Browsing From the Pastor's Desk

Making Ourselves Ready

Feb 8, 2018

Last Friday, I had a class last period of the day. And I gave the class a quiz. Neither the students or I were happy about the timing or the activity, so when the quiz was over, neither I nor they felt like progressing further along in the curriculum for the remaining 20 minutes. So I forced them to watch some of my music videos: Huun Huur Tu from Mongolia, Carlinhos Braun from Brazil, Amadou & Mariam from Mali, Youcef Boukella from Algeria. After all that, they demanded I go to YouTube and play “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” a Disney song, they said. Never heard of it myself, but I obliged. I never heard of the movie “Mulan” in which it appears either. It was a big hit with them, however, and they knew all the words and sang along. It was a good way to end the week.

This week, the end will have us squarely in Lent, a few days after Ash Wednesday, plus one more day after Mardis Gras. I suppose Mardis Gras started out innocently enough, but it has devolved into a lot of sinning by some without any repenting the day after.

Mardis Gras is big in New Orleans, as we all know. And Saint Louis has the 2nd largest Mardis Gras in the U.S. A few years ago, I changed my plans to visit Haiti so I would not be there on Mardis Gras on advice of local friends, due to election turbulence there which would mix badly with the local rum. But I was surprised to learn that the culture and Mardis Gras in New Orleans received its color and flavor from the large influx of Haitian immigrants in the early 1800s. Haitians do know how to party hard.

Haiti always gets bad press, and New Orleans got a lot of bad press following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But New Orleans has shown what it is made of and came back from its watery grave stronger than ever.

The Lord will give you bread in adversity and water in affliction.
No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher,
And your ears shall hear a word behind you:
“This is the way; walk in it,” when you would turn to the right or the left….
On that day your cattle will graze in broad meadows….
The light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun
will be seven times greater, like the light of seven days,
On the day the LORD binds up the wounds of his people. Isaiah 30: 20ff

The Lord does bind up wounds, personal, social and civic, if we let Him. But it takes time. And that is what Lent is all about, a time to step out of our normal busyness and focused attention on the machinery and minutiae of our mundane lives, and to focus for 40 days on seriously walking in the way of the Lord. Lent ends with the celebration of the Passion and Death of Jesus on the Cross, on Good Friday. You may think it an ironic title for such a day. (In German it is called Karfreitag, meaning “Mourning Friday.”) But it is “good” in that it accomplished the ultimate sacrifice and act of worship by humanity to God, which made possible our eternal salvation and happiness. So it is good for us to make ourselves ready for that happiness, which God does not force on us but offers to us, something we may freely accept or refuse.

If we use it rightly, Lent makes us stronger. Some of us (I haven’t found a way yet to effectively do this) go to great lengths to take 20 to 30 minutes out of every day to become stronger and more fit for our relatively short human bodily lives. Our Priory students and alums make great use of our gym to do this religiously. How much more important is it then to take 40 days out of the year during Lent to condition our souls for eternity? Just like personal exercise, there are all kinds of ways for you to get your spirit into shape during Lent, like the Stations of the Cross celebrated weekly on Friday evening in the Parish Center.

That song from Mulan my students liked so much is all about the Chinese getting into shape to face the onslaught of Genghis Khan’s Mongols.

Tranquil as a forest but on fire within
Once you find your center, you are sure to win
Be a man
We must be swift as the coursing river
Be a man
With all the force of a great typhoon
Be a man
With all the strength of a raging fire

The Chinese were not immediately successful against the Mongols, but their character and culture had more depth. They outlasted them and conquered them in China from within; they converted them and turned them into Chinese. It was the grandson of Genghis Khan, Qubilai, who became thoroughly Chinese and welcomed Marco Polo and western Christians into China, where they made many converts. It was Western Catholic Christian orders, jealous of each other, whose infighting got them ejected from China. We are our own worst enemies and our own greatest strength, all depending to whom and to what we attach ourselves.

If God is our center, if we train ourselves during Lent, we are sure to win. If we get swamped for a time, we will recover, just like New Orleans, the city where the Saints live.

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