Why is it Catholics go through all the hoopla each Lent starting with getting a smudge of ashes on our foreheads? We look ridiculous as the miniscule particles fall like ashen snowflakes on our nose and cheeks creating sometimes unintended comical effects.
However, I must ask, what is the point if we only go through the motions, put in a half-hearted effort and expect to feel somehow different when Easter Sunday arrives. I say this as a person who has put in some pretty lame Lents over my lifetime. My go-to for years was to give up chocolate. It was a sacrifice to be sure but did little to make me a better Catholic or holier human. There were many Easter mornings where breakfast consisted of See’s chocolate eggs.
Sure, making a sacrifice of giving up something we enjoy is a good thing to do, but if it does not lead to a deeper union with Christ it is kind of pointless.
Then there was the year I thought I would go all out and gave up sweets all together. This was a sacrifice of untold magnitude. That one went down in history as my nastiest Lent ever. My family begged me to “never do that again.” I can assure you it was not because I was a glowing bundle of holy joy. In 2015, I remember thinking after our son’s wedding that I would get down to being serious about Lent and going so far as to ask God to help me really dig deep and use what was left of Lent in a manner worthy of His gift of love on the Cross. Two days later I was it by a car riding to work on my bike. That “Unexpected” turn of events really ramped up my Lent. Did God cause the accident so He could get my attention? No. Was God able to use that circumstance as a means for my growth in holiness and as a way to unite my suffering with His. Absolutely.
While we don’t always experience those extreme situations God can and does expect that we who profess to love Him, are willing to pick up our own Cross without complaint and follow Him; because that is what love requires.
I would like to propose for our consideration this Lent, that all the efforts we make in praying more, giving up things we like, generously helping others, really are means to growing closer to God. We cannot “do” anything for God. He needs nothing and has everything. Yet in following Him, He asks that we love our neighbor-which is simply and not so simply- loving one another, and of course, to love Him. This demands our willingness and intentional efforts. Lent reminds us each year, that we still have the opportunity while we are alive, to choose Christ.
I happened upon a video by Fr Mark Toups, who is a priest in Louisiana. He spoke about the necessity for a pre-lent discernment where we enter more purposefully into prayer to ascertain what God is asking of us this Lent. Fr. Toups asks us, “What would it look like if our penance was connected to where we are right now. What if that penance deepened our relationship with God?”
Why is this important? God is in the present. He meets us exactly where we are right now despite the messiness of our lives. We don’t need to wait until we have everything figuring out. Thus, the importance of doing some pre-lenten discernment which will help us zero-in on where we are right now in our faith journey.
I’ll admit in over sixty years of being a Catholic, I have never heard about “discerning penances for Lent.” Yet I am captivated into doing something that I have never done before, that might yield results that I have never achieved before, in regards to my relationship with God. I hope you are too.
Father suggests several Scripture passages that will help us determine where we are and what we need. In taking this time before Lent begins, we have the possibility of a real transformation through God’s grace and action in our lives. God wants this more than we do. He wants to give us something this Lent. He wants a relationship with each of His beloved children, but that depends on us. Are we open to this? Are we receptive to the gifts He desires to shower upon us? Do we believe that it is even possible.
Next week I will share those Scripture passages in an article, as well as, in the Journey Toward Holiness Lenten Campaign which will begin on the 7th of February. If you have never signed up for JTH, do so now. Stndrw.cc/jth Download the Flocknote App to minimize issues in receiving the JTH notes.
Get ready to dive into an incredible Lenten 2021. It might just be the beginning of your best Lent ever. It is time to leave our worldly nets, climb out of our little rickety boats and jump in the waters of new life and Christ’s waiting arms.