A Lenten Journey in Paris

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the ninth, and final, reflection in the Missio Lent series. Read the rest here.

One of our family’s most treasured joys of living in Paris is regularly worshiping with others at the American Cathedral. Each Sunday, people from all over the world enter the Cathedral’s doors and worship God through prayer, liturgy, music, and the Eucharist. Oftentimes, these same individuals return during the week to the Cathedral to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and perform shared acts of service. Still others take the good news into their places of work, homes, and neighborhoods.

We don’t miss the significance of community here, that together we share this sacred space with sojourners who are far from home – temporarily or permanently – and living out their vocations in a strange culture, city, and language. “Strangers in a strange land” is an oft- repeated biblical phrase in our community, but somewhere along the way, as it has for us, the “strange land” begins to feel like home. Despite the variety of our backgrounds, our shared bond of communal worship enriches our vocational calling, helping us to further the work of God.

With Christians the world around, we too are observing Lent in Paris. Lent is a journey that plunges us into the reality of God’s plan for the world. It begins with the imposition of ashes: a personal mark signifying the individual and communal movement into the suffering, sacrifice, and eventual celebration of the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. Traditionally, we’ve observed this holy season by giving up an indulgence, or taking on a worthwhile task—something that tangibly helps to remind us of Christ’s foray into the desert and His eventual triumph over death and destruction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt our beloved American Cathedral in Paris, many members have gone through a community exercise during Lent in which we have grappled with some challenging reflections in relation to our church: “What are the greatest spiritual needs of our church and our community of Paris? Where are our weaknesses? Where is God calling us? What barriers are preventing us from fully implementing this call?” As we have begun to look at our church’s collective vocation as part of strategic planning, we are coming to a deeper awareness of the barriers and weaknesses that keep us from not only achieving a deeper understanding of God’s call, but also the ability to carry it out.

It would be easier to skip this exercise altogether and devise a list of strategies in a meeting, but how would we intimately connect with God’s process? It may take us a little longer to distill the conclusions, and at times it feels very daunting, but we believe that there is a renewed vision for us that will become clearer through this intricate, still somewhat murky, process.

This strategic exercise during Lent, alongside our annual Lenten food drive, an in-depth study on the Eucharist, a weekly gathering dedicated to silence, and our youth’s preparation for their upcoming pilgrimage, have all helped us to deepen our Lenten journey, cultivating a sense of longing for the rebirth that the Easter season will bring. It’s a blessing to be able to journey into Lent with a community that’s in the process of grappling with these big questions.

But what can this journey teach us about our individual vocations? A great deal, I think. Lent is a time to examine our habits and our hearts, including how we imagine our work and how it ties in with God’s plan for the world. Our Lenten journey can enable us to discern a new vision for how God would like us to see the world, and our role within it.

When we take up Lent as a call to deeper vocation, we begin the process of breaking down the perceived distinctions between our so-called “public” and “private” lives, or our “secular” and “sacred” selves. We allow God to raise a powerful magnifying glass to the ramparts we have constructed to justify how we spend our time, talent, and treasure. We discover that that we may be falling short of unifying what we do vocationally with what we are called to do by God. We are humbled by what we discover and also by what we lack. We may realize that our career successes aren’t as fruitful as we had imagined them to be, or that our hard work is not answering the deeper questions and purpose of our work. We may come to see that our habits and choices in the workplace may be a source of pain and suffering, both for others and for ourselves.

Yet our journeying in Lent doesn’t end with a focus on our failings. Rather, we meditate on Jesus’s time in the desert, which was replete with “private,” lonely temptations but nonetheless critical to his public ministry. As much as meditating on Jesus’s time in the desert may help us identify our distractions and misplaced efforts, it can also enable us to refine and distill our vision of vocation so that it may more closely align with God’s.

In the desert Jesus triumphed over the temptation to forsake His intimate relationship with the Father and his very identity, and moved fully into his life’s mission during His time on earth. By his example, we are beckoned to keep going, asking for God’s guidance on how we can better unite our hearts and vocation with His purposes. Just as God was with Jesus continually in the desert, God is ever-present with us, continually nurturing us on the path to be seekers of justice and promoters of righteousness.

Jesus’s desert experience, full of deep suffering, honed his own sense of vocation, and he emerged from that time of trial empowered for work as the greatest living hope the world has ever known. That is a powerful vocational lesson for us in Lent. Jesus didn’t endure loneliness and temptation on a beautiful mountain top, but rather in a parched and lonely desert. Our Lenten journey is not only about the sins and temptations within us, but also about the evil within our world. Lent can be a time to open our eyes to rampant inequality, injustice, poverty, and hunger and to recognize our role as agents of renewal, hope, and redemption. Although our journey can seem just as lonely and desolate as Christ’s in the wilderness, the good news that came out of Christ’s journey in the desert is that we already know the outcome of God’s vision for the world.

The triumph of Jesus means that the end is not despair but promised renewal and restoration. Therefore the purpose of our daily work is not merely to make a living; it is a continual opportunity to align ourselves with God’s vision for the world, no matter the amount of suffering, pain, and injustice we may face in the process.

Lent’s journey concludes with a hopeful gift, born out of suffering and humility that we eagerly wait to unwrap on Easter Sunday: redemption for all people and all things. It is a journey through and into Christ so we may more fully become participants in the Kingdom of Heaven. May we pass through the season of Lent, having learned that we need to submit, and ask God to transform us so we may better unite our hearts and vocations with God’s purposes. May we find comfort that our Lenten journey, both as individuals and as the body of Christ, is a continual invitation to recognize that all that we have and all that we are, are part of God’s plan for renewal.

As we journey towards Easter Sunday, may this new found Lenten humility sharpen within us tenets of love, grace and mercy so they become unavoidable callings that permeate all areas of our lives. Throughout this desert time, let us grow in our identification with the Christ of the desert, shattering our attempts to quarantine God’s plans from our own. May our “Sunday belief” become characteristic of every day of the week, wherever we are called. Let us find immeasurable joy as our daily labors become active ways to live out God’s mission for a hurting and broken world. Let us find purpose in our new identity that all that we have and all that we are, are wrapped in God’s plan to be fruitfully multiplied in furthering the kingdom of heaven.

God’s call in Micah 6:8 to “do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly” is a Lenten call. Our challenge is to open up and allow this call to deepen our vocational understanding so that we may let go of what keeps us from being full participants in the joy, hope, and newness of God’s vision. With His help, Christ’s own journey in the desert can guide us so that we can welcome Easter Sunday with a newness of heart that permeates all areas of our lives. May this newness of heart leave us with a burning desire to echo God’s vision in all places and all things, continually reaching with outstretched hands to an ever-loving God.

Katherine Millen Worré has worked in the field of fundraising and development with an emphasis on transatlantic giving for the past 14 years. Hailing originally from Alberta, Canada, she moved to Paris from New York City seven years ago.  While in Paris, she has consulted with various international and Anglophone organizations to help them achieve their development goals. She holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University and an undergraduate degree in political science and sociology from Seattle Pacific University. She currently serves on the Vestry of the American Cathedral in Paris, where her and her husband are parishioners. They have one son and are expecting their second this Easter. Their family life in Paris wouldn’t be complete without their beloved collie, Glasgow.

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