In 2011, Ash Wednesday wasn’t until March 9th. It had felt like eons since we had celebrated Epiphany that year. I felt extra ready for Lent because of the late start. I had all my activities prepared to do with our eight children (we homeschool); we had many fruitful preparatory conversations, with much prayer involved in how we would pray, fast and give alms. The previous year, I had started a little tradition for myself– on the night of Shrove Tuesday, after everyone goes to bed, I watch The Passion of the Christ, alone in the dark, with my box of tissues. That night, as I climbed into bed in the dark, I felt especially close to the Lord. I was so excited for Lent to begin!
Though it may seem strange, Lent always held a special place in my heart. I am so weak that I need the external “force” of the penitential season of Lent to constrain my will. In fact, back when I was a freshman in college at the University of Pittsburgh, I lived in the dorm next to the place that had the greatest french fries known to mankind: the Original Hot Dog Shop, aka “the O”. Being true to the prophecy of the “Freshman 15” (the average amount of weight a college freshman gains), I had developed a most unhealthy habit of getting those scrumptious french fries at least once a week. I was a cradle Catholic, but once I was Confirmed in eighth grade, I stopped attending Mass and would not return for more than eleven years. However, during the Lenten season of my freshman year, I gave up O-fries for Lent! I was able to make it the entire season without a single fry because I was “doing it for Jesus”. (Looking back, it was quite miraculous, though I still gained those 15 pounds.)
Once I returned to the Faith at the beginning of my marriage, I still cherished Lent and the fortitude it gave me every year. Our family had discovered the Latin Mass a mere two years before this particular Lent, and it was a whole new ball game, experiencing the ancient Liturgy and the Triduum … and NOT experiencing the never-to-be-covered Risen Lord “crucifix” that adorned the space above the “table” at the Novus Ordo parish we had left behind.
I was awakened on Ash Wednesday by the phone ringing. My son answered it, since he was the only one awake. It was Fr. V, calling to ask if we were coming to his 10:00 am Presanctified Liturgy. [Because we lived so far from our Latin Mass parish, it was difficult to get to daily Mass, so we attended Divine Liturgy during the week at a Romanian Byzantine parish.] I lay in bed, trying to discern if we should go. I decided we wouldn’t because that evening, our family would be going to High Mass for the very first time on Ash Wednesday. Because we had so many little ones at that time, we only attended evening Masses if there was no other option. For most Holy Days of Obligation, we had always gone to the Byzantine Church during the day while my husband attended Mass on his lunch break in the city. But this particular year, our oldest son was scheduled to serve at our Latin Mass parish, so we had decided our family would go that evening, cranky toddlers and all. We would leave right after dinner and pick my husband up at his office in the city, as it was ten minutes away from our parish. I also had specific catechism plans and lessons to do with our children throughout the day. If we went to Liturgy in the morning, our entire day would be completely different, with even some of the activities having to be shelved. So, I decided we would not attend Divine Liturgy and to have our day as planned, culminating in the evening’s High Mass.
The day went beautifully. Interiorly, I was focused on High Mass that evening. I was so excited, and couldn’t wait to receive the Eucharist, especially after watching The Passion. I spent all day aching to receive Jesus, above and beyond my normal yearnings. We were also leaving for a family vacation two days after Ash Wednesday, so we were cleaning and packing in addition to all the spiritual house cleaning we were preparing to do. Our oldest son and oldest daughter even cleaned our van, right down to vacuuming it! Things were looking great. Unbelievably, I even had our dinner ready early enough that we could enjoy a slow, relaxed meal, not having to rush to hurry and leave for Mass. My planning and efforts were really paying off. Faces were wiped clean, church attire was on, diaper bag was packed. The last thing to do was change and dress the baby, which I had begun doing, as I sent our oldest out to start the van, to get it warm for our drive.
This is where time stopped.
He came back in the house and said, “The van won’t start” and then proceeded to explain, “We had the ignition on while we were cleaning so we could listen to music, and we left it on this whole time.” “This whole time” was six hours. The battery was dead.
I called my husband. We discussed what options were available to us at that time and determined that I would borrow my parent’s car (as they lived eight doors down the street and were in Florida for the winter) and take our son and our youngest three to our Church, drop off said son, then pick up my husband, drive him to his car at the park and ride which was a mere ten minutes from our house, then he would return to Church to pick up our son. (My husband had already attended Mass that day, so he wasn’t quite as perturbed as myself.)
Ever hear the saying, “When it rains, it pours”? The monsoon was about to hit.
I left to walk down the street to my parent’s house. Before I was even halfway there, it started to rain. Not just pitter, not just drizzle, but RAIN. I was soaked well before I made it past those eight houses. I was coming to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be attending Mass that night. That all I had hoped for and looked forward to and planned for all day would not happen. That the ache in my heart to see and taste my Lord would not be satiated. Tears started streaming down my face, mixing with the cold rain. Oh the travesty! The disappointment! Couldn’t God see that all my hopes were being dashed? That I had my Lent all planned out and it included my first High Mass on Ash Wednesday and that was being taken away from me?
It was then I recalled the movie from the night before. Jesus in the garden, sweating blood, praying, “Not My will, but Yours be done.” NOT. MY. WILL. Not my will, even when it is good. God doesn’t give us what we want…. even when what we want may be good and right and holy. God gives us exactly what we need. Exactly what we need to grow in holiness. To grow in conformity to His will. God heard and answered my prayers for that Lent to be spiritually fruitful for me; to give me grace to really make it count. The perfect gift He gave? The grace to accept His Will. Because what do I really deserve anyway? Do I deserve to be in so holy a place, experiencing the Mass of the Ages? Do I deserve the priest to be there, absolving me of my sins in the Sacrament of Confession? Do I deserve Jesus to lower Himself — to MY level — and give all that He is…. to me?
I quickly started praising God, rain and tears and bitter disappointment, thanking Him for His most perfect gift on the very first day of Lent. “Yes Lord, I will accept Your Holy Will for my life. Thank you, Lord, for this gift of grace. What a beautiful Lent this will be…..”