Who is God and who am I?

I entered the art classroom where I had been assigned substitute coverage. It had been a long day. Wearily, I placed my books down. Any thoughts of simply enjoying their artwork were shattered instantly by this 16-year-old boy who defiantly declared, “I am not going to work on any of my projects.” In succession, I tried inquiry, persuasion, and then explanation of consequences — all to no avail. I looked up at the cross and said, “Lord please help me as in a few seconds I am going to give this child detention and that just does not seem the correct answer.” 

As my eyes lingered on the cross, I knew God’s answer. I told the young man that since it was Lent, it was a good time to consider the sacrifice Jesus had made for each and every one of us. The young man could take the cross down and sketch Our Lord, or he could accept detention. For the next 20 minutes, he stared intently at the cross which he had laid down on the workbench. I said, “Lord, thank You. Today that work is more important than his portfolio.” 

I don’t think that before this class that young man had ever sat alone with God for that long. No matter where we are in our Spiritual journey, Lent challenges each of us in a similar manner to the test that young man faced. Namely, to find our own new way to be alone with God. Lent is thus a time of renewal of our relationship with God and perhaps even a time to expand our own understanding of God. St. Theodore Guerin, the foundress of the Sisters of Providence, expressed this well with her words, “Occupy yourself less about yourself and more about God.” 

This ideal is embodied in the traditional Lenten practices of self-denial such as fasting and personal observances of abstaining from foods or activities that one enjoys. In small ways, these represent a giving up of parts of oneself so that one can better focus upon God. One can also choose to focus attention from self to others by simply choosing to see others in a new light. One can open one’s heart to another in need and walk beside him or her in compassion and love. In doing so, one is spending time walking with God. Spending more time reading Scripture, attending Lenten talks, or even spending more time reflecting how to apply God’s Word in one’s life are important ways of focusing attention on the important question: “Who is God?” 

In His earthly life, Jesus set the direct example for us regarding prayer time with God. Before making choices, during work, and after grueling experiences, Jesus went to be alone in prayer with the Father. After each of these times, Jesus came back to the disciples sure of the Father’s will and of how to best direct/guide the disciples in learning, then carrying out the Father’s will. As they grew in Spirituality, Jesus invited the disciples to be with Him in prayer with the Father. Today, that guidance is available to each of us through the Holy Spirit. 

At the start of Lent, Lenten regulations are posted. This reminder is necessary for a community of believers, but can sometimes inadvertently distract us from the essence of Lent which is furthering development of our personal relationship with Our Savior. As we know, Jesus always emphasized the Spirit of the law which is written on each of our hearts. Lenten observances must always guide us to reflect ever more deeply on God’s greatest Commandments: “You shall love the Lord, Your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37-39). A great way to ensure that our Lenten practices guide us ever closer to God is to take the time to understand and then share with someone younger the reasons behind our choices in observances. 

One amazing part of this process is the gift the younger person returns to us. Getting back to that young man in art class, he spent the better part of the next week completing that sketch of Jesus on the cross. He came up to me one day and said, “Here it is.” It was so beautiful that I tried to get him to share it with his mom. He angrily replied, “You said you would frame it!” Needless to say I bought it a beautiful frame. Today, his work hangs above my entryway. I walk below it each time I enter or leave my classroom. For me, the sketch is a personal reminder to look deeply for God’s answer of love. In addition, it is a constant reminder of the important role each of us plays in walking one another home to be with Our Lord for all eternity. 

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer and a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River. biochemwz@hotmail.com

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