Lent used to feel heavy as we schlepped our load of transgressions, our poor performance, our paltry offerings to God during these 40 days of sackcloth and ashes. In the old days, we had the wrong attitude; we didn’t appreciate Lent as the great opportunity that it is, a special time of preparation for Easter.
That preparation includes interior and exterior components. The goal here is to do something, to prepare in some way for the great Easter feast without taking on so many “practices” that we become overwhelmed and unable to do anything.
Getting discouraged about the Lenten journey can be avoided if we don’t decide to do too much, a pastor told his candidates and catechumens preparing for the Easter sacraments.
Putting too much on the Lenten plate can result in doing nothing and giving us more Catholic guilt to add to our transgressions.
The journey should be more about quality than quantity. We’re not working against a tote board to see how many things we can check off as accomplished.
I’ve heard the expression “Lenten practices,” which, to me, means it’s a process that isn’t perfected at once. (That’s what always frightened me about lawyers and doctors: They’re constantly practicing.)
And here we are, ready to pursue our own “practices” with the same goal: move physically and spiritually closer to our God, become more like the Son in our interior attitudes and our exterior performance.
It seems to me the interior precedes the exterior. We can’t just flip a switch and expect to act differently if we don’t do a little interior reflecting, reviewing and accounting.
Taking Scripture as a guide for the interior review would be most helpful. Spending some time reviewing the beatitudes and how we apply them or neglect to apply them can be a great way to start.
Also referencing Scripture, read the Book of Jonah. He seems like the kind of guy we might know: He has been given a job, and he doesn’t want to do it. He tries to run away, escape from his appointed task.
Things don’t work out too well for him and he finally does what God asks. When God shows mercy, Jonah is at the very least disappointed.
Unfortunately, we sometimes react more like Jonah, hoping for retribution or perhaps even revenge when we have been wronged. We can sit with those thoughts for more than a few minutes and then, perhaps, realize our God is a merciful God.
If we want our Lent to represent more than a span of time, we could look for ways to change our interior attitudes about retribution and revenge. Talking about it is easy but actually making a life change may take more than one try.
Google “restorative justice.” That’s the nearest example I can recall that pays more than lip service to people whose exterior actions mirror an interior change of heart in dealing with someone who has wronged them.
Consider family members of murdered victims who clamor for justice but not revenge and plead with courts not to execute those who have killed someone they love. This is an exterior response to an interior searching of heart with a belief in a merciful and just God.
We can’t change everything that needs changing in our lives at once, but could we consider trying to change one thing, one attitude that we see is harmful or hurtful to ourselves, others and certainly God?
Maybe then the load we schlep around with us will become incrementally lighter, always a good thing as we continue on our road to Easter.
Liz Quirin is editor of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill.