Lent: Our Spiritual Journey to The Cross
“Our Call to Personal Conversion is not some exercise in ‘self-improvement’ but rather a renewal of our relationship with Jesus Christ.” (Archbishop Paul D. Etienne)
In many ways, for the majority of us, preparing for Lent is very similar to making up a list of our annual New Year Resolutions. After the excesses of Christmas celebrations, it always seems an ideal time to devote to making positive changes in our lives.
However, the problem is that many resolutions are based on wishful thinking – usually huge goals with not much of a plan behind them. So, we again do as we did last year, and probably in the previous years, concentrate on the benefits we hope to achieve. I can now only speak of my own experience here.
I have had to learn over the years not to be too ‘ambitious’ but just to aim on what I consider to be achievable. The first few weeks go well. Then, sadly, complacency sets in, my resolve weakens, and finally – it’s all too hard. Oh well, maybe next year!
But preparing ourselves for Lent is not quite the same as making New Year Resolutions!
I remember as a very young child learning about Lent. I remember it was always taught as something very serious because it was during that period of Lent, Jesus suffered greatly for us. However, in reflection, what really sticks in my mind, sad to say, was what I was encouraged to ‘give up’ as a penance for all that Jesus had suffered for me.
Growing up in the UK, Lent, of course, occurred during the latter wintry months. Remembering some of my attempted ‘penances’ to brave the elements, so to speak, now makes me smile.
They remind me of St. Paul’s words: “When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and see things as a child does, and think like a child; but now that I have become an adult, I have finished with all childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
There is no need to go into detail of my attempts, but childish as they were, they were sincere. Children’s attempts in offering up their little penances surely must make the Lord smile too!
Lent is essentially an act of renewed prayer life lasting forty days. As we pray, we are travelling on a ‘spiritual’ journey, one that hopefully will bring us ever closer to Jesus and help us to be changed by this encounter with him.
It’s an opportunity to work on discipline. Instead of giving something up (excluding busyness!), it can be doing something more positive – e.g., spending time in prayer in the Lord’s presence.
The more serious side of our Lenten discipline is that it’s about self-control – it’s about searching out aspects of ourselves that are less than Christ-like and letting them die. It can be tempting to make Lent some ambitious period of our own personal reinvention, but it is more beneficial to keep it simple and focused.
Maybe that’s the reason the Church works on these mysteries throughout the year. If we are attempting to spend our entire lives growing closer to God, maybe we don’t have to cram it all into our forty-day annual Lenten observance. Surely, that would be a recipe for failure!
Lent reminds us of our weaknesses. Unfortunately, even when we set simple goals for ourselves during Lent, we still have trouble keeping them. This, of course, can be very disheartening, but recognizing how helpless we are helps us to turn back to God with renewed urgency and sincerity.
When we find ourselves confronted with our own weaknesses, we need to remember that God is calling us to be patient and to see ourselves as he does, with unconditional love.
Lent also gives us that opportunity to learn to live like Christ. Giving of ourselves in the midst of our suffering and self-denial brings us closer to loving like Christ, who suffered and poured himself out unconditionally on the cross for all of us. For Christians, Lent is a journey through the desert to the foot of the Cross on Good Friday.
Ultimately, as we travel with him, we are invited to ask his help, join in his suffering and, most importantly, to learn to love as he loves us. May we each experience that grace this Lent, so that we may truly be prepared to celebrate with renewed zeal the Resurrection and Triumph of Jesus this Easter.