The Scriptures and our Church both tell us that Lent is not a season for timid creatures. If in Lent we were to simply jump through the hoops of fasting and abstinence on the days prescribed, we would be rightly accused of a sort of spiritual minimalism. But God is not served by minimalists — He wants tested saints of faith to be channels of His Life to the world! That is what Lent calls us to be.
How will we embrace God’s Life so deeply this season? The answer is simple: By first jettisoning the baggage we have accumulated in our lives over the past year. I am talking here about interior personal baggage that we have picked up at the cheap convenience stores of human frailty and about which we let ourselves off the hook continuously: pettiness, every sort of self-indulgence, backbiting, selfish attitudes, worldliness, gossip and the like. Withdrawing permission for anti-Christian behaviors at the core of our beings and ridding ourselves of these faults and imperfections is the first order of business for Lent. It is the basic Gospel call to conversion of heart, and there is no growth in the spiritual life if we do not repent of the things that keep us far away from God. Will we accept the challenge of removing the blockages to God’s grace this Lent?
If so, this interior purification is just the first step to embracing His Life. The Church gives us three more: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. They seem so commonplace, yet these practices can create a consuming fire within us, transforming us into spiritually strong men and women of Christ. These practices are not spiritual drudgery; they are spiritual life! We don’t put on our calendars that we have to “embrace life today”! We only have to live life each day, and in the same way, Lent asks us to consciously live those things which are channels of spiritual life for us.
Make prayer a passion, not a duty. Ask God for the grace to understand the true nature of prayer which is the very soul of our spiritual lives. If we don’t pray, we suffocate spiritually. We wouldn’t allow that to happen to our physical bodies, yet through negligence and any number of excuses we drop prayer off our list of priorities and end up spiritually suffocating our souls. There is no time like the present to commit ourselves to a strong prayer life. The interior benefits are truly life-giving.
Fasting makes us spiritual men and women in a way that few other practices can because fasting is a voluntary renunciation of desires of the flesh. No truly spiritual person can live without this practice. So here is a simple Lenten challenge — skip a meal. I guarantee that you will not die! Quite the contrary — you will find yourself filled with divine light in the depth of your being and a vibrancy of life like you have never felt before. Really try it.
Finally, make sure you go above and beyond the call of duty to help your neighbor. Almsgiving, namely, the voluntary deprivation of personal resources for the sake of another, is inconvenient, and sometimes radically so. No matter. Do it anyway and trust God to send it back to you many-fold. When even the smallest deeds of kindness and generosity are done with a completely childlike heart that expects nothing in return, the actual return is a full measure of God’s grace and blessing. I would rather have that than all the money in the world.
Be faithful to Lent. It is a deep training program in life, divine Life that is. Let’s not lose the opportunity to become deeply spiritual men and women this Lent, and God will then make us a channel of His Life to others.