Lent should be a deep personal encounter with Jesus Christ. It took me a long time to understand that. I suppose that’s because I needed to really want that kind of an encounter with Jesus. Once I decided to actually participate in my spiritual life, everything changed. I began to experience Jesus in a physical way, and that caused me to immediately come to love Him more. This was new because Jesus was suddenly real to me. I could touch Him and feel Him, whereas before I could not. The season of Lent has now taken on a whole new meaning for me. I anticipate it, and I pray that God will prepare me so that I can have a good Lent. That may sound strange because it is a solemn time in the Church, but it is this time that leads to the joy of the Resurrection, so having a good Lent is really important. I want to offer God a genuine sacrifice during Lent, not just make a weak effort. I want to please Jesus and grow closer to Him through these 40 days. Hopefully, in the end, I will have grown in holiness.
The Passion of Christ
One of the ways I prepare for Lent is to watch The Passion of the Christ every year on Ash Wednesday or at least early in the season. The movie was released in 2004 and it was highly anticipated by Christians around the world, but I didn’t want to see it at first. I knew it was going to be visually brutal and extremely difficult emotionally, but I also knew I had to go. I had to see the movie for Jesus. My sister and I arrived at the theater, and as soon as I sat down I could feel the anxiety build within me. I knew the movie would affect me in a deep way, and it did. At certain points during the movie people ran from the theater, but I remained in my seat only turning away a few times. I needed to see and feel everything God wanted me to. The movie showed the brutality of Christ’s Passion and death so vividly, it provoked a visceral reaction. We were all being drawn into His Passion through the images and emotions being portrayed on the screen.
Seeing Jesus’ suffering depicted in such a literal manner was practically unbearable, but it enabled everyone in the theater to really feel what Jesus went through during the Crucifixion. I think that is the real power of this movie. It moves you to internally experience the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ in an intimate way. It brings you to a deeper love for Jesus whether you know Him or not, and that has the power to change a person.
How can we have a good Lent? How can we come to be transformed during this Lenten journey? I think the answer is to live Lent every day. To force ourselves to remember how Jesus died for us, so that we can die a little bit for Him. I think if we can do that, then Jesus will surely bring about a beautiful transformation in us. During Lent Christians are called to fasting and giving something up, to a deeper prayer life, profound sorrow for sin, and almsgiving.
Fasting is hard but we only have to do it on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. That’s really not a big deal, but people still have a difficult time fasting. When you are hungry after fasting all day, remember that Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days and then think about how Jesus wants us to hunger for Him. Filling the emptiness with God will make it easier to overcome those sensual appetites that so easily pull us away from Him. Giving something up or making a sacrifice is a very important part of Lent. Give up something big, something that is going to hurt, and know that it is really nothing in comparison to what Christ did for us on the cross. Its merit lies in the obedience of being faithful to God in these sacrifices.
We are called to a deeper prayer life during the Lenten season because Jesus wants to bring us closer to Him. Prayer isn’t always easy though. I know people who struggle very much with prayer, but it is an essential part of our relationship with God. Prayer is reflecting on, or remembering the life of Jesus. It is entering into a relationship with Him. We can walk with Jesus through the Stations of the Cross, or keep Mary company in her sorrows. Whatever the prayer, if we go to that place inside of ourselves where Jesus dwells, then we can be brought to share in these experiences of Jesus more vividly, and come to have a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him. It is like an awakening of sorts. Jesus wants to do this in all of us.
Saint Gianna Beretta Molla said, “If one were to consider how much Jesus suffered, one would not commit the smallest sin.” Yet people sin every day and they move through life as if it were nothing important. I try to remember that my sin crucified Jesus. Watching The Passion of the Christ, or praying the 15 prayers of Saint Bridget honoring Christ’s wounds pierces the heart in a way that forces it lament over the gravity of sin, and the effects it actually had/has on Christ Himself. When a person can come to this realization that is when the heart explodes with love for Jesus. That is when repentance takes on a whole new meaning. Lent is the perfect opportunity to turn away from sin and turn back towards God. All we have to do is desire to change.
Almsgiving is easy. It can be a monetary donation to the poor, or it can be a giving of self to others. Practice the corporal works of mercy. Give of yourself to those in need. Love those who need to be loved. Be kind and considerate and go beyond what you think you can do for others this Lent.
The last thing I want to touch on is temptation. Prior to Jesus’ public ministry, the Holy Spirit led Him into the desert to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). If Jesus was tempted by the devil, then we are going to be tempted too. The difference is that Jesus is God and we are not. The devil is going to try to tempt us into breaking the promises we have made. Without a deeply rooted spiritual life it is going to be very easy to fall into those temptations. But if we diligently pray for the grace to be faithful to those promises this Lent, then God will joyfully transform us in the end.
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).