Philippa Martyr: A ‘lame’ Lent, redeemed

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God’s power is made perfect in our weakness, as St Paul knew well.

Easter remains holy, no matter how we failed this Lent

I had a rather lame Lent. I don’t know what I expected, given that I know myself quite well by now, but I’m sure I’ve had better Lents.

The whole thing seems to have gone by very quickly. Plus I don’t feel any holier or more improved than last Lent, or possibly even just before this Lent. Thankfully the question of whether I’ve spiritually grown or not during this time isn’t up to me to decide (that would be God’s job). It’s also not related to how holy or improved I feel.

I really feel for the priests who are exhausted by the demands of the liturgy and parish at Easter. They don’t always feel holy, or like they’re doing a good job. Plenty of parishioners are happy to agree with this, sometimes to their faces.

I am certain that St Peter didn’t feel holy at all on Easter morning

Our priests know it’s the Church’s holiest season, and yet sometimes they end up being the very people who can’t really enjoy it deeply. They’re tired and also preoccupied with the many other things that have somehow become their job.

My recent spiritual reading has been a book called The Memoirs of St Peter, by Michael Pakaluk, which is a very raw and very direct translation of the Gospel of Mark. It’s given me a lot of comfort.

It’s a rambling and slightly disconnected series of stories told by a plain-spoken working-class man. He is overcome by awe at times by his own story – words almost fail him. It’s only when we get to the Resurrection narrative that it seems to catch fire. It’s still St Peter – but something has happened; something that has transformed the way he speaks.

Pope Francis touches the case holding the Shroud of Turin after praying before the cloth in 2015 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring
Pope Francis touches the case holding the Shroud of Turin after praying before the cloth in 2015 at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. PHOTO: CNS photo/Paul Haring

I am certain that St Peter didn’t feel holy at all on Easter morning. I don’t know whether he felt any holier when the Holy Spirit descended on him at Pentecost. But I do sense now from this very useful translation that he probably didn’t feel equal to any of the tasks thrust upon him. This included having to sit down later on and tell Mark anything he could remember about Jesus’ ministry.

And yet he went and did these tasks. He may not have done them well. Not all of them, at least. He made mistakes. He was still easily influenced by the ‘educated’ classes who had plenty of synagogue learning. So he stopped eating with Gentiles, perhaps because they told him that a really holy person wouldn’t do that.

It took St Paul to set him straight, and probably in no uncertain terms. But St Paul also wrestled with the idea that we don’t always feel very holy, and that in fact much of the time we aren’t holy at all.

It took God to set him straight, and definitely in no uncertain terms. “My grace is enough for you, Paul, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So this is how it is at Easter – as with all times of the Church’s year. Happy Easter! And I do mean that.