Lenten Poor.

Poverty comes in many forms. It isn’t just financial. Trust me, as a priest I find that some of the poorest people I’ve met in my journey have had the largest bank accounts and the weakest spirituality. The love of things that will pass often drive people to insanity as they chase the elusive dream of happiness through objects of little permanence. True giving is mostly foreign to them and the most content, the happiest, are those who give with the way we should love, with wild abandon! 

I, personally, find that I am living in what I call a perpetual Lent. I am somehow never salvageable, never free, never loved, never quite whole; never safe. My past mistakes and transgressions are never far from my next thought, as I never find myself able to feel forgiven or a recipient of God’s grace. As easily as I forgive and give grace, I withhold to myself with rare exception. Perhaps it is why I built Saint Miriam, for people like me, who hurt and despair that they are not good enough for God. And while I am still here, despite the threats and wishes of a few with loud and penetrating voices, I am still living in my Lent. I am poor.

Now, to be clear, I am not living in the poverty of some, or on the streets like those we care for with our outreach, and I make my way in the world within a comfortable two-income household (although three kids make a huge dent via groceries!). But I am poor because I have lost things that I never thought I could. I almost lost this parish to a pandemic. I lost friends and parishioners who I thought loved me but betrayed me over lies. I lost the naïve trust in others I once so easily enjoyed daily. I lost my dad, and I lost my mom, too, and now that day of my nightmares has come, and I am an orphan once again. I was adopted as an orphan by my wonderful parents, but I know that now since mom is gone, I return to being an orphan again. So, yes, I am poor in many ways. That is why I see a therapist so that I can try to heal and not lose my mind while I desperately try to help others like me.

I am also in poverty because I almost lost my second son. Caleb was seriously ill, and we almost lost him, too, and daily we continue to deal with his health issues and protect him. He is whole in so many ways and certainly has beaten the odds, but his constant medical needs have taken a seat deep within Katelyn and I and we worry constantly. So, in that way, the way of worry, I am also poor.

I am also in poverty because I am highly guarded, I don’t share as much on social media as I once did, and I meet with people only with my office door open, and with someone directly outside my office to prevent anyone from accusing me of anything untoward. I also feel hurt every single day. I pray every day and I weep often. I am unsure of my place in the world anymore, I am not even sure I should be a priest any longer. Perhaps I will never feel whole again. So, I am poor in this respect, too. 

Proverbs (26: 22-24) reminds us directly:

Rumors are dainty mortals

That sink deep into one’s heart.

Smooth words may hide a wicked heart,

Just as a pretty glaze covers a pot.

People may cover their hatred

With pleasant words

But they are deciding you. 

I suppose this is why I sink deeply into every Lent. Lent is a time to turn back to God and a time to allow God to correct our mistakes and to remind us of how we hurt others. It is a season of the liturgical year which calls us to a deeper time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to orient our lives even more deeply toward Jesus. Lent is an invitation to interior conversion, and every Lent I pray I will not only find my own way to that goal, but also, maybe – just perchance – be able to leave my perpetual Lent to feel the joy of a new Easter.

May I one day be what I pray for all you: whole and happy. 

Blessed Journey. Blessed Lent. 

Monsignor +Jim

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