‘Everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.’ (Phil. 2:21)
Jesus’ main interest in Lent is to lead us into the desert so He can love us there. In the quiet, He accesses our deepest thirst; He fills us with tender mercies, sweet as rain. He is jealous for us.
We are mostly disinterested in this. We claim to be pragmatists, not mystics. So instead of the quiet, we settle for noisy conflicts between sexy idols and guilt, our devotion to virtual ‘likes’, the rattle of self-reproach for being soft and distracted.
Lent invites us to fast, to deny ourselves, for love. We give up little things for the main thing—His lovely Presence, ever near, just waiting to look and speak tenderly to us, to pour out generously upon us. Dulled by too many calories or too much wine? Feel the ache, the anxiety; invite Him into it for a few minutes. Struggling to be still? Turn off the computer; leave phones out of reach. Deaf to the still small voice? Get a little cross or the Divine Mercy image or the sweet pic of Jesus carrying a little lamb and let Him capture your gaze. Let Him hold you.
Our small Lenten losses are never an end in themselves. We get into trouble when they are. Thomas Merton writes pointedly: ‘Endurance alone is no consecration. True ascetism is no consecration. We can deny ourselves rigorously for the wrong reasons and end up pleasing ourselves mightily with our self-denial.’ When Lenten sacrifices become about us--one more reason to reward ourselves for giving up familiar rewards—we need to repent. Lent is about Him, His interest. He wants only to root and ground us in His love (Eph. 3: 17-19).
Any self-denial we undertake is to position ourselves before Him and to allow Him to love us. Bonhoeffer says it best: ‘Self-denial means knowing only Christ, and no longer oneself. It means seeing only Christ who goes ahead of us, and no longer the path that is too difficult for us. Again, self-denial is saying only: He goes ahead of us, hold fast to Him.’
Selfish, you say. What about Lenten almsgiving? We give out of the overflow. During our Immerse nights, having denied myself a few things as to be loved by Him, I notice a purer, stronger flow of His Spirit as I lay hands on hurting ones. I’ve no answer for them other than Almighty mercy. Water in their deserts, I pray…