It was mid-January 2008 and the year was still relatively new. Amidst the hopes and ambitions I had for the year, something had crept up in my mind and kept tugging at my heart with increasing frequency: I needed to deepen my faith; I needed a renewal. Lent was to start in a few weeks and it occurred to me that for the first time ever, I should fully enter into the season of penance and allow it to be a time of renewal for me.
I decided to do that and busied myself with preparations. I got a copy of “The Word Among Us”, a Catholic daily devotional. It had a special Lenten edition with a theme that deeply expressed my desire, “Be Renewed”. I drew up a fasting, abstinence and prayer schedule and made out time for weekday Mass and personal Bible study and prayer. It was an exciting journey for me. Sometimes I was tempted to relax, indulge in food and stay in bed at prayer times but God’s grace held me up and when Easter came, my joy was indescribable. That Lent signified a turning point in my life and in my faith journey. It marked the beginning of a transformation that is ongoing to this very day.
It was amazing what God was ready to do in me as I yielded myself to Him. All I needed was to be open to Him and respond to His call and the grace He poured out on me was abundant. This statement became clear to me, “This is the mystery of God’s love: when we take small steps towards God, He in turn takes giant strides towards us”
What happens in spring?
The word “Lent” originally referred to the spring season. However, it was gradually used to refer to the forty days of preparation preceding the celebration of Easter. Those who live in the temperate climate with four seasons: Summer, Autumn (Fall), Winter and Spring will better appreciate what spring time is all about. The dark, extremely cold and snowy days of winter which leaves the trees dry and bare gradually give way to a more friendly weather. Most significant is the budding and the growth of new leaves on the plants. Indeed, spring is seen as a time of growth, renewal and of new life being born both for plants and animals.
Considering the spirituality of the season of Lent, it is indeed a time for you and I to grow and bud. It is a time to initiate the process of bearing fruit. The good news is that we do not grow by our own strength; it is God who works in us, pouring out His immense grace into our lives so we can experience spiritual growth and newness during this season of grace.
What is my role?
Our heavenly Father created us free beings from the beginning. He has given us intellect and freewill and though He constantly shows us the path to holiness and peace, He does not compel us to walk that path. Though He gives us the season of Lent each year through His Church, He does not force the discipline of fasting, abstinence, almsgiving and prayer down our throats. Yet when we freely decide to cooperate with the grace He gives and take up the discipline of Lent with the intent of seeking God more, He works tremendously in us. Are you going to cooperate with Him this year?
It is Lent again
You have gone through Lenten season several times, year in year out; you have joined your family to Church to receive ashes on your forehead as the season kicks off. You have probably also joined at the Stations of the Cross a number of times but can you look back at those years and say you were transformed through the season? Your priest may have called it a “season of grace” but can you say that you experienced any special grace during Lent in past years? Can you describe your past Lenten experience as a “spring time” in your life – a time for growth and budding?
Beloved, the good news is: IT IS LENT AGAIN! The Church offers you yet another spring time, are you ready to plunge into it? Are you ready to experience the transforming power of God’s love as you take time to reflect on our Lord’s passion this season? Do you desire to look back when Easter arrives and see how God has worked in your heart through this holy and grace-filled season?
Did you answer yes to the last few questions? Then let’s move on. Remember, “When we take small steps towards God, He in turn takes giant strides towards us.” Lent is not really about what you do as much as it is about what God is willing to do in you as you take those small steps. Here are a few practical suggestions in taking those small steps this Lent:
- Embrace the Sacraments
The Sacraments are at the very heart of our lives as Catholics as they bestow God’s grace upon us. This season, embrace the sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist more often. The season calls us to repentance. Take time to have a good examination of conscience and go for confession. Step beyond being just a Sunday Mass attendee and make out time to attend Masses more often and receive the Holy Eucharist. These Sacraments will bring healing to your soul and strengthen you in your struggle against sin (CCC 1394, 1395). “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.” (John 6:57).
