“Coming to his senses he thought, ‘I shall get up and go to my father and I
shall say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’” – excerpted from Luke 15:17-19
As a chaplain rendering pastoral care in the Transitional Care Unit of an eldercare facility, I see many people who are indeed in a state of transition. Our short-term post-acute care unit is aptly named “transitional care” because the patients there no longer qualify for acute care in the hospital, but they are not yet ready to safely and independently return home. They endure a long, arduous therapy process, sometimes for several weeks as an inpatient in a transitional care unit, in order to return to as close to their previous functional capacity as possible.
In a few cases, they are not able to make such progress. They are faced a second transition on top of the first: to a new living situation that is not their previous one. Sometimes this means a degree of separation from friends, family and routines previously treasured. The hardest work a transitional care patient does is the work of the heart: not giving up; accepting what cannot be changed; and, mustering up the courage to embrace and live a different, somewhat unfamiliar life from here on.
It strikes me that perhaps our Lenten journey should be thought of in this way – through the lens of transitional care, but specifically for the heart. Lent requires us to do the challenging work of softening, strengthening and renewing our hardened hearts so that they overflow in their capacity to love, to be merciful, and to embrace the “therapeutic” disciplines of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Lent can also mean transition in the sense that, once we taste of the goodness of God’s love in Christ Jesus, we cannot go back to who we were before and how we lived before. So we enter this liturgical season in transition from a hardened heart to the “Transitional Care Unit” of a Lenten Heart. At the end, we pray that we “discharge” into a resurrected heart that knows only the joy of listening to and following the sound of its Father’s voice.
May we, like the Prodigal Son in the parable “come to our senses,” and open ourselves to the heart of a merciful God who desires to heal all that is wounded in us, to make all things new, and to bring us home to the Divine Heart.
Peace be with you on your Lenten journey.
Sister Ann Marie Wainright