My memories of Lent as an adolescent growing up are filled with “mandatory family-fun” penances imposed by the bourgeois proletariat otherwise known as “the parents”. Now, as an adult and husband/father of four, I understand my parents’ wisdom in training me for a life discipline.
I am sure your parents encouraged the same type of penances: giving-up snacks between meals, no television, no arguing, etc. We all tried (maybe it was just me) to find the loop holes and exceptions in the law but sadly, with an Irish Catholic mom, no dice. I even remember a wanting to “renegotiate” the penance by offering to do an act of charity instead of giving something up. My parents loved the idea and encouraged me to “do” be charitable in addition to giving something up. Ugh! Much too every child’s surprise, they again were right. Today, it seems that people only want to do an act of charity instead of denying oneself of a pleasure or a bad habit(s).
My parents without any advanced theological training instinctively knew that we needed to empty ourselves. As a deacon this time of year, I often hear the “don’t be negative – do something positive” mantra. Like my parents, I have to encourage a Lenten kenosis so I am sure they may reap the benefits.
Why? It simply doesn’t pass the 8 ounce glass test. What I mean to say is that if your cup is already full, you have neither the room for the graces the Lord has in store for you nor the foresight to see that we have stored up garbage that must be taken out. Let’s be honest, we live in a world that is over-committed, time-crunched, vain – we don’t need to change – and yet, we silently confess that we are starving for God. Lent is not about doing more but about making room for His grace in our lives. We do this by shedding those habits that impede our growth in holiness. In order to do that, we must whole-heartedly embrace a self-kenosis or emptying to “make room”.
We deny ourselves of certain pleasures to remind our body that is was made for more than entertainment and our whims. Scripture tells us,
And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:15)
It was made to be in union with Jesus. When we are comfortable, our body and emotions tend to run our lives and fill our minds. During a penitential fast, it “shocks” it back into line and hopefully causes us to long for our Lord.
This longing, typically causes us to stop and reflect. At first we discover: “Wow, I was addicted to that coffee” or “I really could not go without that daily Twinkie (I love Twinkies but alas, my wife won’t let me eat them).” This typically then causes us to reflect and re-inventory our lives. This self-reflection within the context of the Christian tradition is the nexus of Christ’s transforming power.
Blessed John Paul II loved to quote, Gaudium et Spes 22:1,
The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.
What does this mean? Because of Original Sin, when we reflect upon ourselves it is like looking at ourselves in a fun-house mirror. The image is distorted. In order to see what needs to be corrected, we need a template or a correct image to guide. Our Lord’s humanity has become our template for what it means to be truly human. By gazing upon Him and He upon us, He is able to assist us make those gentle corrections to form us into His very image.
Giving-up up something for Lent is definitely not fun but necessary to make room for our “extreme make-over”. The payoff though is that we will rise with Him and become an icon of Jesus to everyone we meet.
Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)
I now understand that my parents were trying to teach me how to get out of the way thus preparing me for an encounter with the Living God. Thanks mom and dad!
Blessings to you on this Ash Wednesday.