by Intern Desk
Ed. Note: This week’s entry was written by Ryan, a JEVA intern and student with the Franciscan School of Theology:
Last week on Ash Wednesday began the season of Lent. It is generally thought of in terms of penance and fasting leading eventually to the Easter time of celebration. This season is a good reminder that as with many things in life and faith, the way to joy and celebration can lead through the path of pain or suffering. Christ certainly dealt with that, but I also see that in the men that go through the Fr. Alfred Center, a year-long drug and alcohol rehab center at St. Anthony’s.
Twice a week, I am blessed to listen to the stories of those making their way through the Father Alfred Center program who struggle daily with the disease of addiction. These men come to share their stories with not just me, but usually a group of twenty or more from high schools, colleges, and other career organizations. They often reveal their inner most pain and weaknesses as they share their immense struggles battling with their disease. Prison, homelessness, poverty, violence, knife and gun wounds, broken relationships, loss of dignity, shame and regret have been their unwelcome companions on their journey. For many it has taken years to recognize their addictive illness as the source of their misfortunes and often times even more years to admit that they cannot get well on their own. When that time comes however, their season of Lent begins especially once they begin at the Father Alfred Center. Certainly there is suffering as they fight their illness, but what I hear more often is that the healing process provides for them a time to examine how their illness has influenced their past decisions, and how it has affected those around them and themselves. They begin to accept the past, recognize where they failed to love others or themselves, ask forgiveness and learn to forgive themselves. Eventually, they begin to dream about the exciting future possibilities for their life. Their journey through pain and suffering is nothing to celebrate, and yet it contains the seeds of joy and brings them to their Easter!
I think we can learn a lot from these men and their Lenten journey. As human beings, we are most truly human when we become what we were created for, to love and to serve God by loving and serving each other, and their season of Lent is bringing them back to that sense of wholeness and purpose. They struggle with a disease that is very misunderstood in our society as choice and illness become intertwined. However, like any disease, it involves a period of recovery and for them their prescription for health requires a lot of soul searching and brutal honesty. Each time I listen to them I’m astounded at their courage to share their vulnerabilities with so many people. Do I have the strength to admit, even to myself, my own weaknesses and failings? These men and this season remind me that it is in my best interest to do so. Lent is very real for them and evident in their words, and they challenge me to make Lent real in my own life. Too often, I let this season go by without really examining where my life is headed, where I failed to love others, where I need to ask forgiveness. Yet, Christ reminds us that, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (Jn 12:24) As these men make their Lenten journey, I am challenged to journey with them during this season. What needs to die in me so that when Easter comes it will be a time to rejoice because Lent has remade me and produced as much good fruit in me as I see in the men at the Fr. Alfred Center?