So what to do with that box of candy? A seemingly trivial question given the depth and seriousness of the choices laid out in today’s readings but relevant for some as we rise this morning with hints of ashes still marking our foreheads taking in the gifts exchanged today in the name of friendship and love. Per the National Confectioners Association 36 million heart shaped boxes filled with chocolate will be gifted for Valentine’s Day. How ironic that this shower of love tops the list for our sacrificial offerings for Lent.
One socially conscious website claims chocolate and sweets are second of ten in the items most given up for Lent along with alcohol, cursing, gossiping, social media, television, junk food, smoking and soda. This list is only a small reflection of things that in excess can separate us from intimacy, presence and deeper connection to God, family, community and the outer world.
Lent can be a time to sacrifice something we "love" or peel away things we deem a hindrance in the greater scheme of things to create a space to open to and restore our intimate relationship with God. A time where willpower alone does not keep us from succumbing to temptation but rather the realization of our renewed dependence on God’s grace working through us. It is a time of disciplined practice, mini surrenders and acts of self-surrendering service which lead us towards the greater challenge and call to pick up our cross and follow Christ.
The other morning while walking I looked down at the sidewalk just as I was reframing a relationship struggle with a more positive, heart opening, life affirming response. I realized when viewed with the eyes of grace that I wanted to and could respond from a place of greater love and intimacy. Less affirming choices must be shed to make room for God to work in me. In that moment I looked at the ground and smiled. There lying at my feet were dried pine needles forming the letter "Y". It seemed to me a whisper of grace rising to confirm my brewing "Yes," to the fullness of life and love as if to say "That’s it. Move towards that which gives you the capacity of a greater, deeper love" I picked up the pine needles and looking with fresh eyes at the lines of the "Y" spread upward and outward I thought, "Those are resurrection arms."
We have grown up with the image of Christ’s arms stretched across the hard form of a cross. Stripped. Nailed. Surrendered, with love. Christ’s victory pose is one of arms reaching up and outward, breaking free of all the shackles that have held the human race in bondage throughout the ages. Arms raised, breaking free of death and curse, leaving nothing untouched by grace.
As my brother-in-law Charley wisely shared, "The Lord can only open the door; the rest is up to us." On this day of celebrating love, we remember love is a moment to moment choice. It requires a leap of faith "Yes" into the Mystery with a heart of faith and Christ as our guide.
M. Walsh is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa in Sierra Madre and friend of the Passionist Community.