No, that title is not clickbait. It is an expert-tested, witness-verified, math-crunched fact. I tripped up one of my Lenten penances literally within the first 13 minutes of Ash Wednesday.
Have you ever heard that joke where a person’s praying, saying she’s doing pretty well so far—she hasn’t snapped at anyone impatiently, sworn, eaten chocolate, or charged her credit card—but she’s going to get out of bed in a minute, and she’s really going to need help then? Well, courage, Sister, because I didn’t even make it out of bed.
Here’s what happened. I decided to give up YouTube for Lent, so I thought I’d treat myself with some videos the night before. But then I lost track of time (and prudence), and before I knew it, it was 12:13 a.m. Ash Wednesday morning.
Let it never be asked why Mardis Gras is not a Church holy day.
Like I said, not clickbait. Hardcore, brutally honest, grit-your-teeth-and-admit-it truth. But, thanks to Jesus, the truth will set you free.
I said I failed Lent within 13 minutes, but let me amend that: I as a limited human being would label that as a failure; God wouldn’t. He sees that dastardly last episode of TwoSet Violin as an opportunity for me to experience His mercy; for His grace to strengthen me for the next time; and for Him to wrap me in that Love that’s unlike anything any of us have ever known.
There’s a line I love from William P. Young’s The Shack. (Quick note: there are some theological and doctrinal issues in that book, so a word of caution to read it with a grain of salt and a Catechism handy). Forgive me—I don’t have a copy, so the words will not be exact, but while this is not a carbon-copy quote, it is a close approximation. In the story, God the Father says, “Let’s say I know you’re going to fail 43 more times before you get it. You fail and think, ‘Argh, I did it again.’ But I don’t see it as a failure. To Me, that means just 42 more times to go, and another step in you growing closer to Me.”
That’s the love of the Father. He doesn’t want us to beat ourselves up. That’s not who He is. When we skin our spiritual knees, He wants us to call for Him, tell Him what happened, take His hand, and let Him haul us to our feet again. And that doesn’t just apply to that yielded cup of coffee, snuck-in peek at TikTok, or conceded episode of Netflix. It also applies to the sins we’re most attached to.
There’s an episode of the TV series The Chosen (what’s that? you haven’t watched it yet?) that cuts to the heart of this. Does it take some creative liberty? Yes. But I think it portrays the God's intense mercy perfectly.
In Season 1, Episode 1, Jesus frees Mary Magdalene from her demons. In Season 2, however, the disciples—including Magdalene—are in a tough spot. They’re running out of food. They have no money, no resources. So Mary Magdalene takes matters into her own hands.
Next time we see her, she’s back in her old life. She has exchanged herself for some money. She’s gambling that money to get more. She’s drinking to drown the regret.
When Matthew and Simon Peter finally find her to bring her back, she tells them, “I can’t…He redeemed me, and I broke again.”
I know He redeems me every day. And each time, I take my life, my comfort, my happiness, into my own hands. And I break again.
But that’s not the last word. Magdalene eventually comes back. She approaches Jesus. She tells Him what she did. Lets her heart break before him.
And He tells her she’s forgiven. Just like that.
There is absolutely nothing we can do that is outside God’s mercy. St. Faustina once wrote in her diary, “I nestled close to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus with so much trust that even if I had the sins of all the damned weighing on my conscience, I would not have doubted God's mercy but, with a heart crushed to dust, I would have thrown myself into the abyss of Your mercy.” (Emphasis mine.)
God is aching to give us that burning, reckless, I-live-and-die-for-you mercy. All we have to do is let Him pick us up and tuck us against that Heart that beats Blood and Water for us.
Happy Ash Wednesday.