An unprecedented Lent
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love Lent. It’s a mixture of a whole lot of reasons, from well-intentioned to selfish. I love that it’s 40 days that unites the universal Church in a collective growth in virtue and holiness and closeness to Jesus. I love being reminded to wait and watch and pray. I love having three themes to focus on—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—with plenty of ways to commit to each. I love that confession in Lent feels especially efficacious, seeing as every time I approach the sacrament, it involves some variation of “…and I failed at my Lenten resolutions…” and ends with a fresh resolve, accompanied by ever-necessary sacramental grace, to recommit. I LOVE the Triduum, with the Easter Vigil as my very very favorite Mass of all the year. (No, the Triduum is not technically part of Lent, but there is nothing like having three extraordinary, grace-drenched days to look forward to after 40 days of self-denial and suffering and yearning for the risen Christ.) And okay, I’ll be honest, I like the excuse to spend a season on self-improvement and marked progress and the garnering of Catholic brownie points. (I know, I know, not the point.)
While I’m not usually a great planner, and it’s often a scramble on Mardi Gras to decide what the heck I’ll do for the 40 days ahead, this year I’ve been giving it some deeper, more premeditated thought. And all that deep, premeditated thought recently came to a head one night around 11:30 when I found myself lying on my laundry room floor outside the bathroom, stricken by the stomach bug. I surely do not do my best thinking in such situations. If I recall correctly, my brain had on loop the following thoughts: I want to sleep. I wish I were in my bed. Will these three sips of water quench my thirst? Will this ever end? Miraculously, in the midst of my sleepless, uncomfortable delirium, a tiny spark of grace broke through the loop, and from that moment on, I chose a dear friend to offer my discomfort for. It didn’t lessen the suffering or ease the burden or make my night on the floor the slightest bit enjoyable, but it did illuminate a deep desire of my heart, one I’ve chosen as my Lenten resolve: I want to make a gift of myself.
It’s a vague goal, I know. And it’s also one I’d like to live out my whole life, but Lent strikes me as the perfect season to really make a concerted effort to bring it about. I have my usual list of Lenten fasts and commitments to prayer, from cutting out Facebook to praying a daily rosary and the like, but without a theme to unite my resolutions, I find that Lent can more easily become that inward-looking, self-help season that it often has for me. Without that divine call to make a gift of myself, I could easily give up Facebook and replace it with a comparable time-waster. I could easily check off my daily rosary with a pat on the back. I could easily pray and fast and give alms to be seen or to congratulate myself, or to fail to do so and become frustrated—once again, making Lent about me. Instead, my prayer these 40 days will be this: Lord, help me to make a gift of myself to You and to those around me. Help me to offer my prayers and fasts generously, not thinking of what I will gain or lose but instead of how they might bless another. Please purify my selfish intentions, turn my inward-looking outward, expand my heart.
And I know that He will answer this prayer. He, who has made the perfect gift of Himself for me and for you and for all of humanity, is generous, selfless, extravagant. He gives Himself over to me again and again. His is the only love that saves. So when I stumble and fall, fail and restart, I know He’ll be pouring out His grace and mercy and very self to sustain me. And maybe, just maybe, this will be the most life-changing Lent yet.