joepirilloThere we sat in the pew on Ash Wednesday. The children had their hair combed, including Joseph with his occasionally unruly tuft of hair; and if memory serves me correctly, they also had shoes on. (Can someone say, “Bonus points”?)

We were set to make a solid go of Lent 2012. By the time Easter rolled around we would be, with God’s grace, ready to celebrate his resurrection. We filed out of the pew and headed up for the ashes. Teresa and John walked in front. Upon approaching the altar, Teresa picked up John. He wiggled and shook his head a bit. Then he mumbled some words, continuing to do so as he returned to the pew. Once we were all seated, I asked Teresa, “What is the matter with him?”

John, leaned over: “Why did that guy put dirt on my forehead?”

There it was: a perfect juxtaposition of the holy and our humanity.

John can be excused, he’s 3, but what is my excuse? I still couldn’t decide what to work on or give up for Lent. I don’t eat much candy, and don’t really use Facebook. There was caffeine, but, well, I didn’t want to go there; no need to get too radical. I told God I needed a bit of help, and I’d wait for further instructions.

Ironically, that next Sunday I made it to dinner before I realized I had forgone my daily coffee  – apparently, I had received further instructions. Darn. Tuesday rolled around and, notwithstanding the headaches, irritability, heart palpitations, and overall gloomy outlook on life, I was having a valuable Lenten experience.

How had I become so dependent on something for so long? Had my mom dipped my pacifier in Red Bull? The thoughts added to the gloominess. Then a good friend called to share some difficulties he was having. He concluded by admitting that he was being pretty difficult on himself. Ah, it was that humanity rearing its ugly head again.

If only we didn’t come up short from time to time, if only we didn’t complain about the dirt on our foreheads, if only we didn’t drink too much coffee, if only we didn’t accidentally eat a turkey hot dog on a Lenten Friday. (That was me; I’ll own it. For the record, it was one turkey hot dog. Also, it was a leftover, so, it’s not like I took out a new frozen pack to thaw and grill. We’re talking about a four-second lapse in judgment.). Life would be so much more, well, Christian.

Or would it? My mind reeled through our pillars of the faith. There was Moses, who didn’t get to enter the Promised Land because he hit that rock too many times; there was King David, hand-picked by God, who schemed to murder Uriah because of his tryst with Bathsheba; there was St. Peter, the rock on which our church was built, who, at the moment of truth, denied our Lord publicly three times.

St. Augustine was enthralled for a time with gladiatorial games; and one of my favorite saints, St. Francis de Sales, well known for his gentleness and kindness, admitted that he wrestled severely with a sharp temper.

Maybe it was foolishness to obsessively grumble over the warts. Surely, they weren’t to be celebrated, but, perhaps, the despair was short circuiting the grace-filled potential that the saints of the church have demonstrated.

I suppose if Peter would have continued to browbeat himself after our Lord forgave him three times, he never would have been so resilient as to defy the Sanhedrin by preaching in the temple a short time later. Here was a man who, in a matter of days, went from being a sheepish denier to a fearless, open-air evangelist.

What an inspiring, Christian irony: Christ uses our humanity, most especially our wart-filled parts, to showcase his grace. In the words of St. Paul, “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.”

So, as we attempt to follow in our Lord’s footsteps this Holy Week, it’s comforting to know that even if we trip or stumble, there’s reason to have hope ­– so long as we persevere.

(Joe is married to Teresa. They have three active children and run a joyful home in Plymouth. Opportunities for heavenly inspired humor abound. Joe, a librarian and Teresa, a physical therapist, are parishioners at St. John the Baptist, Plymouth.)