We find ourselves now in the beginnings and middle portion of the Lenten season. It is a time of year when we are challenged to increase our devotional and our spiritual life. We are also reminded that the Lenten disciplines of increased prayer, fasting and giving as well as Bible reading are also to be a part of our yearly Lenten journey.
One thing that we must be on the lookout for is that throughout this Lenten journey, it is very easy for all of this to become too internal, rather than an outward expression of our discipleship. When we consider that this season is a time to practice Lenten discipline it is easy to retreat within our own lives while we do it. We may spend more time in prayer at home away from others, especially if we are already actively involved within the prayer life of our parish church. We will step up our times or intensity of fasting, but again this will oftentimes be a personal, or at most an individual family, concern. During this time as well we will find new opportunities to increase our giving. But the problem here is that often we only just find places where we can easily give a little more money.
Now there is certainly nothing wrong with any of this, in fact it is all certainly good for us especially since in our culture today, most of us, including myself, don’t live very disciplined lives, or at least there are certainly areas that are undisciplined. These inwardly directed disciplines of prayer, fasting and giving allow us to live more examined lives and this is certainly an important aspect of growing in the life of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Although it is the beginning point of this great Lenten journey, we must remember, it is not the ending point. Our discipleship must have both an inward and outward component.
In the Lenten season the Church gives us many opportunities to increase our prayer life within the parish setting. We celebrate the Stations of the Cross. We have increased opportunities to participate in the Sacrament of Penance. While we discipline ourselves to take the time out of our busy schedules to attend these services, what then do we make of this time of prayer? For me, the Stations of the Cross have always been a great opportunity to reflect on exactly what our Lord Jesus Christ went through for all sinners, and also to consider the others that our Lord encountered during this way of the Cross.
We see our Lord struggle throughout the journey to Calvary to offer His life on the Cross. You may also notice that throughout the prayers of the Stations, we hear the invitation to join Christ on this journey. We know that in the pages of Scripture as well, Jesus has challenged us with, “If any want to become My followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25) We are each called to offer our lives for the sake of Jesus and the sake of others. It is through these moments of prayer that we are led to greater discipleship and greater service to others.
It is here that we need to examine exactly where Jesus is leading us as we follow Him. Maybe some are called to the priesthood, some might be called to greater service in their parish in or through its standard societies and committees. There are certainly great opportunities to do this on a Parish Committee, in the Society for the Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament or the Young Men’s Society of Resurrection. There are also many ways in which we can serve the wider community through the actions of our parish life. We can encourage others to join the worship life of the parish. We can open our doors to groups in need, or we can gather together a number of individuals from our parish to help fulfill a need within our local community. While I know that these often are seen as actions of the parish as a whole, oftentimes what is needed is one individual with a passion for service and to serve others in a particular way.
During the Stations as well, we see the others who encounter Jesus and join Him on His way. Through our prayer each of these individuals speak to us concerning discipleship. We see the Blessed Virgin Mary who seeks to stand by Jesus during the entire ordeal, even in its most difficult moments. It challenges us to consider whether or not we have stood beside our Lord through the difficult or challenging moments of our lives. In a culture like ours where we are significantly isolated, it is very easy for us to just turn away when things might get a little difficult, rather than doing the right thing. This prayer of the Stations allows us to examine how we have lived and approached the challenges we have faced. The same sort of things can be said for Veronica or Simon of Cyrene as they too offer service to Jesus at difficult moments, but each in different ways.
Likewise in the discipline of fasting, things are not just supposed to be internal, although they begin that way. When we fast, it allows us to consider that hunger is still a significant problem, not only throughout the world, but also all around us. For many of us, we have never had to consider that we might not have our next meal. There are just so many options and so many choices. Fasting challenges us to be intentional about what and how we eat. We can become more thankful for our meals and also we should be encouraged to make food security an important matter
within our own local communities. Again, our internal discipline of fasting should spur us on to action for those around us.
Lent also encourages us to find new opportunities for giving. This may certainly begin with a more concerted effort to support our local parish church and its ministries. This is certainly a vital part of this discipline and it is of prime importance to the life and ministry of the parishes that have nurtured and fed us throughout our lives. But we must also admit that giving should also be much more. Can we find ways within our local community to help others who may have a need? Can we join with an organization that already helps? Can we start such a ministry within our own parish? This is the giving of our time and our lives, the giving of the most precious thing that we have, our very selves.
So then our Lenten disciplines are those things that can lead us to better and stronger Christian Discipleship. Through our increased prayer and fasting and almsgiving, we will not only discipline our own lives, but we will then be able to more closely follow Jesus as His disciples. This is the goal of the Lenten season, to closely follow Christ. During the entire
season, we look forward to the celebration of Easter, when we will rejoice that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has been victorious over sin and death. But how will we join in the celebration? Will we just be bystanders, who stood by the wayside, watched Jesus pass by and only witness the resurrection from afar? Or rather will we join in the Lenten journey of the Cross, disciplining ourselves through the practices of prayer, fasting and giving, and having all of this drive us on to better service and stronger discipleship? Will we join in the journey so that we can join in the final celebration of the Resurrection? Will we unite ourselves with Jesus now to be united with Him eternally?
Now is the time for discipline; now is time for prayer, fasting and giving. Now is the time to follow Jesus. In fact, it is the beginning time, for a life of