Like with other things of importance in one’s life, when it comes to preparing for something special each person may choose to do it differently. What works for you can be different for me. The Church invites all of us to specific ways to live the Season of Lent such as fasting from meals, praying with the Stations of the Cross and abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent. These specific ways help all of us to collectively live the time of Lent, but individually we should dare to enter more fully into this sacred time seeking to slow down, readjust and experience God’s great love for us.
When it comes to Lent the Church calls Catholics to ongoing conversion, the strengthening of one’s prayer life, and a recommitment to service. Often these actions are summoned up into Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. In order to prepare for the great celebration of Easter it is essential as disciples to evaluate our walk with the Lord. It is very common for many Catholics to spend time considering what to give up for Lent, which can be one way to enter the season, however, I challenge you to go further. Take the time this Lent for personal reflection on your relationship with God. As you find the time and space this Lent, allow your starting point to be rooted in God’s immense love for you. Always remember the starting point is God, not you! Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said: “My brothers and sisters, as much as it is important to reflect on how we can better love God, this cannot be the starting point. Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere command; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.”
The starting point is always God, not us! By focusing first on God and God’s gift of unconditional love, we move away from the negative and turn to the positive. Often our days are filled with looking at the failures and imperfections of life which leads to frustration and discouragement. It then becomes increasingly difficult to respond with love. St. Paul reminds us without love we gain nothing (1 Cor 13:3). We may choose to love out of mere obligation, but soon enough that will come to an end. Why is this? The focus is us and not God! Thus, we see only the impossible rather than the possible. For love is not focused solely on the wrong but concentrates on what is right and allows the good to take root and grow! So take your eyes off yourself and place your gaze upon God! Begin each day of Lent seeking God’s presence, power, blessing, and love! When you willingly accept God’s perfect love for you, God will transform your doubt into faith, weakness into strength, failure into victory, and sin into new life!
Now go forth and be a joyful witness!
Fr. Erik Esparza is Associate Director of the Office of Priest Personnel in the Diocese of San Bernardino.