I’m not one for having a fuss made over me, but must admit that I’ve enjoyed the good job my church has done of recognizing my birthday. Just this morning the children’s Sunday School class sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me–twice. Afterward, one of the young boys asked, “Sir, how long have you been alive?” That is a great question for Lent, and if honest enough to see it through, the answer may surprise us. An Irish monk was once asked: “When do people receive their souls?” Or to put it another way: “When do we really become human?” The monk replied: “As soon as people can say: ‘I could have done that differently’ and ‘More could be said about that’, and ultimately “I forgive you.’ When people are fully conscious of these moments and actually express something of them in their daily lives, then they have clearly received their souls.” The Irish monk’s comment is especially sage for would-be disciples because people who are able to receive criticism and accept advice are the very ones able to break through the isolation with which others insulate themselves.
Lent nudges us to become truly human. We are just that when we accept that our particular way of speaking or acting is not the only way or even the best way; true humanity reveals itself when we become open to change. Whatever we might say about ourselves or the lives of others, there is always something more that could be said. What we’re after as disciples of Jesus of Nazareth is not escape but discovery, and while discovery may be momentarily self-centered, it should never be self-absorbed. We reflect and pray and consider what we could and should be, so that in so doing we prod someone else toward being truly human.