Over the course of experiencing Lent from year to year, I have moved away from giving up something for the forty days and toward doing something intentional to be in the spirit of the season (a phrase seemingly more suited for Advent than Lent).
Lent has gotten the reputation of being a joyless time of grudgingly changing our ways for awhile. One of the practices to which I intentionally commit during Lent is reading daily Lenten meditations (e.g. the black books given out at some parishes, Five Minutes with the Word, etc.). Scripture is a rich resource that I often underutilize, and I find these meditations helpful in bringing me back to the Gospel and getting me to reflect on the Good News.
Every so often there is a reflection that has the text “Take a look at your life” in the upper right hand corner, which seems fitting as I have often viewed Lent as a time to do just that. But the reflection that follows beneath that exhortation — to be attentive and reflective regarding how we are living — provided an interesting nuance to that directive.
The reflection asks the reader to identify which of the following best describes Lent:
- Fast and abstinence
- The Passion of our Lord
- Giving things up
The answer given is (somewhat surprisingly) Baptism.
The reflection goes on to remind readers that Lent is the time period in which those preparing to enter the Church through the sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) complete their preparation. However, those of us who have already received these sacraments are reminded that at Easter we renew our baptismal commitment to “walk in the footsteps of the Lord and recommit ourselves to be the Lord’s disciples.”
For the reflection’s author, this recommitment is a profound undertaking that engages the totality of our beings and affects every part of our lives. The writer claims that in order to (again!) make such a serious and all-encompassing commitment, thought, prayer and preparation are certainly prerequisites. Thus, Lent is necessary if we desire to recommit our lives to God and reconfirm our identity as Christians.
We are left with two questions: What is the spirit of the season of Lent? What does it mean to “walk in the footsteps of the Lord and recommit ourselves to be the Lord’s disciples”?
Political conflict enveloped the region where Jesus lived. It was a land in which power-hungry tyrants ruled the people with no mercy. People plotted, schemed, accused and used violence and coercion to achieve their ends. In Jesus’s time, the rulers and religious elite chose self-preservation over the common good and let fear rule their decisions instead of love.
This sounds a lot like our world today. In such a climate — in response to such greed, judgment and division — Jesus chose to show the world another way even though it cost Him His life. Time after time, he welcomed and loved the outcast and the marginalized: he treated women with respect and dignity, he touched lepers, he befriended tax collectors, he healed the sick, forgave sinners, comforted the afflicted and cared for the poor. No one was outside the scope of His love, mercy and friendship. He literally turned the other cheek in front of his violent aggressors and prayed for those who crucified him.
Being a follower of Jesus — walking in his footsteps — means that in the face of a broken world full of broken systems that privileges commodities over people, we are called to serve all of God’s universal human family in every place. When we do that, we will find that love is at work there; love can be found everywhere.
It sounds simple enough, but when we consider that we are also broken and that “all of God’s family” includes not only the sick and the poor but the violent, the spiteful, the ignorant and those “not like us” in one way or another, it seems like a daunting if not impossible task. However, when we remember that no matter our faults, God loves and lives in us and that God also loves and lives in every single person, we can live as He did.
So what is the spirit of the season? Living purposefully, loving without conditions and recognizing the humanity of all. Lent can serve as a reminder that there is important work to be done and, by virtue of being a Christian, we must continue living the way of Jesus in our time and place.
Carl Caceres is an alumni of a Jesuit university (sadly not this one) and a big sports fan (Miami Hockey anyone?). As the Coordinator of Faith, Ministry and Retreats, he has survived not one but two Approaches and a GetAway! He has done more than survive though–he continues to help the CFJ grow.