Living Lent Well

By Chris Sparks

Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire — St. Catherine of Siena.

It’s that time of the liturgical year again: Ash Wednesday, and the opening days of Lent.

And this year, it promises to be a Lent to remember.

The world is turning its eyes to war in Ukraine — the Marian Fathers in Ukraine are feeling the consequences of Russia’s war of aggression. COVID continues to hold the world in its weakening grip — hopefully, we’re almost out of that mess. The state of the world is one of turmoil and disorder, of darkened intellects and weakened wills all imperfectly grappling with the waning days of the errors of Russia. We are moving ever closer (we pray) to the full Triumph of the Immaculate Heart, prayed for by Pope Benedict XVI at Fatima in 2010.

Darkness and Light
So we enter Lent in a time of extraordinary darkness and of extraordinary light, with the immense dangers of war, pestilence, death, and famine shrouding much of the world, but also with the immense graces and lights of the Sacraments, of Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium, of science and reason used rightly, of the Divine Mercy message and devotion, of Marian devotion, especially the Rosary, the First Saturdays, and consecration to the Immaculate Heart.

And more — we have the works of mercy to do, all aflame with life in the Spirit, if we perform them in the state of grace. We are sent by God to catch the rest of the world on fire with eternal life and divine love, with God’s own presence and power, making everything a Sacrament, which is a consummation devoutly to be wished. By the free collaboration of grace and nature, of God and man, of the world with the One who made it, all that is may become life giving, mediating love, oriented toward Heaven, and no longer a highway to hell.

Lent is a rekindling of that fire in our hearts, our minds, and our lives. In Lent, we turn again to the Source of all that is good, leaving behind that which is bad. We take up God, and set aside the pale imitations of God. We renew ourselves in the waters of life in the graces of Confession, and with the radiant food of the Eucharist. We become light by receiving the Light of the World, which the darkness does not comprehend, does not encompass, and cannot overcome. We become conformed to the divine will through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, setting aside our sins and even lesser goods in order to allow ourselves to burn ever more brightly with divine charity, with Love, who is Life, who is God.

We are torches
We are not simply on a quest to fulfill a checklist (though if lists help your Lenten pilgrimage, make them — I probably will). Instead, during Lent, we are torches returning to the Fire that blazed before the first star ever shone, allowing ourselves to be rekindled, restored to full blazing radiance.

We are sons in the Son, returning once again to the House of the Father to receive His mercy, eat at His table, and find strength for the journey.

We are salt, miraculously restored to full savor, such that the whole earth will know the difference we make just by being Christian, by living in the Spirit.

We are signs and wonders when we allow God to dwell in us, to work through us, to shine, and season, and resurrect, and heal, and strengthen.

We are words pointing to the Word when we listen to Jesus, hear His voice, and are changed by the One whose words first created light where there had been only darkness, nothingness.

Lent is the time when we become who we were born to be, when we put off illusions, set down nothing, and take up Something, Someone, Reality itself, Goodness itself, when we choose God over the false gods of this world.

"So be perfect"
“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48), which means, “Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36), according to the late, great Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC. Be flame, as God is flame. Be light, as God is light. Be salt, as God is salt. Be a word of truth, justice, mercy, and love, as God is Word, Truth, Justice, Mercy, Love.

That means conformity to the will of God, which of course means obedience to the Bride, to Holy Mother Church. Saint Faustina’s Diary makes that abundantly clear.

Then I heard the following words in my soul: You will receive a greater reward for your obedience and subjection to your confessor than you will for the practices which you will be carrying out. Know this, My daughter, and act accordingly: anything, no matter how small it be, that has the seal of obedience to My representative is pleasing to Me and great in My eyes (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 933; see also 28).

Turn to Life
So this Lent, as dictators kindle war, pestilence takes lives, famine afflicts the poor, and death seems to stalk the earth, let us respond by turning to Life, to Jesus Himself. Let us embrace our Lenten penances as the life preservers they are. Let us flood the zone with grace, with truth, justice, love, and mercy, with devotions and spiritual reading of sound Catholic classics, with works of mercy for our neighbors, prayers for the conversion, salvation, and sanctification of our enemies, and generosity to all in need.

Let us live Lent, not just as a stoic quest for individual perfection, but as an act of generous love to God, neighbor, and ourselves.

Pray for me, that I may practice what I preach. I’ll pray for you.

Chris Sparks is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

Photo by Linus Sandvide on Unsplash

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