Lent As a Doorway to Deeper Discernment
Deepening one’s relationship with Christ is one of the most important steps of discernment. With this truth in mind, it is clear that Lent is a great season for men discerning God’s call.
The purpose of Lent is to prepare for Easter. We prepare for this great celebration of Christ’s Resurrection by striving to position ourselves to enter completely into His fullness of life. This season is given as an opportunity to take account of our relationship with the Lord and to become very intentional about rooting out the ways that we hold back from Christ and building up the ways that we open our hearts to Him.
When we do this work of tearing down the barriers that we have accumulated, to remove the distractions, and to center our life on Christ, we become more open to receiving His call and able to respond with our whole heart.
This is wonderful, but the trick is to translate these wonderful ideas into tangible actions and commitments. The traditional categories of penance – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving - are helpful ways to structure a plan for making the most of this coming Lenten season.
Prayer is about spending time with Christ. So it is easy to see how working on one’s prayer life is a clear way to working on one’s relationship with the Lord. We tend to grow in relationships the more we spend time with one another. So any good preparation for Lent should include a plan for how to deepen one’s prayer life. This can mean adding extra time in prayer, integrating more time with scripture, finding time in the week for adoration, or making a greater commitment to daily Mass. When the possibility of adding more is not really an option, working on going deeper or being more intentional with the time that you already have can also work. Take a look at your routine of prayer right now and consider how you might be able to dial it up a notch during Lent.
Fasting is a traditional way of recognizing that there are many distractions or false gods in our lives. To look to sacrifice a few things that we hold dear or that might be distractions is to open up space for recognizing our great dependence on Christ. The goal here is not to see how great a burden one can take on. The goal is to remove a few things that are regular parts of our life such that we can see how we try to fill our hunger for Christ with so many other things that really do not satisfy. What are the foods that are not needed for our health that we use so often to bring joy into our life – do they ever truly satisfy? What are the things that we use to fill our empty time – do they ever truly bring us rest and peace? What are the things that distract us from God or from others? Remove a few and strive to fill that space with Christ.
Almsgiving is the wonderful way to both detach ourselves from the many things that we cling to as well as turn our attention out to the needs of our neighbor. Christ made it abundantly clear that, if we do not love our neighbor, our love for Him is impeded. Lent offers us a time to push ourselves to be more attentive to our neighbor, to seek out ways to serve others or give of our resources to those in need. This often pinches. Our time and resources are precious to us. This is often the problem. We see all that we have as ours, not as gifts from God. We idolize the things and forget the giver (See Const. 5:45). Offering what we have to others helps us to attend to the giver, to recognize our connection with His other beloved children, and to open ourselves to greater dependence on His great grace. Seek out ways to give for the good of others. Strive to give of what is precious, that you may become open to Him who is most precious.
One of the great challenges with Lent is that, like many other periods that start with a resolution, we start with great intentions that fade in a couple of weeks as we are worn down or distracted. A way to counteract this is to try not to start too strong. Start small, with a little in each category. Then after the first week add a little more, then a little more. Build steam as you progress through Lent. This helps with staying intentional about your practice and it works you into greater effort in your practice.
The key to it all is to recognize that the point of any practice it is not the practice itself, it is to grow in your relationship with the Lord. In growing in that relationship, you will grow in your own potential to hear and answer His call.
For more on how growing in your relationship with Christ will aid your discernment, look to this earlier newsletter: Building a Personal Relationship with Christ.
Lenten Prayer of St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Let me hold fast to you, Lord, whom the angels themselves yearn to look upon.
Wherever you go, I will follow you. If you pass through fire, I will not flinch; I fear no evil when you are with me.
You carry my griefs, because you grieve for my sake.You passed through the narrow doorway from death to life, to make it wide enough for all to follow. Nothing can ever now separate me from your love.
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