The Struggles of Change

Here we are in the fourth week of Lent. We are just over halfway through. We have been here before! How are we doing in this season? Lent has been […]

Here we are in the fourth week of Lent. We are just over halfway through. We have been here before! How are we doing in this season? Lent has been a customary time for adding some sort of action, practice to our Christian life, as a sign that we indeed want to change, be further converted on our journey to and with God.

There are different approaches to this. Some indeed choose some sort of practice by way of prayer or acts of charity, as well as the traditional acts of self-denial. The self-denial is not merely about doing something difficult, but it ought to be about a reminder to turn our mind away from self and towards God and our neighbor.

I would think there are some others who, while paying attention to Lent, decide not to do anything special because one ought to be living the Christian life all the time. And so Lent may simply be a reminder to do that, as we look again to celebrating Holy Week and Easter and the renewal of our baptism.

One year it was suggested to me by a spiritual director to pay attention to what gifts Lent might bring to me in that year. The idea of Lent bringing something has other implications. Over the years Joan Wilichowski, the former secretary at St. Anthony’s, and I would have conversations about Lent, that it seemed to bring its own issues each year: this could be by way of blessings as well as challenges and problems to solve.

All of this has something to do with change. There is nothing so permanent as change. As life goes on, we are given many things to deal with on the journey with God. Regarding Lent, I have always connected this liturgical season with the season of the year in nature. In the northern hemisphere, Lent comes in late winter and into spring, a changeable time of year. And it has also occurred to me that the kinds of change that come with spring are different from the changes of autumn into winter.

It seems to me that the changes of spring are often more tumultuous, while those of autumn are more calm and gradual. With the end of winter, the snow comes and goes, the winds blow and it can be more the season of storms and tornadoes. I often think of spring as the “muddy season” when one’s favorite paths in the woods have their puddles and muddy places. In many years, the fruit trees get fooled by early warmth, and then the blossoms get nipped by new frost.

I recall, from one year in grade school, a day in March when my brother and I were out tossing around a baseball and then during the night there came a snow storm leading to one of the few snow days we ever had during those years. Perhaps I exaggerate.

But, the season of Lent and the season of spring are about changes, whether we choose them or whether they are handed to us. There may be the temptation to stomp our foot and say “I don’t like change,” and somehow resist or simply wish something would just go away. Rather soon, we get beyond that childish response and decide what to do. If we have lived for a while upon the earth, we know that life is full of moments for “letting go.”

We let go of passing experiences, relationships, favorite ways of doing things, and many, many material things. We move on in gratitude, often sad that some things have disappeared, but glad to have had the experience. Sometimes our letting go is difficult, like stormy spring days. Sometimes it is peaceful, more like quiet golden days of autumn.

This year Lent has brought a significant change to my life. In February I experienced heart bypass surgery, with all the implications that has for one’s life. Until this winter I have considered myself rather healthy. But after conversations with the doctor, certain tests were ordered and blockage was discovered in my heart. And so, the surgery.

I feel as though I have left something of my life behind and have begun a new phase of medical concern and attention. Any of you who have experienced such things know what I am talking about. There are different times in our lives when we leave something behind to move in a new direction. Over the past year I have moved from Michigan to Wisconsin and now have moved from one state of health to another. Once again, Lent has brought its own “gift” to deal with.

And so, whether in Lent, or spring, or any other time, as changes come and go, we do well to admit them as part of life’s reality. We learn to accept or let go as needed. We can go back to the suggestion to look to the gift or blessing in Lent or any season. There is no implication that this is easy or simple, but it seems a good way to go.

-Fr. Tom Zelinski OFM Cap.

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