The Church is nearing the end of the Second Week of Lent. I find the first two weeks the hardest. Once a personal plan of prayer and penance is chosen, it takes some time to adjust to the change of outlook and habits for the next six weeks. For a weak sinner like me, being only two weeks into the Lenten season can feel discouraging.
And perhaps that is why the Church has the Gospel of the Transfiguration for the Second Sunday in Lent. It provides a glimpse of the glory of Christ, a hint and promise of His Resurrection. The Transfiguration is a needed reminder to persevere in Lenten "inconveniences" while keeping eyes and mind on the ending: the risen Christ.
So much of the talk of Lent and personal penance tends to be taking on or giving up something big. While I'm not dismissing the fasting and difficult penances, there is also an everyday Lenten spirit to embrace. Entering the season of Lent requires an attitude adjustment or as what I call a "Lentitude" adjustment: being in the presence of God and accepting His Will in every moment.
Of course, it's easier said than done. I run into two thoughts or expressions that have to be tackled during my "Lentitude" adjustment:
- If Only....
- I'm having a really bad day (or time, experience, week, etc....)
This way of thinking is part of the popular culture and at times it can be hard to recognize it. A Lenten attitude of embracing the moment for God is definitely counter-cultural, so it might be helpful to look at these more closely.
Not If, but Now is the Time for our Salvation
One of our family Lenten displays is a "NOW" Cross inspired by the final verse from the second reading of the Mass of Ash Wednesday, 2 Corinthians 6:2: "Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold now is the time for our salvation." It's a visual reminder to embrace God's will now, at the present moment, whatever it might be.
At times there are mental games or excuses: If only I was single and on my own, I could have more time for prayer.... If only my children were older, I would be able to be more attentive in prayer time.... If only they were grown up, I could spend more time in prayer... If only I didn't have messes and bickering, health issues, exhaustion.... If only I didn't have any of these interruptions THEN I could be more prayerful and have a better Lent.
Dom Hubert Van Zeller in his Holiness for Housewives (original title, Praying While You Work: Devotions for the use of Martha rather than Mary) bats down this thinking from the beginning of the book:
The only thing that really matters in life is doing the will of God. Once you are doing the will of God, then everything matters. But apart from the accepted will of God, nothing has any lasting reality....
If you once really appreciate this truth, and act according to its implications, you save yourself a lot of unnecessary heart-searching and resentment. The whole business of serving God becomes simply a matter of adjusting yourself to the pressure of existing conditions. This is the particular sanctity for you...
...It can only be repeated that your whole business is still to look for God in the midst of all this. You will not find Him anywhere else. If you leave your dishes, your housekeeping books, your telephone calls, your government forms, your children's everlasting questions, your iron and your invitations to take care of themselves while you go off and search for Our Lord's presence in prayer you will discover nothing but self.
This is the first lesson for the Christian wife and mother today: to let go of what may once have been -- and under other circumstances might now be -- a recollected self, and take on, with both hands, the plan of God. Indeed it is the lesson for every Christian in every age: it is the Gospel principle of dying on one plane in order to live on another.
My marriage is my vocation. That isn't saying to myself "Look, this isn't going to get any better, so buck up." It means that in my present moment of daily dealings with husband and children, household duties, school and life in general is where I have to find God.
So I have to stop making excuses of "If only I could get away and make a daily Holy Hour...if only I could get to daily Mass...if only I could fast every day...if only my children would eat soup, then I could make it every day ....then I could have a better Lent." No, my Lent is right here, right now.
Transforming Bad Days
I'm so guilty of sinking into a pity party when things don't go my way. I feel I have a right to be grumpy because the car won't start, or I didn't get a cup of coffee, or I have the sniffles, or my sons didn't do their homework or clean their room, or I burned the dinner, or my feet hurt, or it's a gloomy day, or I didn't get a nap...and the list could be endless.
Social media can be a platform to let everyone know how this bad day can't be topped by anyone. It's such a comfortable setting to "let it all hang out." Whining is common.
Thinking like this requires a Lentitude adjustment. The Gospel from Thursday after Ash Wednesday Jesus calls us: "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).
So I can choose some penances for Lent like no sweets, daily Mass, etc. but these little annoyances are my daily cross chosen by God. I can't use these daily "pinpricks" (as St. Josemaria referred to them) as an excuse to slide into bad moods or other selfish behavior.
Every year this passage from In Conversation with God, Volume 2 by Francis Fernandez hits me between the eyes:
However, we will normally find the Cross each day in the sort of petty annoyances that may occur at work, and which usually present themselves to us through people around us. It may be something unexpected, the difficult character of a person with whom we have to live, plans perhaps that have have to be changed at the last minute, stubborn materials or instruments of work that fail us when we most need them. Discomfort, maybe caused by cold, or heat, or noise...misunderstandings. A below-par seediness that impairs our efficiency on a particular day.
We have to accept these daily pinpricks courageously, offering them to God in a spirit of reparation without complaint. Those mortifications that crop up unexpectedly can help us, if we receive them well, to grow in the spirit of penance that we need so much, and to improve in the virtues of patience, of charity, of understanding: that is to say, in holiness. If we receive our setbacks with a bad spirit, it can cause us to rebel, or to become impatient or discouraged. Many Christians have lost their joy at the end of the day, not because of big reverses, but because they have not known how to sanctify the tiredness caused by work, or the little snags and minor frustrations which have arisen during the day. When we accept the Cross -- little or great -- it produces peace and joy in the midst of pain and is laden with merits for eternal life. Not accepting the Cross, the soul becomes thwarted or inwardly rebellious. This soon appears externally in the form of despondency and bad humor. To carry one's Cross is something great. Great... It means facing up to life courageously, without weakness or meanness. It means that we turn into moral energy those difficulties which will never be lacking in our existence; it means understanding human sorrow; and, finally, it means knowing really how to love. (Blessed Paul VI, Address, 24 March 1967). The Christian who goes through life systematically avoiding sacrifice will not find God, will not find happiness. What he will have been taking care to avoid is his own sanctity (pp. 40-41).
I tend to take pride in accomplishing my personal penances, like no sugar during Lent. While they can be physically challenging at times, they can be more of a strength of willpower. On the other hand, how easily I crumble into emotions when things don't go my way. How is it I'm braced for larger things but little pinpricks catch me off guard?
Lentitude adjustment means I need to be open to God's will and His crosses at all times. The smaller and more numerous crosses require a constant fortitude of accepting them now, at this moment, and not pushing for later when "things die down." This can be hard, but fortunately I don't have to do this on my own, because my track record is not successful. We have the gift of grace to give us strength on this journey, and it's not just one big lump of grace to sustain us, but we are accompanied by Christ and His grace at every pinprick. We just need to recognize His hand and hold it through all the little tribulations.
Six weeks of Lent is long enough to establish a new habit, and this Lenten attitude or Lentitude of embracing His Will at the present moment should be strong enough to make us a new habit that we work daily all year, not just Lent. I'm just not sure what nickname I could for a year-round attitude.
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