How Can I Make Lent be What it is Supposed to be This Year?

Dear Father Joe: Every Year, Lent Comes and Goes and I Always Feel Like I Somehow Miss it or Blow it

How Can I Make Lent be What it is Supposed to be This Year?

 

Praise God for your hunger. This is the key to the whole thing! Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they shall have their fill.” I also urge you to remember God’s words through the Apostle Paul: “He who started this good work in you will see it to completion.” (Phil 1:6)

This is a reminder that the hunger in you for holiness came/comes from God and he will finish this!

Even with God’s promises, it is important that we cooperate. It’s not a matter of simply trusting God will get it done, we need to help God help us! So now, I’d like to walk us through some ideas about how to let God transform us in this Lenten season.

I’d like to begin with this marvelous quote from a holy bishop in Canada, Bishop Scott McCaig. Here is what he wrote:

“Don’t just choose. Pray first. Ask the Lord where you are most vulnerable to the enemy - your greatest vice. Then identify the opposing virtue and embrace a discipline that will strengthen it. God doesn’t want your chocolate … He wants you. He wants your heart. He loves you!”

I found this to be one of the most succinct, powerful summaries of Lent that I have read.

What’s the first step? Prayer.

I know, I know, I always type this, but it’s so important. There is nothing that defines the Christian experience like prayer.

Prayer is how the soul breathes. Prayer is how we hear the voice of God. Prayer is everything.

So, our first step is to take time and make a simple prayer to God, asking him to guide our thoughts and reveal to us where the biggest gap in our coverage is. One of the interesting things that I experienced as I pondered this revolved around fasting. Fasting is hard for me, as you might be able to tell by looking at me. I get frustrated with my eating and I get embarrassed about how big I am.

As soon as I started thinking about Lent, that’s where my thoughts took me immediately and so I really didn’t think more about it until I read Bishop McCaig’s quote. My priorities might not be God’s priorities and, as important as it is for me to reject gluttony, I need to ask God what he wants me to focus on this Lent.

So, take some time today and offer God this prayer or some prayer like it:

“God, I love you. Because I love you, I want to be like you, but that is impossible without your help. As I approach this Lenten season, I am asking you to guide me. Show me where you want to work in me so that I can be holy. Let me hear your voice and respond with love.”

Once you sense God leading you, either through circumstances or thoughts, follow that lead. Maybe God wants to work on your temper. Maybe he wants to work on your gossip. Perhaps he wants you to not be so uptight about getting everything right … who knows? He will show you if you let him.

When you see where God wants you to go, then prayerfully and consistently pursue the virtue that will tame that beast. If lust is your struggle, pray for purity and commit to being pure in word, thought and deed. If greed is your struggle, pray for the grace of generosity and sacrifice until it hurts.

This is the way to live Lent well.

A couple things to keep in mind: There really is no substitute for tenacity. When you and I commit to the fight for holiness, we need to cowboy up because it is going to be a fight. Holiness is not for those who get easily discouraged. When we ask God to help us and we commit to changing, then we need to be ready for the distinct possibility that we will strike out more times than we get on base. We need to be absolutely relentless in our pursuit and not focus so much on our performance as the inevitability of God’s victory in and through us.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the work of holiness is about more than us.

Too often, we are obsessed with “those people” and what they need to change. We are painful, infinitely, minutely aware of the faults and failings of others and how those wound us.

However, we have to remember that we have no control over other people, we only have control over ourselves and, if we take a good, hard, honest look at reality, we see that we hurt others because of our faults and failings. We are, each individually, a significant part of the problem.

For our society to heal, for our Church to heal, for our families to heal, for our schools to get better, we each personally and individually need to change. We need to be radically committed to letting God heal and change us.

The more of us who commit to personal holiness, the better our Church will be, our society will be, our families will be.

So, the stakes are the highest they ever could be, and the beautiful truth is that when we engage the fight within and decide to be holy, we will find healing in our hearts, peace in our minds and joy all around us.

Lent is a season where you and I simply must ask for God’s guidance, commit to the fight for holiness and then simply refuse to give up until God breaks down the walls of sin in our hearts.

I pray Jesus blesses your Lent. I pray that, during these days, each of us doubles down on our joyful commitment to be like God.

I can’t wait to see what he does!

Enjoy another day in God’s presence!