| By Fr. Dwight Ezop

Lent challenges us IN A GOOD WAY

I like Lent. I like the ways that Lent can challenge me to be quiet by spending more time in prayer. As pastor of a busy parish community, quiet is something that can be in short supply at times. Yet Lent forces me to slow down a little bit, becoming more deliberate in my personal prayer time, even as the Church’s liturgy takes on a more deliberate, reserved tone and sense. Having the opportunity to prayerfully rest in the presence of God can feel a bit like resting on an island in the midst of an ocean.

I like Lent. Lent challenges me to master my appetites – both the appetite that results from the rumbling of my hungry stomach – and the other appetites that can get too easily out of balance at other times of the year. For instance, I can have an appetite for approval from others. Like any person, I want to know that what I do and who I am actually makes a difference to others. Lent challenges me to let go of that quest. It helps me to refocus my attention on my daily efforts and ministry so they are undertaken in a manner that, I pray, is pleasing to God, regardless of what my fellow humans may think or feel. I also can have an unhealthy appetite for perfection in what I do. This appetite can drive me to work relentlessly at some small task until it is, in my estimation, just right. This appetite can lead me to a feeling of being out-of-balance and it can get pretty tiresome at times. Lent encourages me back to a kind of healthy balance. It helps me to see that I can do something well enough and then move on to the next task. My work does not need to be perfect but I do need to allow myself to be perfected by God’s love over time.

I like Lent. There are times when I can be pretty selfish. I may think that I deserve or have earned a particular item as a reward for my sacrifice or my hard work. Lent forces me to shift my gaze away from what I think I might need to look more realistically at the needs of others and how I can work to meet them. By forcing me to think of others’ needs before my own, Lent helps me to practice the habit and the virtue of charity. Lent reminds me that Jesus did not think about his own needs. His focus is forever on our needs – most especially the need for forgiveness and mercy.

As we make our way into the challenging season of Lent, we have the opportunity to once again encounter its beautiful pillars of prayer, fasting and charity. These Lenten lessons and disciplines are not meant to be contained solely within the approaching 40 days. These are lessons that help us to live in right relationship with God and with one another, each and every day. The Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and charity remind us to honor God each day by growing in relationship with him and focusing more of our energy on our relationships with our sisters and brothers in Christ. Have a blessed and holy Lent! And so, our journey in FAITH continues.

Father Dwight Ezop is editor of FAITH Magazine and pastor of the Catholic Community of St. Jude. E-mail: editor@FAITHmag.com.