I like Lent. In fact, Lent may be my favorite liturgical season. I’ve written before about the problems I have with Advent and while Easter is nice, once the actual day comes and goes, I get wrapped up in spring stuff like planting flowers, so the Easter season just sort of glides into Ordinary Time.
But Lent. There’s a liturgical season I can get into. Pope Benedict has said, “May Lent be for every Christian a renewed experience of God's love given to us in Christ.” Lent really is a renewing experience for me. It starts in the winter when things are bleak anyway. By the time it’s over, at least here in Oregon, spring is springing right along. Lent feels like the very earth is cooperating in moving me from the winter of my sin into a springtime of God’s love. Each day, as the light lingers longer, I feel renewed and recharged. (Some cynics may say that I just suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I prefer to think of it as a sign of annual renewal of grace.)
The other great thing about Lent is that it doesn’t require me to “do” anything. Now that might sound sort of shocking since Lent is all about “doing” and “penance,” but unlike Advent and Christmas, for instance, I don’t have to juggle other people’s expectations of my activities during Lent. “What? You aren’t making the snutter-doodle crispies this year?” “But we always have everyone over for breakfast on Epiphany!”
In Lent, as selfish as it sounds, it’s just me and God. I get to pray and consider what it is that I need most during this season and then I get to choose the way I want to proceed. Some years I’ve been into self-deprivation and discipline. In fact, once I gave up chocolate which was a momentous sacrifice, indeed. Other years, I’ve felt more of a drive toward the positive—to contribute my time and energy to a worthy cause. Still other years, my Lenten activity has been deeply and quietly personal, reading the Scripture, meditating, praying.
That’s the real beauty of the season. While we have some magnificent liturgical moments, especially during Holy Week, Lent may be the most creative of time of year in terms of spiritual growth and development We get to make up our own very personal activities for these 40 days. No one needs to know what we are doing and, in fact, it’s best if that don’t. As Matthew 6:1-1 puts it: (But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.”
But as important as it is for us to decide what we are going to do for God, it’s just as important, as the Holy Father says, to allow ourselves to experience what God is doing for us. This Lent, I would encourage you to set aside a few hours one day, preferably before Ash Wednesday, to consider how you can best experience God’s love for you. It may be harder than you think. We are taught to show God how much we love him, not so much to allow ourselves to be loved.
Perhaps this year, the greatest gift we can give God during Lent is to feel God’s love, given to us through Christ, and experienced in the grace of the season. As Pope Benedict continued in his Lenten message: God’s love is “a love that each day we, in turn, must ‘re-give’ to our neighbour, especially to the one who suffers most and is in need. Only in this way will we be able to participate fully in the joy of Easter. May Mary, Mother of Beautiful Love, guide us in this Lenten journey, a journey of authentic conversion to the love of Christ. I wish you, dear brothers and sisters, a fruitful Lenten journey…”
To which I say, “Amen.”