A "Good" Lent
The Church has dived into another season of Lent, and most Catholics have taken up a plan for how they intend to use this time of preparation for Easter well. It’s perennially popular to “give something up” for Lent. But have you ever thought how Lent might fit into your larger desire for vocational discernment?
For men who are actively discerning their vocations, every liturgical season can suggest some helpful areas of focus, and this is especially true of Lent. Lent can be understood as having two intimately-linked campaigns: to root out sin which has dug into our hearts, and to prepare to more fully participate in the mysteries of salvation recalled by the Paschal Triduum—from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper through the Passion Narrative on Good Friday into celebrations of the Easter Vigil and that whole season. One of the best ways to discern your vocation during this time is simply to concentrating on having a “good” Lent.
I often hear about people who get frustrated with their Lenten promises because they “slip up” and indulge in whatever it was they were trying to give up. “Welp, I guess Lent is ruined now, maybe I can do better next year.” This is not a helpful way to think about the season or these disciplines that you may choose to place on yourself. Thanking the Good Lord, Lent is not “graded” cumulatively. If you had a bad day (or a bad week), that does not mean that the rest of the season is now a wash. If you have sinned, go to Confession; if you have slipped up on an abstinence from something, just get back to trying again. Remember, you are not impressing God with your will power, your will power has nothing to do with how much God loves you. Rather, these disciplines are meant to train us, strengthen us, to RETURN more perfectly God’s love to Him and to others.
Lent might be a time of more intense prayer in some ways, but it is also just a good check-up to see how our prayer life is doing all the rest of the time, too. If we know we need to be spending more time in prayer, then consider Lent an opportunity to start new habits that you intend to KEEP doing even after Easter. You don’t just have to start a new prayer “diet” that will be dropped on April 5, instead Lent can be the springboard for a whole new prayer lifestyle.
In a similar vein, many parishes and communities schedule special penance services during this season, and those are wonderful liturgies to take advantage of. At the same time, it should be an opportunity to consider whether I take enough advantage of that Sacrament throughout the whole year. Going about once per month is a great benchmark for men in active discernment.
Lent is a beautiful season, and for many people, it is one of the most spiritually impactful times of the year. To jump in and take advantage of the spiritual resources available in this time is good for your overall spiritual wellbeing, and for that reason, it is also very good for your discernment.
The Spiritual Meaning of Lent:
For by your gracious gift each year
your faithful await the sacred paschal feasts
with the joy of minds made pure,
so that, more eagerly intent on prayer
and on the works of charity,
and participating in the mysteries
by which they have been reborn,
they may be led to the fullness of grace
that you bestow on your sons and daughters.
Taken from the Roman Missal, Preface I of Lent