During this Lenten Season our focus as Christians is on the Cross--and especially the cross of Jesus Christ. During the rituals of Holy Week, we follow the Passion of Jesus Christ and his executions on the Cross. Especially on Good Friday, after hearing St, John's Gospel account of the death of Christ, we are called to come forward in reference to the Cross. This is indeed the great paradox of our faith.
The word paradox comes directly from the Latin paradoxum, which literally means "statement seemingly absurd yet actually, true." We revere the Cross of Christ because we believe in the reality that it is through the Cross that we come to share in the Resurrection. The memorial acclamation that we recite most often during Lent capsulizes this faith. "Lord by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free, You are the Savior of the world,"
Moreover, by accepting this "cross" of social distancing, self-isolation, withdrawing from crowds, and events, and restaurants we are indeed observing a true and real Lent: forty days in the desert! Forty days when we focus on prayer, when we abstain from so many things that we take for granted, forty days when we become more and more aware of our interdependence with others and our need to act in charity and justice.
The great paradox of the Cross is in the fact that the all powerful Son of God accepted the powerlessness of the Cross to conquer death and lead us all into eternal life. This pandemic has indeed brought us face to face with just how powerless we really are--even in this nation where we enjoy such freedoms and opportunities.
As you may know, the admission of powerlessness is the foundation of most Twelve Step Recovery programs. In many of these programs, the common prayer that the group offers at their meetings is "The Serenity Prayer." We do not know who first composed the prayer, but the one person who is most credited with making the prayer popular is a Protestant Theologian, Reinhold Neibuhr (1892-1971). During Neibur's 30 years as a professor at Union Theological Seminary, he published several versions of the prayer. In fact, the prayer is this most common today is only about one-third of the complete prayer.
Below you will find the 1951 version of Neibuhr's prayer which I offer to you as a prayer especially for this COVID-19 Lent. You will see that it is indeed a most Christian prayer. It is a prayer that grounds us in the realization of our limits and our powerlessness as we acknowledge both the Passion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.
Trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next.