How does one plan out a Lenten program and decide what disciplines or sacrifices to undertake? In over two decades of teaching high school religion, most of the students and adults that I encountered generally approached this very personal and touchy topic simply by first identifying their repeated sins and then often plotting a Lenten course of action to tackle them. This method seems both easy and practical, but upon further reflection and when compared to our planning in other important areas of our lives, we may find that it is wanting and can use some tweaking…
For instance, many have constructed and are currently living out some financial plan in their lives: long term for retirement or short term like for getting a new car or for summer travel plans or for paying off an outstanding debt, etc. Whether that financial plan is for a long or a short term financial goal, the important point to take away is that the plan/budget starts with a goal: some positive concrete outcome, item or achievement which guides, give hope and focuses that plan. While this plan should and must take into account our personal financial challenges (sins), it does not start with them or use them as an end and vision to guide our plan!
It is clear from this analogy, that what the aforementioned easy and practical, Western style point-and-shoot-your sin-away Lent plan lacks is a positive, hopeful and motivating Gospel centered goal that can focus us. Don’t get me wrong here – yes, Lent IS about acknowledging and repenting of our sins and bearing our crosses, but this is not ALL that it is about! At its core, Lent is about the vision of what, by grace and sacrifice, we can become here and now – this year, on our journey towards the Kingdom. Lent takes this Kingdom vision and, working backwards, concretizes it like a budget, identifying the areas we must discipline and what we must sacrifice in order to eventually live out that deeper and more authentic Christian life we have prayerfully envisioned. Restating the obvious, your Lenten goal is NOT TO GIVE UP X, Y OR Z, but to become more ________ as a person? To be able to do or be ________________ in a more Gospel centered way?
Trying to “bear the cross” without an appropriate Kingdom centered vision to sustain and support us may result in burnout or failure on the Lenten journey, as it surely can in life. A lack of or poor vision can lead us to loose focus or to give up hope when the going gets tough. With the right vision, we can literally post a picture or simply close our eyes and remember our dreams, imagining the possibilities to come and drawing from that Grace which is their source, to find the where-with-all to keep strugglin’ on the journey. In short, just as baptism invites us into a lifetime of bearing the Cross and continuing Christ’s mission to love via sacrifice by setting before us the vision of the Kingdom as our eternal goal, it is very helpful to also prayerfully envision exactly what our Gospel centered moral/spiritual goals are for Lent each year.
As you finalize your Lenten plans this year, the Strugglin’Catholic asks you to envision what you hope to achieve and who you want to become in and through our shared Lenten journey. Please, put a name on it, whatever it is… …and when the going gets tough, prayerfully let its vision draw you heart forward towards your Easter goal this Lent.