An experienced spiritual director recently observed that the season of Lent can be difficult and even frustrating but that it is also filled with profound graces.
For the past 24 years, Jesuit Father Vincent Beuzer has ministered at Holy Spirit Center in Anchorage. His work consists in helping people be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
On Feb. 8, Father Beuzer spoke with the Anchor about Lent, the annual 40-day season of intense prayer, alms-giving and self-denial which culminate in the Easter celebration. He noted that Lent is often misunderstood but that it can be a time of deep spiritual blessing.
In June, after nearly a quarter century at Holy Spirit Center, Father Beuzer will head back to his Oregon Province for a new assignment. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
What are the key elements of Lent?
Lent begins by believing in the Gospel. It begins with baptism and with repentance. How do you repent? Prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
Repentance means changing attitudes, actions and ways of thinking that are contrary to believing that God is with you and working in your life. You have to start to die to your past way of life and focus on the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Only then can you start to live a real life with Christ. That is the only certainty that your life is not being wasted.
If you don’t make any changes during Lent, then you haven’t participated. It starts with prayer. Look at your prayer life, both in quality and quantity. You must seek God with all your heart and not run your own life. St. Paul talks about the old person and the new person. They are both human. One is under the direction of the Holy Spirit and the other is under the power of sin and evil.
What should we seek during Lent?
Again, the biggest thing to seek is conversion — change your way of looking at what is real in your life.
You must have a way of life that really believes Jesus wants to have a relationship — a relationship like he has with his apostles and the saints. When that becomes primary, there will be change in your life. You must ask God for help because you are looking for a whole new way of life — not your way but Christ’s.
What is the significance of the traditional Lenten themes of mortification and self-denial?
Jesus wants to share with you something far more important than anything you can focus on in this world and if you want a meaningful life, you must deny yourself. If Jesus is not the most important thing in your life, then something else is — maybe you are or your family or your friends. The whole purpose of life is to have a relationship with Jesus and we must do whatever we can to die to our self and to our priorities. This is done by entering into the silence of the mystery of Christ in us. We must do Christ’s will, not just know it. We must seek it or we are not really interested in it.
Mortification comes by seeing Jesus and his agony in the Garden. In that struggle, Christ said to the Father, ‘not my will but your will be done.’ We must die to our self-will — even our very best self-will — and surrender to God’s will in our life.
In self-denial, there are two ways — your way and God’s way. If you do it your way, you can hurt yourself. If you ask the Holy Spirit what he wants, that is a healthy self-denial. One is in union with Jesus Christ — a suffering which he shares with those who believe in him. The other has no meaning. There are two ways in everything — one is under the Holy Spirit, the other is not. The Holy Spirit is the teacher so you have to shut up and listen — prayer has got to be a part of Lent. If you don’t hear anything, you are spiritually deaf and then you must ask God to help you hear.
What are some practical ways to engage Lent?
If people don’t’ prepare for the liturgy, they won’t get the meaning of Lent.
People can prepare for the liturgy more — both as individuals and as families. See if there is not more reverence for the Holy Spirit when you do that.
Another thing you can do, if you have a family and kids, is to bring them together for prayer. You can start with the Psalms and the responsorial. Everyone in the family can pray a line with silence in between. You need some silence so you can listen to the word of God.
Another practice is to just wash dishes with an internal awareness of Jesus. People are meant to find the Holy Spirit in ordinary things of life like supporting a spouse and saying a kind word.
You can also read something to help you become more conscious. I would start with a missalette with the daily readings. I would also make sure everyone eats together for supper. Families should be together without television and without phones. Families need to ask Jesus to join them and to bless them. Each member of the family could write out what they intend to do for Lent. Make it simple. Let everyone in the family do it in their own way.
What are the biggest obstacles to fully participating in Lent?
The biggest enemy is the cultural mindset. Fasting is not part of our culture and that has an influence on all of us.
About two weeks into Lent, it is expected and normal that you should start to say this is meaningless. Then, you need to ask God for meaningfulness and perseverance. That is a prayer. Everything you do on your own will wind up in futility. Your own efforts alone will be meaningless.
People ask what should they do for Lent? Ask the Holy Spirit what he wants you to do for Lent. If you’re serious, God will answer you.