“O Happy Guilt” today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. More often than not, when I served as a busy parish priest a glimpse of Lent right around the corner could fill me with dread. But occasionally, in my later years, it brought a calmness not unlike reading a book on the spiritual life by Evelyn Underhill; or spying a bud opening on the Early Elberta Peach tree in the backyard; or a glance around a corner to see a long missed friend dropping by with some time to spare and an inclination to get caught up on one another’s lives.
I remember one Shrove Tuesday when a parishioner left a note in my mail slot, “Fr. Mark, when you get the time give me a call. I need an appointment. Time for a spiritual checkup.” The handwriting didn’t look frazzled. No trace of dreadfulness in the phrasing. If any mood came from the note, it was anticipation—more akin to a visit with one’s travel agent than an appointment for a root canal.
Time for a spiritual checkup. That’s what Ash Wednesday is. And Lent, well, among other things, it is a spiritual shape-up plan for one’s Christian life; a godly housecleaning before a welcome visitor; a spring spading and planting of the garden; or even a long intimate walk with Christ. Repentance, after all, once you commit yourself to it, usually ends in joy.