I recently accompanied my wife to a conference for her work to, of all places, Las Vegas. Yes, the irony of visiting “Sin City” just days before Ash Wednesday was not lost on me! But I suppose it was my way to honor the old tradition, started by the French, of Mardi Gras by just extending that celebration and getting a bit of a jump start on ole’ Fat Tuesday.
While in Vegas, we were invited guests to attend a reception at the Bellagio Buffet. If you’ve ever been to the Buffet at the Bellagio, you know just what I’m talking about because it is an experience nobody can ever forget. Now, I’m not a huge buffet fan normally. But I do know that most buffets are typically known for something. Maybe it’s the shrimp cocktail. Or the carved beef. Or the waffles. Whatever. But the Bellagio is known for EVERYTHING. And they have it in abundance, quality, and in decadence. They have Sushi, sandwiches, pasta, meat, soup, cheeses, pizzas, ribs, BBQ, and cuisine from every corner of the world and more desserts than one can eat in a lifetime. The top shelf quality and the number of options available at this buffet is just breathtaking. It was overwhelming.
I weaved through the maze of food stations and didn’t know where to start. All around people were walking back to their tables with plates stacked chest high. One guy was balancing three plates on his hands and cradling the food with his chin! He looked like a juggler in the circus. “How can they eat all of that, let alone enjoy it?” My wife asked. I wondered if they would go up for seconds! At one point I gave up and thought: I just want a delicious ham and cheese omelet and a great cup of coffee!
Why am I writing about this when I’m supposed to be delivering a Lenten reflection? Well, sometimes I feel that being a Catholic in today’s world is like walking into the middle of the Buffet at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. On the one hand – we are SO VERY BLESSED. We live, truly, in the Golden Age of Catholic media. There are more Catholic books, website, podcasts, channels, newsletters, blogs, conferences, webinars, ministries, apps, you name it. And so many of these are meritorious. They are from theologians, bishops, priests, PhDs, nuns, and just really smart, devoted, amazing, faithful Catholics who are really super talented at what they do, and they love the faith, and they have a gift and talent for sharing it with others. So, we are blessed.
But, on the other hand, sometimes trying to decide what to consume next in the Catholic world can be like me walking around the Bellagio Buffet: overwhelmed. It all looks so amazing. It is all such great quality. Where do we begin?
And of course, during Lent is when we get an even bigger influx of books and resources available to us. So, the choices are even greater.
But, during Lent, it’s important to remind ourselves what is our objective? Is it to read a bunch of books or listen to podcasts to check off our list? Is it to give up a bunch of stuff? To add a bunch of religious tasks to our daily list of activities? Well…only if those things help you move closer to Christ. Only if those things help you deepen your faith with God and try to draw closer to Him by the end Lent than you were when you were walking around with ashes on your forehead. That’s the point of Lent.
That’s what Jesus did. That’s why he was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert for 40 days. He just had to get away to spend time with his Father. He had to spend time with God. He had to talk with God. He needed to prepare for his upcoming public ministry and his main purpose for walking this earth. I have to think that even Jesus left the desert after those 40 days with a new found perspective. With a different readiness for his public ministry and the journey he was about to embark upon. And I hope that we are different – and better – people at the end of Lent than we are today as well. That’s exciting!
Now, I’m not trying to discredit the great resources we have at our fingertips and discourage from reading or listening. I certainly have a list of books and resources that I’m working my way through. But like that buffet, they can be overwhelming. Don’t fall into the trap of just consuming books and podcasts thinking just the very act of reading and listening will somehow do the trick. It’s still about spending quality time with Christ – not just learning about him!
Try to find a balance. Do what Jesus did when he was in the Desert and make Christ be part of your daily routine this Lent. We don’t have 40 days to just set our lives aside, obviously. But even the busiest among us can do this. Visualize that Jesus is actually sitting next to you. You could be walking, driving, sitting at your desk, in a meeting, in class, watching your favorite streaming service, working out, cooking dinner, whatever. Just living your daily life. And picture that Christ is side by side with you. What is He wearing? What does He look like? What is the expression on His face? And just start talking to Him. What would you say to Him? Have a normal conversation like you would anyone else. Tell him what’s on your mind. What you’re stressed about? What you’re grateful for? What do you need help with? What’s going well?
If you can, stop by St. Francis, in the Chapel, and spend some time in front of the Tabernacle and be with Jesus. We have adoration (where Jesus is “exposed” on the altar) on Thursdays. Try to make time to come to the sacrament of confession during Lent and confess your sins to a priest, who is in “persona Christi” and experience first-hand the mercy of Christ’s forgiveness of your sins. Try to attend a daily Mass during Lent. If this is a new experience for you, it might really be a great experience to celebrate Mass and receive the Eucharist – the body, blood, soul and divinity – of Jesus in the middle of the week. Take a minute to stop and talk to someone who is lonely or looks like they are having a bad day. Maybe someone who is homeless. Help them out. Ask him or her their name. Ask to pray for them and ask them to pray for you. Help restore a bit of their dignity (Matthew 25:40).
As great as our Catholic resources are; get to know Our Lord by going straight to the source: spend time with Christ this Lent. Why gamble with your faith life?
Deacon Alex Barbieri