When Lent began, in one of his regular videos Fr Mike Schmitz made the point that Lent should be seen as an iterative process. That is, if our Lenten disciplines are becoming counterproductive, or if we begin to realise that something else might aid us better, we shouldn’t be afraid to revise those disciplines. That isn’t failure: It’s a mark of self-knowledge and, hopefully, sensitivity to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
For those of us who have a history of choosing our Lenten disciplines lightly and at the last minute, this should be something to take on board.
But there is something here for everyone. In the Season of Lent it’s easy to grow complacent; easy to let the initial fires of our Ash Wednesday commitments grow cold.
In C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, as they behold the new Narnia, the unicorn calls, ‘Come further up, come further in!’ The truth is, if we’re doing Lent properly we should be open to going further up and further in as we sense God leading us. Lent is not an annual testing of personal resolve. It is a slow and steady (though wide-ranging) deepening of our relationship with Jesus. We should be catching a glimpse of the ‘deeper country’ to which Christ is drawing us – the new creation made possible by the mystery of His Passion and Resurrection.
But we can only do this when we stop doing Lent at God and start doing it with God – which might be one of our problems (especially where fasting is concerned).
In Mere Christianity (1952), Lewis says this:
Now what was the sort of “hole” man had got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.’
If we want to rectify our experience of Lent, spending some time with this insight from Lewis might do us some good.
Lent is not simply about taking our imperfect nature and improving it; Lent is not a spiritual self-help program. It is more than that: it is a time in which we understand the depths of our rebellion and lay down our arms at the foot of the Cross, where Christ made a home for rebels everywhere.
The man we call the “good thief” was actually a revolutionary and a rebel – but he also found his home there, with Jesus, at the Cross.
Another thing Lent is not: a time for us to set up on our own, to behave as if we belong to ourselves, pursuing penances by our own strength to prove something to ourselves (that’s probably the worst way to go about Lent). Lent is the time for us to remember that we have been claimed totally by Christ; that, baptised into His death and resurrection, every part of us has come under the loving kingship of Christ.
Even the baptised forget this; even we have the “muscle memory” of rebellion deep within us (the technical word for that is concupiscence).
As a result, the true spirituality of Lent is a spirituality of the Cross, of surrender, of laying down our arms on the via Dolorosa to receive the grace of conversion.
As Pope Francis wrote in Christus Vivit:
His self-sacrifice on the cross is so great that we can never repay it, but only receive it with immense gratitude and with the joy of being more greatly loved than we could ever imagine . . . Keep your eyes fixed on the outstretched arms of Christ crucified, let yourself be saved over and over again.’ (§121 – 123).
Maybe this Lent, if you’re starting to feel a bit limp, spend some time reflecting on your own conversion. Recall why you came to faith in the first place, how you first fell in love with Christ. And ask for the grace to fall in love all over again. The more we do this, the more we might sense God stirring our hearts, leading us to perceive the ‘deeper country’ where His love reigns supreme.
Stop doing Lent at God. Do it with God. He might take us down some unexpected roads.
Melbourne Catholic07 March 2022