Entering into Lent

It’s the last weekend in Ordinary Time before we enter into the season of Lent.  For me, this season of the liturgical calendar is a favorite.  I get excited about entering into the desert.  I look forward to the massive overindulgence of Fat Tuesday, the solemn ritual of Ash Wednesday, the comforting simplicity that comes from giving up and giving in to God’s presence in our lives.

Beyond my fondness for the outward signs of the season, however, lies something deeper.  I am a sinner.  I always have been.  I likely always will be.  Despite knowing this is true, it is easy to forget two very important things.  First, that I need to be reminded of my own limitations and shortcomings from time to time and, two, that I am not the only one.  There is no place in our calendar that it’s more apparent that God’s love for us is without end and without reservation.  God, in infinite wisdom, knows that we all fall away from the love of Christ in the moments of our daily lives.  God, in infinite love, sets aside this time so that we can begin to acknowledge our sins.  We are given a great number of ways to purify ourselves of them in beautiful and special ways.  Our parish bulletin and website are bursting with these opportunities.  And, at the end of it all, the gift of Holy Week, and Resurrection, are waiting for us.  The purpose of Lent is not punishment.  Its purpose is to prepare us for Easter.  We are made more ready for Resurrection.

This time is about more than “giving something up”.  Abstaining from something, say chocolate, without recognizing the reason for doing so is as hollow as a bargain chocolate bunny.  We should ask ourselves, “Why have I given up chocolate? “  Is it from a desire to show gratitude for God’s mercy?  Do you wish for a deeper solidarity with the poor of God’s children?  You may decide that chocolate is not enough.  How much of ourselves would we actually relinquish if we really believed that reducing our own consumption would leave more for the rest of the world?

At Thanksgiving, we spend extra time with our families.  Our loved ones receive tremendous attention from us on their birthdays.  Lent is the season to pay special attention to God.  Our lives become so overloaded with responsibilities.  We become obsessively task oriented.  One of the gifts of Lent is that we have a wonderful excuse for making time for Jesus.

I was blessed to be able to spend last weekend on a retreat.  With the responsibilities of work, especially busy during this challenging time in our parish, my three children, and various other family obligations, the need for retreat does seem particularly necessary.  Ironically, that is also why it is so hard for me to set everything and “go off the grid” for three days.  During Lent, there’s a sense that that’s exactly what I should do so I was able to with- relatively- little guilt.  It’s not surprising that during the retreat I found greater closeness to God.  Periods of silent reflection, prayer both alone and in community, and going to confession all allowed me to sink more fully into Jesus Christ.  More surprising to me is the humility I walked away with.  God lovingly reminds that the world functions without me.  The parish was just fine when I returned on Monday morning, my children were well taken care of and happy, my husband did not weep and wail in my absence.  God is often subtle, but always clever.

Whether you are able to make a retreat or not, it’s vital that we hold the retreat experience in our lives. We can make a very conscious effort to create small holy moments in our daily lives.  This is something each of us can, and should, do regardless of what our obligations may be.  Can you extend your own daily prayer time by including daily reflection specific to Lent?  Will you try to learn more about your faith?  I recommend very highly the reading of Pope Francis’s letter, “The Joy of the Gospel”.  It’s bright, funny, deeply holy, and accessibly written.   Can you meditate on the mysteries of the rosary?  Might you attend weekday Mass?  Will you consider seeking out spiritual and theological development opportunities?  Could you choose to grow in apostolic mission by volunteering in various ways to change the lives of those less fortunate than you?  Can you forgive someone, or something, who has failed you in some way?

I won’t be giving up chocolate, but I will make an effort to reduce my excess consumption of the world’s resources, including food.   I will give up more of my time to God.  Christ will receive more of my attention.  And I’ll try very, very hard to remember that the world will continue on remarkably with or without me.  At least for the next 40 days.

May God bless your Lent with prayerful experiences, deeper relationship with Christ, and renewed humility.

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