I am from a small town in rural Pennsylvania, the Poconos. Also referred to as the “coal region” of Northeast PA. Growing up there, our church was truly an extension of our family. Most towns in our area had at least 4 churches in them. That is no exaggeration. Coming into town you can count the steeples. When you consider each town has around 300-500 people in it total, that is a high amount of churches. We took pride in it. The liturgical calendar was how we planned vacations, get togethers, parties, etc. It was one of the first questions when meeting someone new. “Which parish are you from?” or “Where do you go to church?” Religion blended into everyday life as natural as the sunshine. I began Catholic school in 5th grade, and continued through high school, graduating from Marian Catholic High School in Tamaqua, PA. At that time, I loved Lent, because it meant more masses and less time in class. We knew every Friday in Lent we had a shorter day, and what the focus in Religion class would be for about two months.
High School was also a hard time for me personally at home because my parents were going through an ugly divorce. Constantly hearing the fighting, or being around the ill-tempered did not help. It is at this time that I turned to God. I had actively participated in youth group and faith retreats. One of my greatest comforts was in reading my devotional youth Bible. I had post it notes of my favorite Bible verses all over my room and around the bathroom mirror constantly reminding me that I was not alone, and that God’s grace was enough. One verse that stood out to me at that point is James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” I would pray and focus on these verses often. I read my Bible three times in one year. It was so tattered and rough that the binding began to fall off. I was made fun of, called poor, and teased for having a faith, even though we all went to a CATHOLIC school. The town kids at the time were worse. Friends I had when I was younger ended because I went to the Catholic school versus the public school. I felt like no matter where I was, home, school, or outside, I didn’t fit in. I didn’t waver in my devotions. Every night, I had my Bible. At times even crying into it and praying to God abut the trials I faced that day. My nightly devotions were the glue that held me together. After one religion class, Father asked me to stay after. He asked me about my Bible. He said he knew it was well loved, and noticed how tightly I held it. He said it was a positive place to turn when life didn’t make sense. At that point in time, with the domestic issues at home between my parents, kids being mean, and social awkwardness, I needed that comfort. I needed to know I was walking where God was directing me. Father said by the looks of my Bible, I was doing just that.
This Lenten season, I am reflecting back on that time in my life when I truly was preparing my life for His plan. I was stepping aside to follow His lead. I did not look at the trials with a “poor me” mentality. Instead, I marched forward, knowing He held me in His hand. So this Lent, in my preparation for Easter, how am I allowing Him to lead me? What am I doing to be a Stewart for the Church? Am I stepping aside, and allowing God to direct my life? These are my prayers. That I may be a vessel for His works, and His plan. Jesus Christ spent 40 days in the desert in preparation for his public ministry, with constant temptation from the Devil. How am I being tempted? Am I being a witness for my faith? I am not sure of the answer. What I DO know, is that God is good! There is always a reason things work out the way they do. By remembering that Lent is a time for preparation, repentance, and generous good works, I am serving my God. Yes I fast, yes I observe no meat Fridays, and yes I abstain from a luxury. What else am I being called to do as a witness? To reflect on this thought I leave you with this verse from Romans 1:12…”That is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Help me, my brothers and sisters, to be the witness He wants me to be.