A woman receives ashes during Mass on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 18, at the transitional cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The historic Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral was destroyed during the 2010 earthquake. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
A woman receives ashes during Mass on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 18, at the transitional cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The historic Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral was destroyed during the 2010 earthquake. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

It takes a lot of courage to enter into Lent, and then to be mindful that one has done so. I suspect it is a reason that many Catholics give up things like chocolate or Diet Coke; things that had become ubiquitous but required parts of our everyday life. Lent is designed to make our relationship with God the ubiquitous but required part of our lives. Even on day one, I hear friends say, “I really miss chocolate.” and I understand; but what we’re supposed to get from this journey, is to the point of recognizing, we should miss God even more than we miss our daily indulgences.

The stereotypical self-induced guilt that often gets slapped on a Catholic’s head like a scarlet “C” is a misunderstanding of what we’re supposed to discover by engaging in self reflection and conscious examination. Every time we begin to look at our relationship with God, we can see how it could be, could have been and should be deeper. We all know our own temptations and rationales for our own moments when we allow ourselves this one exception. “God will understand.” And He does, but do we understand what we are asking when we ask for that one exception, that one sin we cling to so fiercely?

Prayer and fasting, Mass and penance, the point of all of these exercises is to break past the perpetual spiritual plateauing that “good people” mistake for progress. Modern thinking subscribes to the theory that “I’m a good person ergo, I’ve arrived,” but a soul that embraces that sort of thinking ceases to seek, it stops and atrophies in its contentment which eventually devolves to bored self-satisfaction. 

It is a common error for anyone who can look at their life and say, “I’m praying. I’m going to Mass. I receive the sacraments. I’m taking care of the kids or my spouse.” God always asks of us more than we would of ourselves because He knows and loves us deeper than we do ourselves. Christ doesn’t say, “Take time for you,” and “Be sure to get in some me time.”  He says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” He always seeks our whole hearts in all things.

To love an infinite God is to want to love infinitely.  To do that, one must never cease increasing one’s willingness to love. To love without limits means constantly knocking away the walls that sin and one’s own self and the age and the culture and others would put into place. It means dropping the fishing nets to run toward Jesus, it means being willing to step out onto the water; it means filling the cisterns with water; doing whatever He tells you, and passing out the loaves and fishes that were once only five and two. It means walking all the way to the foot of the cross and returning to the tomb on Easter. It means seeking God in all people and loving Him in all the things we say and do every day. We’ve only taken our first step into the desert, and every subsequent step forward is an act of will, of obedience .

The great gift of Lent is it can bring us to a place we would not seek absent these 40 days.  Being fallen, we constantly seek to carve out a bit of ourselves that is not for anyone else, even God. These 40 days can make our hearts for God alone, and that takes courage to even pursue. Fortunately, Christ also says, “Be not afraid.” And so we know, we are never alone in this 40 day desert. Walk on.