Two weeks ago we talked about how love for God should be the basis for all our Lenten actions. Last week we talked about how our Lenten journey should also include a community aspect – a sharing of our Lenten journey with others and sharing theirs as well. This evening I want to touch on a third aspect of Lent that isn’t reflected on much.
Lent should be viewed more as an intensity than a period of time because our lives should always be Lenten.
Most people who actually take the time to participate in Lent seem to think that their participation starts on Ash Wednesday and ends at the Easter Vigil. But this misses the point that what we do in Lent should be what we do all year long – just at an elevated state. Our journey towards our heavenly reward isn’t episodic; where we do things and then not do things, where we turn on some virtue and then turn it off. Our journey is a constant progression that, if done well, continues to build on itself. The Lenten Season’s emphasis on internal reflection and conversion of heart by use of prayer, alms-giving and fasting is the path to a better understanding of truth and a closer and more meaningful relationship with Christ and each other. It is the path of a disciple’s life. It is the path that Christ showed us with His whole life. It is the path that He commanded us to live when He said: ‘And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ He tells us, Lent should be a constant in our life for everyone who loves Him.
We started Lent with Christ’s temptations in the desert. It is easy to see a Lenten aspect to this; He fasts, He sacrifices and He prays. However, He does this throughout His ministry, His life revolves around sacrifice, charity and prayer. St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians confirms for us that by becoming man Christ reveals His desire for a Lenten life. His incarnation was a great self-sacrifice; a giving up of something: ‘Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.’
His journey through Judah and Samaria proclaim loudly a Lenten life with His continual doing without for the people, His healing of the needy; His continual prayer to His Father. All of this is done to live what He told the Pharisee lawyer: ‘”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”’
Jesus shows us that a life lived fully in God’s embrace is one of self-surrender, one of charity, one of solidarity with others, one of peace and joy – a Lenten life. That a Lenten life entails struggles is a given; but the struggles that come with this life are the struggles against our fallen nature and Satan’s constant interference and they are struggles that can be overcome as Jesus shows in the desert, in villages, on the water and upon the cross.
For us to respond in kind we need to train ourselves to constantly offer back to God, as best we can, the gift of His love. We need empty ourselves of our selfish attitudes and be filled with the unity that the Holy Spirit brings; we need strengthen our ability to live a life of prayer. We need to live a life of Lent. We need strengthen our ability to live a life of prayer. The season of Lent is a time to reenergize this life, to intensify our efforts to live this life. Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote in 1977: ‘We must awaken our consciences. We must give fresh vigor to our sense of duty and to our desire to respond, in a practical way, to the demands of a genuine Christian life.’
As we enter the second half of our Lenten journey let’s pray for the grace to fully appreciate this overlooked aspect of Lent. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit for the wisdom to understand and appreciate that a life lived for God is a Lenten Life. Let’s ask for the strength to follow Jesus’ life and make our own the obligations and responsibilities of a life lived this way. Let’s make the most of this Lenten intensity and by doing so come closer Christ who showed us the way and awaits us at home.