March 8, 2017
Soon enough and, in fact, Wednesday, March 1, we enter into the great penitential season of Lent with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. If a person who is unfamiliar with our faith and Catholic practices asked us about Lent, I think we could give a pretty good and accurate description of it and why it precedes Holy Week and Easter. However, for as much as we know and understand about Lent, do we truly live Lent in the way the Church has traditionally taught and urged us to do?
Certainly, the tried and true Lenten discipline of regular and fervent personal and communal prayer (Mass and confession), consistent almsgiving (Corporal Works of Mercy), and real acts of self-mortification (penance) must be the central outward acts of our Lenten season. As beneficial as this holy discipline is for each of us, there is something just as necessary for us to do daily so that the Lenten discipline does not become the end.
The Church encourages us to do what Jesus Himself did in anticipation of His public ministry which would lead Him to His saving passion, death and resurrection. We should make the effort to go into the desert during the 40 days of Lent to fast and pray, to rid ourselves of the many attachments to other things, material and spiritual, we have made so important in our lives but which have become obstacles to our better and faithful following and imitation of Jesus.
One good and helpful way to do this every day of Lent is to set aside 10 minutes and read a selection from one of the four Gospels. As a suggestion, read the Gospel accounts of the time Jesus Himself spent in the desert in prayer and fasting. Read Matthew 4: 1-11, Mark 1: 12-13, and Luke 4: 1-13. These three Gospel accounts give us much to meditate on, especially on the boldness of Satan in tempting Jesus. But, they give us so much more to meditate on as to how we, like Jesus, can reject sin by relying on the goodness and mercy of God for our support in daily life.
Another good and helpful way to make the discipline of Lent fruitful in our lives during Lent and beyond is to read each of the four Gospel accounts of the passion of Jesus. What each of the evangelists presents in the passion narrative is the tremendous, mysterious and all-embracing love which God has for us; He does for us what we could never do for ourselves. The way in which Jesus redeems us through His own sufferings reveals to us the true value of our own sufferings if we strive to bear them as He bore His sufferings for us.
Ultimately, if we strive daily to keep the discipline of Lent, the graces we receive are not just of the moment, but they endure. We recognize more clearly how close the Lord is to each of us in every moment and event in our lives. Also, we realize that He is that close to each of us for no other reason than that He loves us with a love that is eternal and ever-faithful. How can we not want to enter fully into the season of Lent determined to allow Him to renew us in mind heart, body and soul?