Lent's coming to us next week, although fairly late in the year comparatively, and I'm just beginning to think about it. Because I have to, because it's less than a week away.
I think I'm a fairly common example of how pesky human nature can be, especially how prone it is to procrastination, I'd put off lent for as long as I could. Probably until right about the end of the liturgical year where I would then completely freak out and figure I better squeeze in a couple weeks of sacrifice, if I could fit it in. Which is yet another reason why it's nice to depend upon a bigger, universal entity to make these types of decisions for us.
I love the idea of having a season devoted to sacrifice, prayer, penance. If it was only a day what kind of sacrifice could it demand? If it was only a week I wouldn't get into much of a routine or really make any lasting change or dent in my own bad habits of luxury or be able to even see any of my own weakness buried in all my distractions, and crutches, and dependencies.
I'm not too sure how good it is for us to look back upon Lents and see how much we accomplished, but that seems to be the tendency. Why can't we look back and see the grace instead of what we did, how we did it, how much we accomplished? In a season where it should be about our turning to God, our conversion to God, our repentance to God, we're completely preoccupied with what we do, which seems to be entirely missing the point. And I fall for that terrible line of thinking every time.
Last Lent I was in the throes of the final pushes of pregnancy. I remember anxiety plaguing me more than just the physical difficulties of the last months of growing new life, and it was the emotional toil that felt the hardest. I felt as if I was waiting and stuck. I couldn't make a baby come out when I wanted it to, so I was stuck with waiting, literally lying there waiting for the big event to happen. I felt weighed down physically, mentally, and emotionally. I didn't suffer happily or constantly offer it up. I don't think I accomplished anything. But I did have to pray every day just to get by. I felt very impoverished of consolation and strength. Weak in my lack of control, trust, and hope.
I can't say whether or not last Lent made dramatic, instant changes to my soul. But I do know that times of sacrifice and suffering are not times where we accomplish things either literally or spiritually but when God works. We don't always see it, we don't always feel it, but the sacrifices and suffering that bring us to God in our smallness and weakness is at the heart of Lent.
Lent is really the uncovering of our weakness. Hopefully through our offering of sacrifice, but sometimes in the suffering that we do not seek out. Pope Francis has said that our weaknesses and denials make up a type of poverty that we should be willing to give up in order to help others in their poverty. He reminds us that the truth of self-denial, going through suffering, and offering and living it for others is going to hurt; "I distrust a charity that costs nothing, that does not hurt."
I'm going to keep this in mind in the midst of the small daily hurts, and hopefully in the bigger ones that I don't see answers or ends to this Lent. But what we also cannot forget is that Lent is a time of reflection on the virtue of hope. We may be offering penance, but we do so in the hope -- the expectation and knowing that Easter and the Resurrection are surely coming.
It's the paradox of Lent: the poverty of suffering and penance with the knowledge of the impending rich joys of Easter.
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