Like most Catholics, I have a love-hate relationship with Lent. Truth be told it’s mostly hate, but love, too.
For all its magnificence, we know that true, lasting love requires hard work. My late father once told me — in the midst of a rare moment of exasperation with my Mom — that “marriage is the hardest job you’ll ever have.” As someone who’s been married for nearly 31 years, I agree. Truly loving your partner sometimes means gritting your teeth, biting your tongue and swallowing your pride. The ultimate result, of course, yields benefits that far outweigh momentary exasperation — a strong, committed and resilient relationship built on trust, communication, shared goals and mutual respect.
But back to the hate part of Lent. It’s human nature to want to eat chocolate, stay up late, have a few drinks and ignore our responsibilities. Lent forces us to re-think our self-centered behaviors. It’s not a lot of fun and it’s never easy doing what is good for our bodies, minds and souls and the same thing goes for our Lenten sacrifices.
In preparing for the resurrection of Jesus we have the extraordinary, 40-day opportunity to examine our priorities, confront our negative thoughts, consider our unhealthy lifestyles and change our bad attitudes — all as we patiently, day by day, work to reaffirm our Catholic faith.
Lent in many ways is like the preparation we make for spring. In order to ensure the beauty of a new garden we need to first clear out the debris left by winter storms and awaken the sluggish soil with the vitamins and minerals the plants require. The preparations are time-consuming and backbreaking and the payoff isn’t immediate.
Indeed, the magic of springtime depends as much on our faith in the power of the sun to warm the seeds, the nutrients in the soil to help them sprout, and water to nurture their growth as it is on our tedious preparations. We know flowers will bloom this year because, miraculously, they do so every spring.
Just as we slog through the bleak winter months longing for the fresh beginning of spring, so must we steadfastly and carefully use the solemn weeks of Lent in preparation for our Savior’s glorious return and our new lives in His Spirit.
Thus, Lent must mean more to us than giving up desserts or refraining from road rage. It is the opportunity to spend time in contemplation, study Christ’s words and actions in Holy Scripture and make ourselves humble servants as we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It means being our best selves, minute by minute, hour by hour, until we are living each day in unison with the Lord’s grace.
No, the weeks of Lent are never easy. We hate the part about sacrifice and soul-searching and dearly miss our treats. As mature Catholics, however, we treasure the chance to prepare ourselves fully for the love and wonder we will experience at our Savior’s return to us on Easter Sunday, when it’s proven that love really does conquer all.