Make this the best Lent of your life Print
Bishop Hying's Column
Written by Bishop Donald J. Hying   
Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020 -- 12:00 AM
Ash Wednesday, St. Bernard, Middleton
Fr. Brian Wilk, pastor of St. Bernard Parish in Middleton, distributes ashes to a parishioner during an Ash Wednesday Mass last year. (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

Every Lent, the whole Church goes on a retreat together with Jesus in the desert for 40 days. Through increased attention to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we grow in virtue and holiness, more attentive to the grace and love of the Lord, more dynamic in the practice of our faith, more spiritually ready to celebrate the great Paschal Mystery, the death and resurrection of Christ.

The etymology of "religion" is "relationship," so we deepen the relationships in our lives this Lent. Through prayer, we grow in our experience and attention to the Lord; through almsgiving, we serve and love others by sharing our time and treasure, especially with the needy and suffering; through fasting, we empty ourselves out, so the Lord can more truly reign on the throne of our hearts.

More Jesus. Less me. If I am especially faithful to fasting, there will literally be less of me, come Easter!

More about subtraction than addition

In a sense, Lent is more about subtraction than it is addition. By removing the noisy demands of my selfishness and the distracting clutter of my heart, God has greater freedom and capacity to live, move, and act within me.

This path of self-emptying is imitative of Jesus, who followed a trajectory of remarkable humility, in order to reach, heal, forgive, love, and save us. Jesus Christ was laser-focused on doing the will of the Father, radically directing every aspect of His life and personality to His mission.

The humility of Christ

Ponder with me the humility of Christ. The eternal Son of God, dwelling in unapproachable light, takes on a human nature with all of its challenges, limitations, joys, and sorrows.

The Creator becomes one of His own creatures. In the humility of the manger, the Eternal Word lies amidst shepherds and animals, tiny and fragile, reliant on the protection and nurture of Mary and Joseph. The humility of Nazareth marks the hidden years of Jesus, as He grows in wisdom, age, and grace, living this seemingly ordinary existence, hallowing family, work, school, and youth by His embrace.

Bishop Donald J. Hying's column

The humility of Jesus' Baptism marks the beginning of His public ministry, as He receives this Baptism of repentance for sin at the hands of John. The sinless One identifies with our weakness and failure, an embrace which reaches its culmination in the crucifixion.

Icons of Jesus' Baptism represent the waters of the Jordan as a tomb, a pictorial foreshadowing of the Paschal Mystery to come. The humility of the foot washing is a remarkable reversal of the social order; the Master performs the work of a slave. The Son of God gets on His hands and knees to perform a lowly act of service, calling all Christians to go forth and do the same in the name of Christ.

The humility of the Eucharist expresses Jesus Christ's deep desire to abide with us every step of our way home to heaven. God, whom the entire universe cannot contain, humbles Himself to feed us with His Body and Blood in the simple form of bread and wine. The vulnerability and love of Jesus in this Blessed Sacrament is truly extraordinary.

The humility of the Cross is the ultimate fulfillment of Jesus' self-surrender to the will of the Father. Condemned to a shameful death as a blasphemer, Christ dies outside the city gate, hung on a tree, seemingly cut off from hope and salvation. We could ponder the crucifixion our entire lives and never plumb the depths of Jesus' humility in the shock and horror of the Passion.

We can never pass a crucifix with indifference; in it, we see the definitive expression of God's saving love for us: Jesus, with His head bent to kiss us, His arms open to embrace us, and His feet nailed fast to pardon our sins.

In all of Jesus' humble actions, we see God seeking to go fully into our humanity, entering not only our flesh but also our weakness, sorrow, sin, and death. Christ goes to the dark depths of our searing wounds and our broken fragility, further down than anyone would dare to go, getting beneath all of it so that, in one great action of self-oblation, He can lift it all up to the Father in the saving action of the cross and resurrection.

Lent is our sacred time to imitate the humility of Christ, to allow our 40-day discipline to open our heart, will, and mind so fully to the saving presence of the Lord, that He has the freedom to heal, forgive, bless, and save everything in us that still needs redemption.

Such a path is not for the faint of heart. To enter the desert with the Lord is to know our own weakness, stare into the abyss of our own sin, to realize the brevity of this life and the urgency of conversion. In the desert, Jesus comes face to face with the Evil One, who attempts to divert Him from His divine mission.

We are not alone!

The good news of Lent, as we set forth on this path of prayer and mortification, is that we are not alone! The Lord walks with us; the entirety of the Church walks with us. We can courageously look at the dark side, because we know that Jesus has already gained the victory.

Not by accident is the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent the narrative of the Transfiguration. We trudge the valley of sin and death with our hearts and eyes fixed on the glory to come.

Make this the best Lent of your life. Let's hold each other in prayer all the way through.