Lent was difficult this year, and the Triduum was no exception, and although I had difficulty in prayer and was, for the first time in recent memory, tempted to NOT attend the Triduum liturgies, I went and worshiped as planned. Non-Catholic friends of mine sometimes question why we Catholics are so "ritualistic", and my answer is this: because our rituals do not let us fall into the dictatorship of emotions, but rather help us to honor God because He wills it, even though we may will the opposite.
I am grateful, therefore, for our Triduum "rituals", for they help to sanctify we weak souls who would prefer to flee and "do our own thing".
One of the blessed things about the Triduum, however, was time off from work and because I plan my life to avoid "errands" and other things, I was able to spend some time working on my Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. During Lent I went on retreat and my wonderful teacher and friend, a dear, faithful Religious Sister looked at it with her discerning eye and explained to me some new techniques required by this particular Icon. So it was that during the Triduum, even though I had difficulty with mental prayer, God drew me into the Icon. Even though I am still a student and therefore still focus on technique, it was very prayerful for I was able to speak to our Blessed Mother, to Jesus, and to the Archangels Michael and Raphael.
They responded by guiding my clumsy hand that held the brush, and I was amazed at the effects. Although I continue to make mistakes and see them long after the paint has dried, more and more I am gaining confidence, wondering if, perhaps, one day, I will truly be able to call myself an Iconographer.
The Homily on Holy Thursday was given by a priest ordained only a year ago, and he revealed to us the Bible verse engraved upon his chalice, from Psalm 90, "..Give success to the work of our hands."
His homily struck a chord with me, for ever since, when I approach the Icon I have been praying those holy words. The Icon I write now is ultimately not for me. For whom do I write it, but for God? I write it to give Glory to Him, to ponder on His Incarnation, to meditate upon the Mystery of the Redemption. It is the most Sacred of arts, yet I do not know where it will end up. So it is that I pray it as I go, begging for intercession, praying for success to this work of my unworthy hands.
Who am I to open a window to Heaven? Who will gaze through this window? Who am I to co-create it with God?
In God's eyes, I do not know the definition of "Success". When I was in high school and college, and in my young adult years, at the "threshold of the universe", I thought "success" was primarily defined by financial means, and the elevation of status within one's chosen field. These days, I see things differently and I have learned the hard way that "success" according to God may not be anything I envision in my fallen perception.
We have all come through Lent with varying levels of earthly "success". What does that mean?
Many of us think we have 'failed", but have we really? If our failures have brought us to the Throne of Mercy, they are not failures but successes in self-knowledge, a huge gift of Grace. If our "failures" have revealed to us something that keeps us from God, then we must recognize a gift given from God's heart to our own.
If our Lenten "failures" have reminded us that of ourselves, we can do nothing, and therefore we have NEED of a Savior...then we have not "failed" so much as been brought closer to Jesus through a breakdown of our Pride.
When we pray, therefore, for "Success", we have to recall that the ways in which we define that word may differ drastically from God's own definition.
As of now, as I pray for success for the work of my hands, specifically for my Icon, I don't know, exactly, what that means. In practice I am praying for my hand to be guided, for my intellect to be informed, for my will to be strengthened, for my Pride to be overcome; for I will and I MUST make mistakes and accept those as I go. It is the mistakes that teach us the most.
It is the mistakes we make, whether in Iconography or in other areas of life, that lead us to ask the most heartfelt and sincere questions.
It doesn't matter if our Lent was a big Ol' "FAIL". It doesn't matter. It is behind us now. For those of us who got out of Lent with nothing but this lousy FAIL t-shirt, it is time to let it go and rejoice, not in ourselves, but in Our Lord who foresaw our big fat FAILS long before He was crucified for them.
It is time to celebrate, and if we have failed, then we have a great gift; that of being able to celebrate, purely, the Resurrection, for we can recognize it has nothing to do with our own merit, but Our Lord's. It is a great gift, and we should recognize it as such, for this gift is meant for our own humility. It is my untried theory that we who have difficulty in Lent both need to grow in holiness and need to grow, most specifically, in humility.
And yes, that hurts, and it hurts even more to admit it in public. But then again, for those who know us...is it any surprise that we need that lesson?
Is there, truly, anyone who WOULDN'T benefit from an increase in humility?
We have to remember that none are perfect, we are still being created, and like an Icon, are incomplete until we are with God for eternity. An Icon is not truly an Icon until it is Blessed in a special way, and that is what makes it worthy of veneration. So it is with the Saints - and we are ALL called to be Saints, should we choose to cooperate with that Divine Invitation.
Therefore, let us all pray together, with and for each other, to rejoice in the Resurrection of Christ, and for the blessing of success to the work of our hands...all for Him and for His Kingdom, unto Eternity with all the Blessed.
A Holy Easter to you all, and may God grant you all success to the work of your hands. Amen!