I have a persistent and myopically modern tendency to make my spiritual life all about me. It comes out most aggressively during the penitential season of Lent when I start thinking a few weeks out “oh, what should I do this year?” (Note the emphasis on me, myself, and I and also on my assumption that I’ll be taking some definite action in order to accomplish… something.)
And of course I ought to give something up for Lent, or make the effort to take up some laudable pious practice, or else stop doing something bad that I can’t seem to detach from.
But the reality of Lent is that it is much less about growth in personal holiness and a sort of spiritual self improvement campaign and is more to do, actually, with the entire body of Christ – the Church – as a whole, turning back to Her first love, the Lord, and loving Him more faithfully than She ever has before. Amy Welborn unpacks it succinctly and beautifully here.
This Lent our beautiful, broken, and beleaguered Church needs all of us to repent more sincerely and with more humility than we’ve ever managed in the past. We are all scandalized by and mysteriously, simultaneously, the cause of scandal within the Body of Christ. Since “God is light and in Him there is no darkness, at all,” (1 Jn 1:5) we know that any duplicity and darkness within His body belongs … to us.
I say this not in order to minimize the horror or depravity that 2018 brought to light, but to remind myself, foremost, that the single most effective thing that I can do to transform the Church and the world is to become a saint. And that God has offered a pretty great template for sainthood in the 3 pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
I transform myself – correction, Jenny, – I allow myself to be transformed most effectively and most fully through prayer. No self improvement campaign can ever succeed without starting there. And trust me, I’ve tried them all, and I’ve tried doing it without prayer time and time again. I am coming to understand that prayer is nothing more than pulling my fingers out of my ears, fixing my heart on His, and aligning my will with God’s as best I can.
I’ve been praying these past couple weeks, “God, show me what you want me to do this Lent?” and hearing radio silence. Even while on retreat. I began to suspect that perhaps I was asking the wrong question. And that as much as I might benefit from it being so, having a perfectly #keto 40 days wasn’t God’s greatest good for me this year.
When I stopped asking what I should do and started asking Him what He wanted from me, the radio silence exploded and He broke in, loud and clear, again and again:
Be with me.
Look at me.
Surely that can’t be all He wants from me for Lent, though. What about a daily sacrifice that will really hurt, like coffee? What about cutting out sugar? What about a daily family rosary? What about…
Every time I run through my list of better ideas I feel like He smiles and sort of cocks His head and waits. He’ll accept whatever it is that I decide to offer to Him, and I know it.
But He has made it perfectly clear that the thing He would be most pleased to receive from me this Lent is… me.
The nature of our quality time will probably look a little different from day to day, based on who slept through the night, who is currently vomiting, if anyone, and the myriad other practicalities of my vocation, but surely the One who called me to it understands that barf covers a multitude of good intentions.
I’ll make a small sacrifice of sleep and personal time to rise early and give Him the first part of my day, and there’s the almsgiving. I’ll pull out my rosary instead of my phone while I’m sitting in carline, and there’s the fasting. And all of it makes up in its various imperfect parts a sort of all-encompassing prayer offered, moment by moment, over the course of a day.
Over the course of a week.
Over the course of a lifetime.
I always feel a little sheepish when I come screeching to a halt 5 days into Lent, chocolate or wine or whatever already halfway to my lips before I remember. He doesn’t need my little sacrifices, but oh, how much He wants them. He doesn’t need to spend time with me in the quiet dark of a house still in slumber, but He wants to.
This Lent may we decide again each day that we’re going to give Him the thing most pleasing to His fatherly heart: ourselves.