This was the year that I was going to be extra holy.
I was going to celebrate Lent.
The very idea made me feel holier. Like I was going to be earning brownie points in Heaven for taking part in an ancient ritual that would draw me closer to the Lord and His suffering.
If anything, it’s made me feel the opposite. I know that on my own, I am wretched. Miserable. Unlovable.
I started out with a bang, giving up fast food and sugar for the season. I should probably take this time to let you know that I’m not a cook and I have a sweet tooth the size of Alaska. This would be a huge sacrifice.
Day one - No sugar. No fast food. I’m practically dripping with holiness. Easy peasy.
Day two - No sugar. No fast food. AWESOME! I CAN DO THIS FOREVER!!!! Maybe I should ask my Catholic friends if I can be canonized. St. Caitlin sounds nice.
Day three - Does the sugar in wine count? Because Jesus drank wine and I really wouldn’t want to be legalistic. Or try to out-holy Jesus. It’s official. Sugar in wine doesn’t count. On the bright side, I passed up the bowl of M&M’s calling out my name. It’s like I didn’t even notice them. I wonder if my roommates would kill me if I threw them all away. Hmmm…
Day four - No fast food. I’m halfway there today. But while I was running between activities, I had the worst headache from not eating. I needed instant energy. Lucky for me, that 5 lb. tub of Nestle cookie dough was still in the fridge. Make that 4.75 lb tub…
Day five - There’s no reason for me to be feeling guilt. Lent is an option. A freewill offering. God doesn’t want me to feel guilt over eating sugar. I’m busy. It’s not like I’m going to get the same instant energy from eating a prune.
After a few more days of this, I decide to relax the rules. Sugar when absolutely necessary, fast food under duress only. I’m not one to add extra rules to my life.
Around this time, my roommates invited me to participate in the Stations of the Cross with them. As a Protestant, I had never participated in the Stations. They were hazier than Lent, thrown to the side of Christianity that was locked up in a room I had never explored before.
As a child, the time leading up to Easter wasn’t sacred. Oh, I participated in waving palm branches like the traitorous people of Jerusalem, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how one could be so fervent one moment and then barbaric the next. Good Friday services were decidedly out of fashion. The Cross was just a moment that we tried to fast forward to. Many Protestants do. The days up to Easter were filled with hand bell choir practice and cleaning the house for relatives. The day itself was long – dressing up, performing in front of the church, and then having a dinner with the family. But it wasn’t special necessarily.
So as I sat in the wooden pew, sandwiched between roommates, boyfriends, and other members of the young Catholic community, everything was made new again through an ancient rite.
I watched as a priest and three young boys made their way through the cathedral. I kneeled, prayed, and worshipped as each station was visited, skipping the “Mary’s” and other parts I didn’t understand or agree with. I wondered if anyone cared that I wasn’t Catholic. If I would be kicked out should I be found out.
But then my thoughts were refocused back on the cross. The dear symbol of suffering and shame.
With every step that he took, Jesus had a choice. Jesus, the holy one, bore the worst punishment known to man. Willingly. When his flesh was ripped open through beatings, he still stood up to carry his cross. His blood was splattered on the ground, dripping down his sides, and still he walked on. Determined to die. Damning himself to save us. You. Me.
In The Passion of The Christ, Simon the Cyrene says something interesting. Indignant that he would be forced to help a criminal, he shouts, “Let it be known today, that I am an innocent man condemned to help a criminal.”
If only he knew the truth of the matter. Yet, I find myself playing the victim card when the truth is that I’m the aggressor.
Nothing I do on my own will change the fact that I’m a sinner. The Lent season has only served to remind me that I can’t do it on my own. If I can’t give up sugar for forty days, there’s no way I can save my soul from hell and eternal brokenness.
It’s all grace.
With Jesus, it’s all beautiful, brutally costly, scandalous grace.
And that is sweeter than a thousand grams of sugar.
Thanks Caitlin for guest posting today! Are you doing anything to commemorate Holy Week or Easter weekend this year? How do you reconnect with the significance of the cross?