I'm Excited About Lent!
Much to my surprise, I’m excited about Lent this year. Being candid, I am not one of those Catholics who embrace this penitential season, and I’ve questioned the value of extrinsically imposed observances. Yet, this year, I find myself looking forward to Lent, and I think God’s grace is changing my long-held bias.
Without too much self-disclosure, I grew up in difficult circumstances. Suffering and penance were not something that needed to be manufactured in my life; there were plenty of both, and the idea that giving up soda or chocolate would somehow make me a better Christian was ludicrous. This is one of the reasons I recoiled from Lent: There is enough suffering and pain in the world already, and I’m not a proponent of manufacturing more.
Perhaps it’s just a change of perspective; but instead of looking at Lent as time when I needlessly inconvenience myself because it is expected, I’m viewing these 40 days as a time of reset and renewal. A well-known finance guru describes “the debt snowball,” and anyone who has ever been in debt can appreciate the image: No one ever decides it would be great to take on lots of debt until they are in dire straits. Rather, it starts slowly, and then something unexpected occurs. Voila: The snowball begins rolling.
The same tends to be true in our spiritual lives (or lack thereof). No one ever says, “You know, I want to take a series of actions that find me further away from God and less able to hear His voice.” I guess we could call it a Venial Sin Snowball (I know, not as catchy of a name, but bear with me). I don’t think that most people run headlong into grave sin. Typically, we start by enjoying a good thing, then we start to enjoy it a bit too much.
Obesity is a huge problem in our region, and some counties in the Diocese have the dishonor of leading the state in alcoholism. Neither of these illnesses begin with a person saying, “You know, by the time I’m 50, I want to be morbidly obese with a failing liver!” Instead, people tend to enjoy something and develop a habit of use, and if that habit is never examined, the snowball can grow before they are even aware of a problem. Now look, I’m not writing about the dynamics of addiction, so please forgive my oversimplification. My point is simple: If we let our passions get out of hand, no matter what they are, they run the risk of controlling us in an unhealthy manner, and this always impacts our faith.
I’ve noticed a few of these in my life, and I’ve decided to use Lent as a time to examine these passions. My personal sacrifices aren’t designed to be a temporary fast from goods; I plan to use this Lent as a reset, a time to purge unhealthy behaviors and nip a few in the bud before they start an unhealthy snowball of behavior. These cover multiple areas, including my spiritual practices, and I’m looking forward to the remaining days of Lent as I give these things to God and seek His guidance.
For me, this gives Lent a greater meaning. I am using these 40 days to clean out my spiritual house; to prepare to welcome Our Resurrected Lord free from attractions that, although not gravely sinful, certainly could become so without examination. No, my approach may not appeal to everyone, and some may even disagree with it. But in my travels, I run into many folks who find Lent either unnecessarily burdensome or even archaic, and I think an approach that makes the penitential season relevant and practical may be of some benefit. After all, no one’s life is free from suffering, so working to avoid the causes of future suffering seems a pursuit that honors the new life Jesus offers us at Easter. This renewal is exciting, not burdensome, and I find myself anticipating the man I hope to become Easter Sunday. I guess that’s been the point of Lent all along.