Lent has come early this year. It seems we have only begun cuddling the Infant Jesus and already He is journeying to Jerusalem. Is it just me or does anyone else shudder at the thought of the Lenten Season? 40 days & 40 nights……penance…..fasting…..suffering……shuddering…. I know someone who was educated in a school with Nuns. She told us that it seemed like they were always talking about suffering – “embrace your cross! Offer it up!” She heard it so much (without really understanding it) that as she matured into adulthood she embraced the culture of pleasure instead. Like the rest of us, she was frightened by the cross and seduced by the lie that we can live just fine without it. I heard a quote from Bishop Fulton Sheen recently. It went something like this:
The majority of the modern world has divorced Christ from His Cross. The western world wants Jesus but without His Cross. The Eastern world (especially communistic countries) want the Cross but without the Christ.
How true? Look around us. For a couple of years now we’ve been reading about the “heroine epidemic” where hundreds of our young brothers and sisters are throwing away their lives in an attempt to avoid the pain of the day. But they aren’t the only ones trying to escape it. How many of us reach for the tylenol at the onset of any pain? According to statistics, the USA is responsible for 80% of prescription pain pills and over 250 million prescriptions were given out in the USA just last year! This is not including over-the-counter drugs. They even make massage therapy equipment now that “guarantees” freedom from pain! It sounds promising. So, why suffer when the world offers ways to fix it, to mask it, and to numb it? After all, didn’t Jesus come to take that all away? Haven’t we heard the “prosperity” Gospel?
I think this is where we find ourselves when Lent comes around…and out of obedience we “give something up” and we put ourselves on the opposite side of the spectrum: trying to embrace the cross without the Christ. And THAT is why the Lenten Season is so difficult for us. We cannot face – let alone embrace – suffering… and especially the suffering of the Cross without the Christ.
So now what? Now, we have to relearn what it’s all REALLY about. The point of our lives is union with God…. and this union is brought about through LOVE… and LOVE is proven through sacrifice.. through suffering. I read recently that in the early Church (around 694 until the 10th century) that Crucifixes all depicted a suffering Christ on the Cross. It was not until the 10th century that Crucifixes were permitted to have an image of Jesus dead on the Cross. As I prayed about this I thought, “maybe it’s because in the early Church they had more of an understanding of the reality of His Passion.” Meaning – in TIME Jesus died on the Cross and He rose again and ascended into Heaven… but in the TIMELESSNESS of God; in the permanence of the One Act of Salvation; in the Reality of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass— Christ is STILL mystically suffering…isn’t that what He manifests to us during Eucharistic miracles: a living, suffering Heart? He is continuously PROVING HIS LOVE to us… and asking us (as we ask our closest friends) to receive and to reciprocate that love. We become like that which we love… and if we truly love our suffering Savior.. then we seek to share that suffering with Him. Like Mother says, “I’d rather be on the Cross with Christ, than on a cruise without Him.”
Lent is a beautiful time where we are again reminded of the meaning of life and its shortness and we are given the opportunity to detach from all that hinders us from that ultimate goal. St. John of the Cross speaks of the soul as a house. For those who are in the state of grace, God is living in the center of that house. The windows of the house are the senses and when they are open – the light from outside makes it difficult to see the God Who is dwelling within. Lent helps us to close those windows of the senses – through penance, sacrifice, and prayer – participating and uniting with the Passion of Christ AND, in the process, finding God… finding a deeper, more intimate union with God.
I leave you with one last quote. Mother Agnes of Jesus, who was prioress of the Carmel of Lisieux, and St. Therese’s blood sister said, “Like the disciples of Emmaus we must beg Him to ‘stay with us, Lord’… and I think He will smile and show us the Cross that is always with Him, and will tell us, ‘My children, while many invite Me, few keep Me, for many love Me without the Cross. But few will allow Me to erect it in their hearts, and I cannot make My dwelling with them. Love finds Me, but only suffering keeps Me.’”
May this Lent be for us an efficacious one – uniting us with Christ and with His Cross…. the narrow gate that leads to life.