by Rev. Mark Connolly
The season of Lent is filled with many memories for the average Catholic. Most of us can go back to the days during Lent when we gave up candy, didnít go to the movies, went to Mass during part of the week and even went to the Stations of the Cross on Friday at our local Church. And all of these practices, even though we might have forgotten the reasons we did, gave us our awareness of Christ, his sufferings and what he did for us while on this earth.
As adults the theology and meaning of Lent are still the same. Christ, his life, his sufferings, are still the focal point of a spiritual Lent. We donít enter Lent unless we have a sense of the spirituality of the season. Our act of fasting is to be identified with the fasting of Christ. Our pains, mental or physical, are to be identified with the mental and physical pain of Christ. When you are reminded of the words of Christ, my soul is sorrowful, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me, there is no doubt about the mental and emotional anguish that Christ went through. When you reflect, following the agony in the garden, when Christ experienced the sweating of blood and the path the soldiers made him take into Herodís palace, where his sacred blood stained the marble pavement of Herods palace, there is no doubt about the physical suffering Christ went through. And this is what we recall during this season of Lent. His mental and physical sufferings remind us of what he went through for each one of us. Yes, we fast during Lent. Yes, we perform acts of self-denial during Lent. But they can never be disconnected or disassociated from the agony and the scourging that Christ went through during his sacred passion.
One of the dangers of Lent, if it can be called that, is that so many of our acts of fasting and self-denial are always centered on ourselves. And in doing this we miss something very obvious, that Christís sufferings were centered on that person, your neighbor in pain, that could be helped by your reaching out, your performing a sacrifice or act of self-denial on behalf of another. Christ during his public life reminded us about that other person. The person in the nursing home, who rarely gets a visitor, the person with AIDS, the person dying of cancer, the forgotten masses that are so unfortunate. Almost no one is offering a prayer or a sacrifice on their behalf.
Someone has said that one of the greatest signs of friendship is when you do something without any expectation of being acknowledged or rewarded. And this is what Christ did for us. He offered his life and suffering for us whom he never personally met.
If Lent is to be meaningful it has to be prayerful. If Lent is to be spiritual, it has to find us making acts of sacrifice and self-denial. This is what Christ did for us. We donít enter Lent to give up this or give up that. We enter Lent to identify our lives with Christ. We make sacrifices to deepen our relationship with Godís son. We enter Lent with the hope that Christ will become more meaningful to us and that we will be more Christ-like to others.
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