Published February 22, 2007
I know Lent is not a competitive sport, but over the years it has become obvious to me that some folks make sacrifices all year, so when it comes to Lent, their sacrificial muscles are already warmed up.
There are the many people who lovingly tend to elderly parents, day in and day out. The “child,” who may be 50, 60 or 70 years old, has to monitor medications, prepare meals, and, most of all, be endlessly patient.
The little Lents of such people are myriad: the party you can’t attend because you don’t want to leave Mom or Dad alone. The mornings when you would rather be out having coffee with a friend, but instead you are at the nursing home, sitting at the bedside.
Many parents also face little Lents each day. The nights when the baby just won’t settle down, and you end up getting three hours of sleep, total, even though you have a big presentation at work the next day.
The times when it seems all your friends are heading off on seaside jaunts, and your kids need braces, so you stay in town and get a tan in your own backyard.
And then, just when it seems you are over the hump, when your grocery list no longer reads “diapers” and “baby wipes,” the pregnancy test comes back positive, at the same time your youngest is entering the teen years.
There are also people whose physical conditions create a perpetual Lent. They may be struggling with a disability from birth or may have acquired some painful ailment in adulthood.
All these people, whether they are tending to elderly relatives, nurturing children or enduring physical pain, may not realize that, through their suffering, they have the opportunity to show Jesus how much they love him.
And isn’t that what Lent is all about, really? Whatever we give up, whether it is a habit like watching television or a special treat, like desserts, we are saying to Jesus: I am doing this out of love for you. I am making a sacrifice, just as a mother does, out of love for her child.
It would be tempting for people whose lives seem to be a perpetual Lent to despair and think God has given up on them. But one of the greatest strengths of Catholicism is its ability to give meaning and dignity to suffering.
Fortunately, we have spiritual guides to help us on our way, such as Flannery
O’ Connor, the Catholic writer who contracted lupus, a terminal and debilitating illness, when she was in her twenties. After a long and painful decline, she died at age 39.
Rather than bemoaning her fate, O’Connor said that those who suffer before they die are experiencing God’s grace because they can participate in Christ’s suffering and receive His mercy.
This Lent, in addition to doing something extra for Christ, we can also offer Him the sufferings that have been given to us, rather than chosen. In my case, it is a tendency toward anxiety and depression.
“Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith,” wrote C.S. Lewis, “but they are afflictions, not sins. … (and) they are, if we can so take them, our share in the passion of Christ.”
Dear readers, let us keep our hearts centered on our beloved Jesus during Lent. As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in “O Deus, ego amo te”…
Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me
Didst reach thine arms out dying,
For my sake sufferedst nails and lance,
Mocked and marred countenance,
Sorrows passing number,
Sweat and care and cumber,
Yea, and death, and this for me,
And thou couldst see me sinning:
Then I, why should not I love thee,
Jesu, so much in love with me?
Lent is part of the Christian journey, which is, at heart, a love story between God and human beings. And we all know that this is one love story with a happy ending.
Lorraine V. Murray’s three books are available at www.lorrainevmurray.com and may also be ordered at local bookstores. Contact her for signed copies at firstname.lastname@example.org. Artwork by her husband, Jef Murray, can be seen at www.jefmurray.com.