The Lenten Bucket List

For some reason, the annual dynamic of the Temptation/Transfiguration Sundays of the Roman Catholic Lenten Lectionary brought a scene from this past summer to mind.

This past August, I was asked one Sunday morning if I had anything on my “church musician bucket list.” The question took me by surprise, since it came from somebody I’d thought of as an “average pew person” (if there is such a thing), though one I knew has an interest in sacred music.

Like most classic introverts, I wanted/needed a more substantial chunk of time to come up with an answer he’d find satisfactory. What I replied in the moment was something along the lines of “to be a more faithful disciple, and strive to do my best to lead and serve God’s people in prayer through music.” (After numerous years in ministry and Catholic publishing, you often end up talking like church documents or ritual books.)

His brow was furrowed, so I added: “Honestly, that’s the list.”

His question spurred me on to make the same inquiry of some pastoral musician friends and colleagues. The answers from my small and unscientific sampling broke down into two groups: 1) those who answered essentially the same way I did; 2) those who named a specific piece of music they wanted to perform or conduct (Latin Requiem Mass settings being the largest single category), or a notable organ they wanted to play, or a sacred place where they wanted to make and/or experience music (the Vatican and grand Parisian churches leading the list).

Since there were people I truly admire in that second group, I figured that they were merely transferring what the surrounding culture means by “bucket list” (specific activities, destinations, etc.) to their ministerial lives. I’ll hasten to add that I’m not proposing any superiority for my answer vs. the answers of those who went another way. For one thing—to God be the glory—my ministerial/professional life has afforded me the opportunities to do many of the things that were on the other list. This has brought me to a place where I’m able to realize that those individual items are merely part of the broader journey of discipleship.

Yet even our good Lenten intentions can pave a road to perdition. We can lapse into being overly-focused on giving up this or that thing or behavior, vowing to do some act of piety or charity regularly, being better at some deed of virtue or mercy, and so on. Ultimately, I believe there is one item on the discipleship bucket list: to be a more faithful disciple. Everything else is frosting, or gravy (neither of which I’ve given up for Lent), or what have you.

This one-item bucket list is reinforced by the way the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar describes Lent. As our earthly lives in discipleship prepare us for our life in glory, so does Lent serve as a preparation for Easter’s Paschal feast. We do this primarily through being reminded of our baptismal call (GNLY 29), and secondarily through our various penitential practices.

The baffling thing about this particular bucket list is that just when you think you have its lone item checked off, it mysteriously comes back. We can end up feeling as flummoxed as Peter—who was certain that the mountaintop experience of Transfiguration was IT, the arrival point—only to find out that, nope, we have to go face more trials.

This is why we need the focused fervor of Lent: to get us back to work on that list, and re-charge us for discipleship. I like to call Lent the “re-” season: renew, return, repent, refresh, restore, reflect, revitalize…all of which pair easily with the word “discipleship” as well. All of them likewise are useful tools during the season of Lent, as the season prepares us (again, GNLY 29), for the celebration of Easter’s Paschal joy.


  1. So, it would seem there are two approaches to the question:

    1. To do a variation on the Catholic thing of asking “But is that the right question?” by answering the question in the way you’d prefer to interpret it.

    2. To try to answer the question in the way it was most likely intended to be understood, without critiquing it.

    Maybe the second approach can also be an expression of discipleship.

    1. Precisely – that’s why I stated that I didn’t think my own answer was superior (or inferior, for that matter) to the other answers. Everyone answered sincerely, in my view.

  2. I guess my church musician bucket list item, if I may have only one, is to learn to play the organ.

    I wish I had a magnificent singing voice, but that’s not really a check-off-able item 🙂

    1. Haha! Yes, “magnificent singing voice” for me is about as realistic as “Summer home on the moon” would be!

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