My first essay for Catholic Exchange, Between Good Fridays, was a Lenten reflection on how motherhood is a short cut to taking up your cross. With the challenge of kids you have no option but to pick it up and go. Lent is about picking up some optional crosses and isn’t that, in some ways, so much harder than the inescapable ones? When have the option NOT to suffer, well it’s an enticing choice. This Lent, I’ve discovered another short cut tied to these optional practices. It’s so very obvious an epiphany I’m a little embarrassed to share it, but given that it took 33 years for me to realize it maybe I’m not the only one.
Most of my life I have seen most pious practices as challenges you could take on once you were strong enough for them. I viewed them as extra work, extra weight. Since they weren’t required and I was clearly not at that level of spiritual maturity, they were not for me. How can I get to daily mass when I can’t even say a good Hail Mary half the time? Furthermore, now was just not the right time in my life. I have little kids. Getting to church other than Sunday just wasn’t in the cards.
Then I found myself needing to pray for something very important. As always, the more I wanted to pray fervently the more I found myself at a loss. In my deep desire to do it right, I could barely get started. So I went to mass. In the middle of the week. Five kids in tow. And it went, great! The toddler whispered a bit, the baby fussed and needed to be taken to the back. But the other members of the congregation were kind and welcoming. The children could see what was going on so much better than on Sundays. Most importantly, for the rest of the day I felt peace because I knew that not just any prayer but the greatest prayer had been said for the intention so dear to my heart.
Now I see that the Church is not presenting me with extra challenges, although that is not to say it isn’t challenging to take on new things. Rather, she is offering me more and more short cuts. If I can just get to mass or adoration, Jesus Himself will do the heavy lifting. Any time I can join in communal rosary or stations of the Cross with my fellow parishioners my only feeble prayers are multiplied and strengthened by theirs. Communal devotions are not harder prayers, they are easier. I’m not a perfect prayer but my Lord is and my brothers and sisters will chip in too. The hard part is just getting there.
Some days getting there is just about all I manage. Beyond that, on days like today, my contribution is pretty pitiful. Distracted, tired, maybe a little cranky if I’m honest, but I got there. The sacrifice of carving out a part of your day at a specific time to sit with Our Lord in adoration, mass, or liturgy of the hours orients your whole day towards Him. This is in itself a powerful act. Yet that was in itself a sacrifice of time and energy I can lay upon the altar along with the rest of the prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day. I got there, and I did my best. I go home and I do my best with the day. This is my prayer.
I’m not pretending daily mass is a breeze. In fact, daily is not a thing I can manage right now and is a luxury beyond the schedules of many. We are going once a week extra to mass and once a week for stations. I hope we can continue the practice long after Lent whenever possible. We shall see. What I do know is that my disposition towards such devotions has fundamentally shifted. I used to see my parish on weekdays as a place to pick up new burdens instead of a place I can share some of my load. Where once I saw a bonus activity for the ready, I now see an opportunity for anyone. What seemed a harder practice for spiritual athletes now seems a simple way to magnify the prayers of the feeblest sinner. Driving to church and participating in communal prayer isn’t the long way round, it’s a short cut. Go head, give it a try. Just take a quick right at your local parish.