What Being Present This Lent Smells Like

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By Katie Morroni

I prayed about what to take on or give up for nearly 2 weeks ahead of Lent, but didn’t hear an obvious answer. Instead, the more I prayed about it, the more overwhelmed I felt by all I could and should improve in my life to better serve God and His people. And I know well my track record when I try to do ALL THE THINGS. So I walked into Mass on Ash Wednesday and asked once more: “What do you want to do during Lent?” This time, the answer came swiftly: Pay attention. Be present. Be intentional. Focus on the gospel.

Yes! Direction! This I can work with.

The church was filled with a standing-room-only crowd, and yet never seemed quieter or more still. We interrupted that soon, as my daughter worked out some, err… we’ll call it bathroom progress, and everyone in the surrounding pews giggled at her loud sounds. I made the sign of the cross as Mass began, and then excused myself to address the situation. I worked as quickly as I could, but felt like molasses. Twenty minutes and a couple diapers and wardrobe adjustments later, wondering if I would finish in time to receive ashes and the Eucharist, I already felt defeated. I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t focused. I was missing it.

My thoughts quickly shifted: No. I wasn’t missing anything. This is the holiest thing I could be doing right now. I’m living my vocation, and I’m present where I need to be present at this particular moment. This is what God has called me to, and continues to call me to. Dirty diapers (and the clothes, blankets, and other items that stand in their way) are not the extent of my vocation as a wife and mother of course, but right now, they are certainly part of it.

I should add so it’s abundantly clear: I’m not complaining. My daughter has opened up a new depth of love in my heart and I knew (as much as one can know) what I was signing up for. Every day, I wake up excited about the joy and adventures that lie ahead for her! It’s just that I would have liked to hear a favorite priest give (what I later heard was) a beautiful, inspired homily; that was the kind of presence and intention I had in mind when I first received the answer to my prayers. But that wasn’t for me this Ash Wednesday. God called me to stop doing ALL THE THINGS and, n this moment, just do this one.

I did catch the last 2 minutes of the homily (and, to be honest, not much of Mass after), enough to hear the priest quote the Second Reading: “We are ambassadors for Christ.” Is it cliche to say I looked at the diaper bag and now saw its potential as a tool for that very task? Probably, but it’s true. This is where I am 8 weeks into motherhood, and this is what being present and focusing on the gospel looked like for me on Ash Wednesday. Here’s to however it looks (and smells) tomorrow.

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