Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lent: More Than Just a Season of Temptation

by Marianne Robison
{originally posted at UC's Newman Center blog}

I cannot remember a time when Girl Scout cookies did not arrive during Lent. Sitting smugly in their brightly colored cardboard boxes they seemed to mock my Lenten sacrifice, which, for many years, was invariably “no sweets.” In those moments I would begrudge the necessary self-denial of the Lenten season as well as all of the temptations which would inevitably ensue. It had seemed so easy to give something that I liked up on Ash Wednesday, but as the weeks progressed my resolve weakened. Growing up I wasn’t entirely certain how my sacrifice primed me for Easter besides the fact that I would be good and ready to stuff my face with chocolate when the holiday arrived.

Sometime in the last few years I realized that something was lacking in my understanding and in my approach to Lent. After all, this season is considered the pinnacle of the Catholic calendar year. It is during this time that we ought not to feel burdened (i.e. by our self-denial); rather, we ought to feel liberated as we strip ourselves of those vices which bind us more closely to the material things of the world than to a spiritual relationship with our Father in Heaven.

For, truly, that is the purpose of the Lenten season: to grow in love and appreciation of God.

We have marked 40 days of our calendar year as different from all the rest, and this is because this period of time is filled with spiritual opportunities. First and foremost, we have the opportunity to renew our appreciation of the ultimate sacrifice of love the world has ever seen. As we let the incredible significance of Jesus’ conquest over death sink in, we have the opportunity to find a new perspective on our lives and on our relationships and to remind ourselves once again that love conquers all.

Ideally, the period of Lent should be treated as a kind of extended retreat as we strip ourselves of those worldly things which may ensnare and enslave us. That being said, I know as well as any college student (or adult for that matter) that time stops for no man and that our responsibilities and obligations will not be reduced during this time period. Our to-do lists will not spontaneously shrink so as to accommodate time dedicated to prayer, since prayer is an activity which requires a definitive allotment of time to focus your energies towards God.

Or is it?

Certainly, focused contemplative prayer is extraordinarily useful in developing a deeper, more intimate bond with God, but the commitment and mental dedication for such an activity can often be so intimidating as to prevent us from engaging with God at all. We may shy away from the activity unless we are in the right mood or mindset. However, as Blessed John Henry Newman once said, “[Faith] is not a mere temporary strong act or impetuous feeling of the mind... but it is a habit, a state of mind, lasting and consistent.” (Magnificat, February 2015)

To build our relationship with God, the first step is to recognize that He exists beyond the prayer space. Once we realize that God’s spirit permeates every nook and cranny of this earth, we will also realize that every space is sacred. If every space is sacred that would mean that no matter where we are we are prompted to sanctify our actions.

So, this brings me to the meat and potatoes of my advice to my dear readers approaching this Lenten season, and which is stated most eloquently in the words of Saint Paul in the second reading on Sunday: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Life may be characterized by nonstop activity, and I say this both in the sense of working adults as well as in the sense of biology. Organisms constantly interact with one another and all of the little cells in our bodies are constantly influencing each other simply because they exist together. It is in this ebb and flow of interaction that we can recognize the glory of God’s spirit as it prompts relationship between all of the elements of our world. The tiniest element of our world—an atom—moves aimlessly around until it bumps into another atom and then voila! The two become one in an entirely new molecule!

We humans are not so different from the rest of God’s creation as it is in our constant activity that we bond with others and grow as a result of our union. Granted, spiritual bonds are different things entirely from the kind of molecular bonds which I was talking about earlier, but the illustration is still useful. The point is that God created us all to be active creatures and our activity may therefore be blessed if it is done with a sense of appreciation and love for our creator.

I am here drawing upon the spiritual practices of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection who “resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions.” I would try to paraphrase some of his beautiful ideas, but he speaks far more eloquently than I can in his novel published posthumously and titled, The Practice of the Presence of God:
“Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love... Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for love of him?” 
“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.” (Magnificat, February 2015)
It is up for us this Lent to open ourselves to encountering God both in the quiet stillness of our hearts as well as in the business of everyday life.

Marianne is my hilarious, holy and helpful second sister (the fourth of us six kids); she is a double major in biology and English, with a minor in Spanish because we can't convince her to triple major.

1 comment:

  1. love it, hope you don't mind me sharing it on Facebook