Read time: 5 1/2 – 6 minutes
Lent has become my favourite season of the church year. I look forward to this season because it is full of opportunities to help us go deeper into our faith and tradition. Lent is a season of repentance and conversion – an opportunity to transform the ways we think and live in the world. It is my experience that it is in grappling with the big, complex problems of the human condition that I am led into closer communion with Jesus.
Of course, there are those among us who prefer not to engage in these questions. I used to be like that and always dreaded the emphasis on “turning from sin”, repentance and confession. I thought we belabored the whole “sin thing” and ought to focus on virtue, instead. I still think we need to grow in virtue – but in order to do that one needs to go deep into our faith and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We can’t have the resurrection without the suffering and death, no matter how we want to avoid it.
In contemporary religious life there seems a tendency to want to focus on “right belief” which consists of orthodox or generally accepted doctrine, dogma and religious practice. When faced with questions about the reality of suffering and death so characteristic of life on Earth, the answers tend to be simple, textbook statements of belief. Some advise more prayer, rosary, adoration, mass attendance, or reading about the lives of the saints. All these are good devotional practices, but rarely lead, in my experience, into insight into the human plight, and our battles against temptation, sin, doubts, evil and darkness. Furthermore, simply reducing Lent to a series of devotional practices is missing the point that repentance involves a change in thinking and living.
Going deeper seeks to meet the person in moments in which the whole person is involved, in moments which are affected by all a person thinks, feels and acts. It means going deep into the “heart” of each person to confirm what matters most. It is an individual journey that looks upon that which happens in moments of confrontation with ultimate reality. It is in such moments that decisive insights are born. Most profoundly, it is here that one becomes most aware of the extravagance of God’s love for us, becomes most aware of and concerned about others, and becomes most awakened to our sacred kinship with all the earth.
A healthy Christian spirituality, which means a spirituality that is compatible with the way of Jesus, rejects the kind of thinking that is either a compulsion to “get it right” , or to “be right”. It also rejects the desire to “run” in order to escape all that is hard, painful, scary, or agonizing. The honest Christian know there is no safe and healthy means of escaping the pain and suffering awaiting each person in this earthly life. That way leads to either denial, addiction, or idolatry. This week the sign on our St. Joseph’s sign says, “Some things that break our heart end up fixing our vision”. Taken to God, our suffering can be transformed into a new way of living in the love of Christ.
It is the role of the Christian community, the body of Christ, to act as spiritual leaders, guides, and companions of support as we take responsibility for our own spiritual lives, and to help us resist the temptation toward religious smugness, self-certainty and judging others, or to retreat into ways of escaping the reality of our lives.
This Lent, as we are all called to “repent” of the ways we have been living, both in our beliefs and in our practices let us look to the community of believers. The Lenten focus on prayer, fasting and alms giving lends itself to deep reflection and transformation as we mourn Christ’s suffering and death, and the sin that led Him there. We also experience the profound courage and love he showed, and the example he set for us. I pray we shall each go deeper in our faith, and grow stronger in our resolve to do what Jesus would do as we trek the Lenten journey. Amen.