I know the question is a little backward. But please notice that I am not asking you what you are giving up, or what practice you are choosing, or even how you and the world will be different because of this Lent. Rather the question is: What aren’t you going to do this Lent?
I ask because Pope Benedict announced to the world what he was not going to do during Lent. He informed us that he was not going to lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics as our Holy Father. It’s a pretty phenomenal thing, isn’t it? In his own words, he told the world: “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”
Let me make sure you heard that correctly. After repeatedly looking to his conscience. It was not like he woke up and said to himself, “I’m feeling pretty fallible today, I may as well step down.” Rather, it was after repeated prayer and after repeated reflection on what he was good at and what he was no longer good at, that he realized God was asking him to give up the Papacy. His prayer was not about what he wanted, but about asking God what God wanted him to be doing. And not only did he have the courage to ask that question, but he had the faith to say ‘yes’ to that invitation. He is the first Pope to do that in 600 years.
I’m not sure I have the courage to even ask that question – about St. Ann or the Newman Center – much less than to listen for an answer.
It would sound like this, wouldn’t it? “God, do you still want me to be the pastor at St. Ann… and the director of the Newman Center? I love them both, you know. I really don’t think I want to leave either of them, for a long time, if I can help it. But the prayer that I am afraid to pray and the question I am afraid to ask is the one that Benedict just prayed and asked and responded to: God, do YOU still want me to be doing those things?”
I wonder how different our Lents would be if that was the question in all of our hearts and prayer? “Lord, what don’t you want me to be doing? What good thing am I involved in, (and we are all involved in lots of good things) what practice or ministry or service am I doing because I said ‘yes’ years ago to your invitation, that now you want me to stop doing. Stop, either because I can no longer do it well, and you need your people loved in ways that I can no longer do, or stop, because you want someone else to be in that position or ministry?”
Or, perhaps the question looks like this: “What good thing am I doing that is getting in the way of the GREAT thing that you want for me, for my family, for the school/parish or the world?” When we get so caught up in what we are doing, it is hard to see that God may be inviting us to something different – because our attention is fixed on the things we are already doing.
I think for many of us, a way to approach that question this Lenten season is along the old adage: less is going to be more. It seems most of us run at 110%, always doing, always on the go, always cramming in as much of life as possible. So much so, that we don’t ever have time just to listen, just to be quiet, just to pray that bold prayer: What do YOU want me to be doing, O God?