- Upgrade your communication
Just as no human relationship can blossom or be sustained without communication so too is our relationship with God. We can only grow in intimacy the extent to which we keep communication lines open.
Beloved, Jesus longs to hear your voice and to speak with you (John 16:24). This season, have a specific time for private prayers and Bible study each day. Let it be a time that is sustainable, considering your daily routine and will not present distractions. Hand over your desires, fears and worries in trust and thanksgiving (Phil 4:6). Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:7) This is a key to intimacy with God.
- Bible study
Bear in mind that prayer is a dialogue; we speak to God and listen to God. One sure way of listening to God is by meditating on Scripture (CCC 2653). Let part of your prayer time be spent in meditation. I strongly suggest that you read the Bible along with the Church as the readings are specifically chosen for this season. This devotional will serve as an invaluable guide to daily Scripture study and meditation.
Allow God to speak to you through His word and speak to Him in prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and for the grace to live out what God teaches you in His word.
- Practice self-denial
Give up something this Lent. It may be skipping a meal, giving up meat or fish or a favourite meal, giving up time for watching football matches or movies etc. Abstain from something you enjoy and give out the time or money you would have spent to someone in need. Spend time with the lonely, visit the sick, give to the poor and you will be mastering yourself.
Also, give up habitual sins like lying, gossiping, unforgiveness, passing judgement, envy and pride and do not go back to them after Lent. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to see those dark areas of your life and give you the grace to fight against them and attain self control this season.
- Meditate on Our Lord’s Passion
Meditation on Christ’s suffering and death is necessary if we are to deeply appreciate the gift of salvation (1 Peter 1: 18-19). It strengthens us in our own moments of suffering and helps us fight against the temptation to sin. Lent offers us a wonderful atmosphere for meditation on Christ’s passion. This Lent, participate actively in the Stations of the Cross at your Parish at least once a week. Also seek opportunities to meditate on them privately. As you do, don’t just read the words; ponder them deeply and ask the Lord to transform you through them.
- Journey with your Mother
Our Blessed Mother is close to Jesus’ heart and is a model of Christian discipleship. Ask for her intercession constantly as you make this journey of Lent. Pray your Rosary each day, taking time to meditate on the mysteries. She will teach you how to treasure God’s word in your heart and do whatever Jesus tells you (Lk 2:51; Jn 2:5). Through her maternal prayers, she will help form you into another Christ.
- Draw up a schedule
Order makes life beautiful. The practical points listed above will not just happen simply because you desire them. You must plan. Draw up a schedule as Lent draws near. Have a specific time for prayers and Bible study and specific days for Mass and Stations of the Cross. Make plans for fasting, abstinence and almsgiving. Let your schedule be clear, uncrowded and workable considering your daily routine, school, work etc and make efforts to be consistent. Yet, don’t be rigid; open your heart to the Holy Spirit’s working as He may draw you to prayers or helping others outside your own schedule.
- Spread the news
Let your joy and excitement about God’s transforming grace be contagious! Invite your friends to partake more fully in this year’s Lent and share with them the joy that comes with walking closely with Jesus.
- Never give up
Even while trying very hard, you may be unable to enter into Lent as fully as you desire. Remember that the devil will do everything possible to prevent you from growing in holiness. Watch out for his tricks including discouragement, distractions, sloth, excessive sleep, temptations, guilt and unworthiness. Even if you do not seem to be growing in intimacy, NEVER GIVE UP (Gal 6:9)! The Christian journey is a battle. Run to Christ, tell Him your weaknesses and ask for the strength to persevere.
Dear friends, spring always gives way to summer. The flowers that budded in spring blossom in their bright colours in summer and bring beauty to everyone. The springtime of Lent always gives way to the summer joy of Easter. If you have truly journeyed with our Lord through the forty days of Lent, your joy at Easter will be full! The period of self mortification will yield numerous fruits in your life and beautiful flowers for everyone to see.
It’s spring time again; let us get ready to grow, bud and blossom!