“Ugh. Lent. Again.” This might be your reaction to seeing another Lent blog post, but it has also been my attitude toward Lent this year. I started out with a couple of good resolutions that I honestly thought would lead me closer to Christ. The problem was, I didn’t even get started with them. This entire season, I heard people say what a life-changing Lent they were having. Everyone took on penances or spiritual practices, like giving up social media or coffee or consecrating themselves to Mary. I read spectacular blogs and heard inspiring interviews about how powerful this season is. Usually, I am all for suffering with Christ in the desert and working on my conversion of heart. Except, this year, whenever I am reminded that we are in the season of Lent, I guiltily push my own resolutions into the back of my mind. Even worse, I start to get bitter and resentful toward everyone else who seems to be trying so hard.
What is wrong with me? Is this just laziness? While laziness is often an issue for me, it seems to be more than that. I’ve noticed a stubborn and selfish resistance to any type of real change in my own heart, and a resentment towards those who seem to be growing in holiness. This has been something that I’ve noticed creeping into my thoughts and prayer for several months, but it was accentuated during the Lenten season. I started wrestling with why this was going on. I knew that I was supposed to be trying so much harder during Lent.
I tried to pray, but felt so stunted and unable to get an honest prayer out. I felt it easier to just say repetitive and habitual words of prayer, because that was easier than expressing how I truly felt. I felt guilty for not trying, but that did not lead to a change in behavior or change of heart. I grew increasingly frustrated and angry that I couldn’t seem to find the desire or will to change.
In the middle of Lent, I heard a good priest begin his homily by saying, “How’s your Lent going? How are you doing on your resolutions? Not so good? That’s ok. That’s great actually. If you’ve failed, you’re just starting to realize how much you need the love of Jesus in your life. That was the whole point of Lent. Next we get to Easter, which is when we are reborn and restored”.
He then continued to talk about Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well, and how she, like all of us, was “broken yet loved.” I kept that phrase in the back of my mind for the next week. Very slowly and gradually, I began to ponder the ways that Christ loves me. For about a week, I forgot about how badly I had failed in my Lenten practices, and instead paid attention to how Christ said I love you. He would say it in the simplest ways, whether through a song, encouragement from a friend, catching a glimpse of blue sky, time with my family, a few moments in Adoration, the taste of a perfect mocha, or in the daily Scriptures that I felt the urge to take up again. I tried to honestly pray again and say the things that were on my heart. I realized how much I desperately need that love and communion with Him. How nothing in my life makes sense without it.
In the Gospel stories that we’ve heard this Lent, Christ gave each sick person the healing they needed, such as the man born blind, the man at the pool of Bethesda, or the official’s son. He gently but firmly facilitated conversion of heart, such as with the woman at the well or in asking the sick to believe. His merciful love is powerful, but in each situation shows himself to be compassionate toward that person’s individual need. One of my favorite verses I came across this Lent was “I will be like the dew for Israel, he shall blossom like the lily.” (Hosea 14: 6) Like rain, the dew nourishes the flowers and causes them to bloom, but it falls so gently you can’t even pinpoint the moment it falls. This simple verse made me think of how sweet and tender Christ is. The incredible thing about our Lord is that he knows exactly what we need. At many other times in my life, I’ve needed something more like a kick in the pants to get me back on track spiritually. However, this Lent Christ did something different that was just as transformative. Like the dew, He worked so quietly that I didn’t even know He was there. He simply reminded me: You are precious, you are loved, and you are mine.
Honest & Open
Looking back on the past few months, and even years, I’ve kept busy with all the “Catholic” activities. My social circles, my family, my day to day life, the books on my shelves, and even my job are so inherently Catholic that it’s not difficult to go through the motions, attend Mass, say the prayers, have Catholic friends, and so on. It usually isn’t difficult to adopt a Lenten practice. What is harder sometimes is keeping my heart open and receptive, especially when faith isn’t something new anymore. It’s hard to keep up an honest dialogue with Christ and pay attention to how He is trying to speak, especially when I don’t feel that He’s there.
The essential treasure of our Catholic faith is our communion with God.
God pours His own precious life into us through Scripture, the Church, and most especially the Sacraments. I’d become so accustomed to maintaining outward practices that I forgot the entire purpose of Lent – to unite ourselves to Christ. Acts of penance or conversion should be done for that reason, yet I often do them just because it’s a habit or because it’s expected from others. I started to resent the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, because I had forgotten what they are for – to help me grow in deeper communion with God.
I am definitely not recommending slacking during Lent or giving up your penances. I don’t want to justify my laziness, bitterness, and self-centeredness. But the truth is that this was (and still is) what I am wrestling with at the moment. This is an example of how Christ takes our terrible weaknesses, transforms it, and gives us the strength to try again. Maybe you had an enriching Lent, or maybe you’re like me and didn’t really try. Either way, as we enter into Holy Week and Easter, I hope that you can take a few moments to simply be in that communion with God. To reflect on what’s He’s been doing in your heart this Lent. To sit and ponder how great His love is for us. To speak honestly and truly to Christ, to be still, and to hear Him say I love you.