Bridging the Gap: Thirteen Days
Motivated by hope, not fear, we move toward an eternal Easter
By Bishop David Zubik
It was October 1962. For 13 days in that month, American citizens sat on the edge of their seats, went to church around the clock and, in remarkable fashion, decided to be exceptionally kind to each other. The Cuban Missile Crisis made us all aware of just how fragile is our world and how short are our lives. For 13 days, the governments of the United States, the Soviet Union and Cuba engaged in deliberations brought on by the very real possibility of a nuclear attack.
Even though I was only in the eighth grade at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I have vivid memories of churches being open 24 hours a day, of people being genuinely more kind to each other, of long lines at confessionals, and of people making great sacrifices out of concern for one another.
As tense as the air was during that time of national and international crisis, little did any of us really know just how close we came to the brink of nuclear disaster. Subsequent release of classified information, a number of books on the Cuban Missile Crisis and the widely acclaimed movie, "Thirteen Days," later gave us the snapshot that underscored our national fears in October 1962.
We have just begun a very holy time for all Christians - the season of Lent - which calls forth from each of us many of the same reactions that our general populace had during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but this time motivated by hope rather than fear.
The season of Lent, which we began on Ash Wednesday, is really an exciting time. As human beings, each of us needs to come to terms with the "unfinished business" of becoming holier people. The season of Lent points to Easter, the greatest event that ever took place in the history of the world. But Easter is not simply an historical event. It is also an invitation for us to that ultimate goal of the eternal Easter in heaven.
On Ash Wednesday, the church chose for our reflection a very important teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus gave us the blueprint, if you will, of what Lent should be like, but especially of the attitudes that should be the hallmark of our lives as followers of Jesus. These attitudes were evident at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. They were also evident following the 9/11 tragedy. And they should be evident in each of our lives throughout Lent and beyond.
Quite simply, Jesus calls us to be a people of fasting, prayer and good works.
Jesus says, "When you fast, do not look gloomy" (Mt 6:16). The theological and traditional meaning of fasting is not so much the "giving up" of something, but rather the "making space" for a more conscious recognition of God. Lent is not so much a matter of giving up candy or a cocktail or a cigar, but rather of making way for a greater consciousness of God in our lives. Whenever our bellies are less full or our pleasures are less satisfied, our senses are sharpened to recognize the presence of God and the needs of people around us. The end result, as Jesus promises, is that we will not only look happier, but actually be
Hungers bring awareness
In His instruction, Jesus also says, "When you do good works, when you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you" (Mt 6.2). By becoming more aware of the needs of others in our own fasting, it follows that we become more generous. I am struck by the absolute generosity of the faithful of our diocese to the recent appeal to assist the tsunami victims. As a local church and its faithful, aware of the needs of so many suffering people - literally within days - we were able to pool together nearly $700,000. That kind of generosity from the heart happens when we fast, when we become aware of the power of God within us, giving birth to a generosity that can be repeated each day in Lent and beyond in our dealings with one another.
Jesus further says, "When you pray, go to your inner room and pray to your Father who is in that secret place" (Mt 6.6). Because we are people who become so busy about so many things, Jesus calls us to make that important space each day, and especially in Lent, not only to become more aware of God, but to "chew the fat" with Him about all that is going on in our lives and in our church and in our world. At the same time, that time also affords us with the opportunity to be quiet enough to hear what God also wants to say to us.
Reaction to crises
There is no doubt about it, for the person of faith, whenever crises befall us - either the Cuban Missile Crisis, or 9/11, or the threat of losing our jobs, or the pain of a loved one who is ill, or uncertainty about the days ahead - one of our automatic reactions is to turn to God. But Lent especially provides us with the reminder that we need to turn to God each day, not out of fear and want, but with hope and love.
As you and I continue our Lenten journey, as a people of hope, Jesus invites us once again to be a people of fasting, prayer and good works. My hope is that when you and I reach Easter, you and I together will in fact be more like God, not because of a "Thirteen Days" in October or a 9/11 or other personal traumas, but especially because God loves us and because we love God in return.