We, of course, look more closely at the sacramental dimension of our Christian life. This is done by conditioning ourselves in the areas of the two essential paschal sacraments, baptism and Eucharist, which, as the Holy Father points out are the “primary source and the normal food of that [Christian] life.”
The grist of the Christian life flows from our union with Christ and that life is nurtured by our constant contact with him sacramentally and spiritually. In baptism, we come to life in Christ and through him, his church – the People of God. Lent centers a great light on the activity of Baptism and its impact in our daily lives. The major themes of Lent: prayer, fasting, and sacrifice, bring home a certain emphasis to our lives that flow directly from that life in Christ.
For some, unfortunately, the season can be viewed as a sad and dreary “downer.” I guess that can depend on just how spiritually flabby and out of shape we may have gotten since last Lent. Nobody likes to begin an exercise regimen unless they really WANT to see some results – unless they really want to change, for the better.
That’s another thing to keep in mind, Lent is not meant to be a “diet program” or a 40-day mini rehab. It is a season of discipline for serious spiritual strengthening – spiritual exercise. Prayer, fasting, and sacrifice are meant to have some permanent effects in our lives. It helps to have a positive attitude. Take nothing for granted and begin to count some blessings.
Sometimes it’s good to start at the beginning. For example, you’re alive! Be grateful for life. Learn how to give thanks for that life. Pray for your parents. Pray for the priest or deacon who baptized you. Be conscious of the living water that was poured over you making you a child of God and brother or sister in Christ Jesus. Think about who you are now. Think about and pray about your relationship with Jesus Christ. Think about and pray for those people who are making the choice of being baptized at Easter this year – all those involved in our archdiocese and throughout the church, involved in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. Pray for them.
Think about consciously choosing the Catholic Church as the place where you experience the true joy of communion with Almighty God and the fellowship of brothers and sisters in his name. That is the prayer of the catechumens these days. Baptism. New life. Grace in the church. Fellowship of believers. The more you think, the more you pray, the more you act like a Christian, the stronger you become. Lent is a time for such thinking, praying and action.
Holy Eucharist, the other mainstay of our Lenten spiritual exercise is the meal that creates the fellowship. Our unity in Christ gives way to our participation in his mission. We are united in Christ because he shed his blood for us. He gave us his Body and Blood as the necessary food for our journey through life. Thus our prayer, sacrifice and fasting grows ever more fruitful when it is united to his. Jesus held nothing back from us. He gave everything – all of creation, including us – in one great act of love on the cross.
In his Resurrection he gave us the gift of new life, never to fear death again. In recognizing Jesus Christ in one another we serve Christ and do him reverence. We respect and honor the gift of life. By performing acts of charity and doing ordinary daily routines for the love of Christ, we experience the joy that he had in giving himself up for our sakes. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Who can resist the opportunity of passing from death to life by loving the brothers and sisters?
Clearly, it takes energy, imagination and effort to love as Jesus does. But he gives us the ability to offer ourselves in union with his sacrifice every time we receive holy Communion. Communion with Christ sacramentally opens the door to our most authentic selves. For some of us Lent becomes the time to attend the Mass more often and with more spiritual fervor. The great by-product of such activity is growth in the likeness to Christ.
The secret for keeping Lent positively is to try to stop thinking about it so negatively. It’s like reading or listening to the Scriptures. Some of us think we’ve heard all this over and over again. Thinking like this we run the risk of not listening anymore, not pondering the truth that is revealed for all the ages. The same with the Holy Mass. Our unwillingness to listen and ponder can hinder our awareness of the beauty of our most important prayer – the most important action of the church.
Praying the Scriptures and participating in the Eucharistic celebration of the Mass, may offer some new insights and spark some renewed enthusiasm for your personal relationship with Jesus Christ and your own reflection on the mystery of your communion with him in baptism and Eucharist as you keep the spiritual exercises of Lent.