My Dear Folk,
When I was in grade school, I learned how to play the clarinet. My older sister had played one, ultimately in the University of Minnesota marching band. So the instrument was there to be handed down. When the chance for musical instruction in my school became available, my parents thought it would be a good idea for me as well. I have to admit that I was an indifferent musician. I didn’t like to practice, and therefore seldom did. My progress reflected that fact.
So while a career as a professional musician eluded me, I nevertheless learned something very important through that experience. If one wants to gain a skill, there is simply no way around actually doing the thing. Study and practice, gaining experience and trying again, learning through the mistakes and confirming the successes through repetition. I didn’t practice and I didn’t gain any but the most rudimentary skills – and I most certainly didn’t find satisfaction or a sense of accomplishment in the experience.
My point in bringing up this little bit of biography is to point out how often I find that people don’t get this lesson. I find that to be especially the case in the spiritual life. As a priest, I have had many people talk with me about their spiritual lives. There is almost always a sense of dissatisfaction with that part of our life – a strong sense that there is more to be had. The answers are often sought in enthusiasms for a new spiritual practice (e.g., rosary, centering prayer, labyrinth) or the works of a new author of spiritual books. And these may indeed be helpful, good new tools to add to our resources.
But what I see time and again is that fundamental basics are being neglected while enrichment is being sought elsewhere. Someone will say to me that they feel distant from God, perhaps wondering if they should dabble in some esoteric practice. But when I ask about their prayers, or their attendance at Mass, they tell me they aren’t really doing much of it because they feel so distant. Well, yes. If you don’t talk to someone, if you don’t take time to be with them, you can hardly expect to have a vibrant, satisfying relationship with them. We may feel that God has been distant from us when it is precisely the opposite, that we have been distant from him. And then we’re surprised that we feel distant from him. For someone who would be a Christian, there is no substitute for practicing their religion, particularly if they hope to grow in it. And we most certainly can not expect to excel in advanced practices if we can’t manage to do the basics.
All of this has a very practical and timely application: we are about to enter upon the observance of Holy Week. It is the time when the Gospel message of God’s love for us is most dramatically and powerfully proclaimed. We confront not only our own sinfulness (which is, of course, an unpleasant undertaking, but nevertheless all too necessary, for it is reality of our situation). But even more fundamentally we encounter God’s unfathomable love for us – a love so great that he himself bore the cost of our redemption. We hear those words so often that I think we’ve become inured to them. They express an absolutely astounding mystery, a mercy beyond comprehension, a gift beyond all measure.
The services of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through Easter Day, are a great pilgrimage as we re-live that story of the mighty work of our God. They hold before us the love of God made manifest in the most concrete of ways. Year after year I (and almost every other priest I know) encourages participation in those services. I fear that we sound like broken records. Perhaps sometimes our yearly urging to take part results in the very opposite. But please, please don’t let that be the case. The frequency and earnestness of the invitation is precisely because it is a matter of such importance.
So I invite you, I encourage you, to make this Holy Week a priority in your life. Encounter God as we take this journey together. We will pray. We will worship. We will be nourished by His Most Precious Body and Blood. We will marvel at what God has done for us – even while we were yet estranged from Him. And we will seek God’s grace that we may follow Him more and more all the days of our lives. Please don’t neglect such a wonderful opportunity; please make use of these means to grow in your faith, to deepen your commitment, to draw closer to the one who is the Way and the Truth and the Life.
Michael J. Godderz ✠