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4 Reasons to Hope in our Lenten Healing Journey

Ash WedIt is officially 7 days till Ash Wednesday and our collective Lenten journey begins!  Are you ready for another 40 days of penance, fasting and sacrifice?  Do you look forward to this time or do you dread it?  Over the years, I have come to love Lent and what it all means, but I didn’t always.  Why wouldn’t growing closer to the Lord, uniting our suffering with His on the cross, and increased efforts at prayer and good works be something that we all look forward to?  I think the reason that some don’t look forward to Lent is because we don’t see value in suffering and we don’t have a good prayer life.

Think about it.  Holy Mother Church, in Her wisdom, provides us in our annual liturgical calendar, times, such as Lent and Advent, to prepare ourselves for the birth, passion, death and resurrection of Christ.  Would Christmas and Easter be the same if it just crept up on us without any warning or preparation?  Part of the joy of these wonderful seasons in our year, is the journey to them.  How many of you, reading this, get excited when we get to the pink candle (Gaudete Sunday) in the Advent Wreath?  Or how many of you get excited when you see advertisements for Charlton Heston’s Ten Commandments on TV during Easter time?  These are liturgical and cultural sign posts for the coming celebrations of Christmas and Easter.  It adds to the excitement, pageantry and mystery of these holy seasons.  So why do we dread the time of penance and sacrifice so much?  In my opinion, the small sufferings and offerings make the celebration all the more sweeter.  Not convinced?  Okay, so here’s some reasons why you should embrace this holy time.Ten Commandments

1) Lent helps us detach from worldly things.  Detachment is a great sign of holiness.  What do you love?  Who do you love?  Are you able to put God above those things when called to do so?  If not, Lent is all the more important for you.  It is a time to daily and weekly practice putting God first, especially during Holy Week.  Are you able to enter into the passion, death and resurrection of Christ free of worldly distraction?  Without our Lenten journey, I think most Catholics would not be able to do so.

2) Lent is a time to reflect on how we have chosen to follow Satan and embrace his empty promises.  Lucifer is a fallen angel and he maintains his gifts as an angel of light.  He is a master at confusion and he often masks very evil things in great light.  Many of us, including the most spiritually inclined, can easily fall prey to his deceptions.  Lent enables us to reflect on the areas of our lives that are not yet converted to Christ.  Perhaps sports and leisure time has become our God or perhaps we are struggling to stay pure in out thoughts, words and deeds.  Lent enable us to prayerfully consider how we might begin to remove these obstacles to greater union with Christ.

3) Lent is a healing journey.  Often as part of our journey, the lay faithful are encouraged to get reconciled with the Lord.  For many Catholics, it is time to go to the sacrament of Reconciliation (Easter duty).  This great sacrament does amazing things for our wounded souls.  First, it restores the life of grace within us.   Second, it helps us heal the pain of our shame and guilt that we have been carrying since our last confession.  For some, this could represent an entire year away from the sacrament.  Drawing from my own experience as a sinner, I know that charity, joy and peace (fruits of the Holy Spirit) are restored to me almost instantly.  Why do we avoid going to confession when so much good comes out of the experience?  Fear I suspect.

4) Lent is good for us eternally.  The traditional Lenten sacrifices of almsgiving, fasting and prayer that all the faithful are called to fulfill throughout the 40 days, although certainly difficult at times, when done with love in our heart, are very meritorious for our souls and the souls for whom we offer them.

Personally, I feel great after completing a fast (voluntary self-denial from food or any other created good).  There is nothing like a meal after a food fast.  Not that we should gorge ourselves, but the contentment that this act of love can breed is wonderful, not to mention its great for our own growth in self-mastery.  Offering our sacrifices up for the good of another person or a special intention brings great joy to my soul.

Almsgiving is so important and all too often neglected by most Catholics in my opinion.  Yes, most of us give our weekly tithe at mass on Sunday, but I humbly acknowledge that an intentional effort to give to the less fortunate and downtrodden in our society is not usually first on my list.  I give thanks that Lent reminds me of my obligation to serve the least of my brethren.

Knocking on doorFinally, I believe that Catholics who don’t like Lent, likely, struggle in their daily prayer life.  Lent is a gentle way to remind each one of us that we must continue to cultivate a daily relationship with Christ.  Like the Warner Sallman classic painting of Christ, “Knocking on the Heart’s Door”, we must open our hearts to Him.  Jesus will not force His way into our hearts.   We must let Him in.  Lent is the perfect time to allow Christ to enter our lives if we haven’t already.

So when you receive your ashes next week, instead of feeling burdened, attempt to embrace all that Lent affords you as a Catholic, and for heaven’s sake, put a smile on your face.

God love you!

Mark Houck