“I feel like I never left Lent.” Over the past several months, my mother has expressed this sentiment to me several times; no doubt the feeling stems primarily from the fact that she was unable to attend the Triduum and Easter services in person last year. I am sure many feel as she does.
In fact, we could easily be tempted this year to dread the arrival of Lent. “Isn’t there already enough suffering in the world?” we might be tempted to think. “Do we really need to add more sacrifices to our lives right now?”
But this attitude would be to miss the entire point of the sacrificial nature of the Lenten season. How often we treat Lent as a drudgery to be borne, as something we just must deal with and push through, as something that seems to drag on endlessly. If our focus is solely on what we are “giving up” for Lent, indeed it will feel like a burden.
How often we treat Lent as a drudgery to be borne, as something we just must deal with and push through, as something that seems to drag on endlessly. If our focus is solely on what we are “giving up” for Lent, indeed it will feel like a burden.
But as one of our Sisters recently pointed out, Lent should actually be to us a sprinting forward toward Christ, a chance to be purified more for eternity. Perhaps our focus this Lent could be more on what He wants to do for us, eagerly looking for the opportunities He is placing in our lives to draw us to Himself. Perhaps we can focus more on what we can give to Him in response to His love for us than on the things we will give up. In this way, our focus can be not on ourselves and our sacrifices but on Him, who died and rose to save us.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus “resolutely determined” to travel to Jerusalem — to the place of His suffering and death (cf. Luke 9:51). Nothing would hold Him back from fulfilling the Father’s will. Nothing would hold Him back from saving us out of love for both His Father and us. He was willing to suffer every imaginable insult and injury, “even to death on a cross” (cf. Phil. 2:8), an excruciatingly painful form of execution reserved for the worst of criminals. No sacrifice was too great for Him, because He did everything out of love.
If we approach Lent more out of love than out of duty, we will be able to live this season in the same freedom with which Christ embraced His Passion. The practices of Lent — prayer, fasting and almsgiving — are meant to draw us into a deeper friendship with God. In other words, God wants to use Lent to increase in us the virtues of faith, hope and charity. He is the one who is at work in us to draw us to Himself. The Christian life is not so much about our obligations — a list of do’s and don’ts; rather it is about God’s own work within us and our cooperation with the gift of His grace. If our focus in Lent is mostly on what we will do for God, on all the sacrifices we will make, on how holy we plan on becoming, then we will end up focusing only on ourselves — an attitude which is the very opposite of holiness!
Let us choose instead, then, to focus on God, to allow Him to transform us. Let us let Him show us how He wants to purify each of us this Lent so that we might grow in true friendship with Him. Then, rather than feeling as a burden, our Lent will be a race to the finish, a sprint toward Him who has so loved us!
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.