returning’ applies to everyone.
The name of this blog, “Always Returning” was inspired by this realization that everyone is in this returning process. When we started working on the ministry to welcome returning Catholics, in our simple minds, we too assumed “returning” was coming back for Sunday mass. That, on hindsight, is only an early marker. When we tried to reach out to Catholics away from church, and because they are not there, we needed the help of the community to reach the someone only they know who are away. We were met with responses such as, “I don’t need it”, “I come to church every Sunday”, and “I am not lapsed”.
We must all realize that attendance at mass is not the end point of our returning journey. We are always returning even if we have never left the church. Always returning is about our response to come closer to God in how we live our life. Coming one step closer invites us to take the next step; God draws us closer and closer. He desires for us to be ever closer to Him. We will realize that there is no end point to this closeness. No end point where God says, “stop”. It is infinity, as life is eternity.
People who are away from church, whose attendance is a zero on Sunday mass are also always returning. They are simply at a different stage of their faith life from those sitting in the pews. Our God is always willing them to return. Can they who are outside Sunday mass live a life holier than some who are ever-present every Sunday? Judge not, know that we are all “always returning”.
Realizing this is POWERFUL. It gives us that impetus to get closer without fear of judgement, and only with affirmation and fulfilment. Realizing this will propel us from passive into active faith; we go from lukewarm into discipleship. Many returning Catholics are now fronting the ministry who helped them along their returning process. From where they came from in their spiritual life, they have a lived experience of “always returning”. What about us, in the pews?
This Lent, as we go into our desert, our fast and self-examinations, we can think of reaching out to those we know who are away from the sacraments. In Isaiah last Friday, “This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
After all, all of us are “always returning”.
1st Sunday of Lent