|3/23/2017 9:00:00 AM|
Awe in Lent
|This is part of The Evangelist’s ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their formation for the priesthood. Read previous installments under “specials” at www.evangelist.org.|
BY ZACHARIAH CHICHESTERHave you ever been simply overwhelmed by a sense of awe? Think of the most gorgeous sunset you have ever seen. Think of the endless expanse of the ocean or the infinitude of stars in the sky. Think of the first time you held your son or daughter in your arms.
Each of these moments can bring us into a state of awe. I say "bring" us, for awe is not something we make or do for ourselves, but something that happens to us.
It is a God moment: a moment in which God presents us with something so remarkable that our senses cannot take it all in and our minds cannot comprehend it. We might be left breathless, without words. We might even become afraid, aware for a moment how small and powerless we are before God in His majesty.
I believe it is this sense of awe of God which the Lenten season is supposed to awaken in us. Allow me to share how this has happened to me.
Like the engaged man who looks into the endless eyes of his bride-to-be and gulps one last time, "How can I possibly be as good of a husband as she deserves," the moment of lifetime commitment presents itself before my eyes in diaconate ordination. (On the journey to priesthood, seminarians are first ordained as "transitional" deacons. This is different from the permanent diaconate.)
I have been sitting with a sense of smallness for a while, asking myself, "Can God really want me for this? I am not capable of it." These sorts of thoughts are real and have a tendency to increase the sense of my inadequacy. I imagine they are common to most men called to priesthood - or married life.
But, if the story ends here, it is not one of awe, but sadness. The awe entered with a gift.
I have the amazing privilege of beginning Lent this year in the Holy Land as a pilgrim with my class from Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. We began in Nazareth with Jesus' birth and walked with Him to the Jordan River, to Cana, along the sea of Galilee as He fed the 5,000 and back up to Jerusalem.
Here, we contemplate Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, and His subsequent betrayal. On my own, I was able to walk and pray the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross), Jesus' last, sorrowful steps. I walked with Him as He was condemned to death, was scourged, fell and rose, only to be nailed to the cross and die in agony.
I walked the last few steps down from Calvary to pause at the slab of stone on which His body was prepared for burial. I entered the stone shrine for a few brief seconds to kiss the very tomb in which Jesus was laid to rest.
This is God who took upon Himself our human nature and willingly died for my sake.
This is love. He died for my sake. He died so that the chains of sin in my life might be broken. He died so that I might live forever with God, dwelling in Him as a beloved son.
This is awesome for me. Not only does the God of all creation become a creature like me, He dies for me. Now, I don't have to worry about my weakness, for Jesus took that upon Himself. He will be my strength to persevere in the priestly life.
This experience of awe leaves me only one response: gratitude. What else can be done but to say, "Thank you, Jesus."
As you continue your Lenten journey, I pray that, wherever you are, you, too, will experience the awesome reality of God's incredible love for you. On Easter morning, may your lips open wide in a song of thanksgiving.
(Mr. Chichester, a native of Columbia County, is studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese.)
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