Lent is a time to walk with Christ, to open our hearts and allow ourselves to be transformed by His love. The word “Lent” comes from the Old English word for “spring” because it is a time of renewal. Pope Saint Gregory the Great highlighted that Lent is not only a time of penance but also of joy because we strive most fervently to follow the path to eternal life.
This path of life stands in stark contrast to what Pope Gregory characterized as the way of death: the way of the world and pursuit of worldly things. This is why one key element of Lent has always been renunciation. We give things up and fast in order to discipline ourselves away from the temptations of the world so we can receive the gifts of the spirit.
So we should not look upon Lent as a joyless time. Rather, we should view it in the way great athletes approach a period of intense training or competition. These are things they look forward to because these activities lead to the rewards they seek – greatness, honor, and strength of character. Those qualities can be pursued for vain purposes, but they can also be sought for the glory of God.
St. Paul analogizes perseverance in faith to an athletic endeavor when he says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
When we walk in the path of Christ and unburden our souls from selfish desires, we become free to love more fully. This is the victory alluded to by St. Paul, and it is most definitely one worth striving for. Our Christopher News Note on Lent provides practical tips for achieving this victory within our hearts. In the same way that we take on challenges to abstain from indulgences and worldly attachments, we can also give up bad habits of the mind, heart, and soul. Our News Note states: “Give up resentment, and become more forgiving. Give up hatred and return good for evil. Give up complaining and be more grateful. Give up pessimism and become more hopeful. Give up worry and become more trusting. Give up anger and become more patient. Give up pettiness and become more noble. Give up gloom and become more joyful”.
So we can see how renunciation of worldly attachments opens us up to receive the fruits of the spirit. One of the great challenges in seeking these fruits lies in the realization of the sacrifice such pursuits entail. This is why many people remain lukewarm in their faith. But a lukewarm faith is not the faith of Christ. We are called to be on fire with the Holy Spirit.
While Lent is a 40-day walk with Christ, the Easter season is a 50-day celebration of His Resurrection, culminating in Pentecost Sunday, when we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and followers of Christ. This was the miraculous intervention that set the world on fire with Christ’s love for us all. And that fire is still burning. All we have to do is want it, like a great athlete striving for victory, and that desire will kindle within us the ability to take on the challenges of Lent. So let’s embrace this time of year and walk with Christ for a brief time in the desert, preparing ourselves for the gifts of the spirit that await all who fight the good fight.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note LENT: DISCOVERING A SOLEMN SEASON, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: [email protected].
Father Ed Dougherty, M.M., is a member of The Christophers’ board of directors.[[In-content Ad]]