12 Pieces of Advice that Revolutionized My Lent
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This post aims to compile some of the reflections the Lord has given me during a retreat I lived not long ago. They are not the result of my own inspiration whatsoever, but a true gift from God and the good preacher, whom God put in our path.
In our lives, we are like the man with leprosy from the Gospel: we are on the path to healing. We walk with the faith and hope that Jesus, with his grace and gentleness, will heal and transform our heart.
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It’s been a beautiful experience living this retreat before the forty days of preparation for Easter. I believe you can find these 12 pieces of advice helpful as you grow closer to Jesus this Lent.
1. Our conversion is an impossible task
Yes, you read correctly, it is impossible. It is not and never will be within our capabilities. To convert means to let Someone else take part. We definitely can’t do it by ourselves, we need God to do His part. We need Him to walk alongside us and heal us. Our conversion is nothing if not a process through which, little by little, we become beggars of God’s grace. Our life is as a field hospital: as the doctor (Christ) comes by, He heals those who are wounded.
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2. Conversion requires us to change the way we look at things
We are used to looking at ourselves and our reality from a very limited and human perspective. When we look at things from love and hope, we discover realities that are not so easy to perceive otherwise. So let’s ask for the Blessed Virgin Mary’s help to see through her eyes, with a gaze that’s grown mature in the faith. After the crucifixion and death of her Son, when she holds Him in her arms, Mary is able to see the Resurrected One. Changing our gaze means learning to see that our very limitation is the place of our salvation. Yes, that’s right, the unexpected can rise up from within hopelessness. God can do great things in us if we let our fragility make room for his presence.
3. Look at things like a child of God
It’s not the same to look at life from the perspective of an orphan child as it is looking at life from the perspective of a daughter or a son. Imagine how different it is for a child to face the difficulties of life alone, versus doing so accompanied by his or her father. Our condition is one of being children of God the Father, dependent on His love. If we were made according to the model of Christ, then we ought to be like Him, children of God, as He Himself is. Our life will be more free insofar as we seek that filial relationship. In our everyday life, it will do us good to ask ourselves: What am I looking at? …To the evil in ourselves and the world, or to the presence of Christ in us?
4. Let us convert to beauty
To direct our gaze to Christ means to live seduced by His beauty, this de-centers us from ourselves. Again, this relates to the penitential posture and outward focused gaze of Lent. When we allow ourselves to be amazed by a superior greatness, we stop thinking so much about what happens to us, what makes us sad, etc. It’s a matter of not letting our daily activities deaden our openness to the grace and amazement of the constant lights that God puts in our lives. Consider human love: when a young man falls in love with a girl, he lives captivated by her beauty and forgets a little about himself. Likewise, whoever loves Christ lives in the contemplation of His beauty and reorients his or her gaze from anything which isn’t Him.
5. Become aware, again and again, of the treasure you’ve found
In other words, being aware of who Christ is in our lives, of what He means to us. Going back to this moment in our lives: We were walking in the field of our life when suddenly we found a treasure. We sold everything we had and bought the field where it was buried, because it was more valuable than everything we already had. To convert means to be capable of seeing reality as a whole: although the “field” of our life might have many defects, it hides an invaluable treasure that we wouldn’t change for anything. This is what’s worth the most.
6. Live today; only today is real
The devil removes us and distracts us from what actually is going on. He prevents us from seeing the present. The devil surrounds us with our sins from the past or the uncertainties of the future. By contrast, God acts in our reality, in our present. There’s nothing more real than the present. We must grow in our faith to realize that, even if our present seems painful, if we move away from it due to hopelessness, distrust, or oblivion, we could miss what God is giving us.
«When we wake up every morning, no matter what situation we are experiencing, even the most difficult or painful, there is always something good about to rise on our human horizon» (Luigi Giussiani).
7. Accept who you are
We are pilgrims who—knowing we are on a journey— don’t close our eyes when we find a desert, and we know that it won’t have the last word. Many times we walk as if there was only sand and there was no sight of the horizon. At other times, we are scandalized by our own weakness, or the weakness of those around us. Lent can certainly seem like this. Yes, it’s true, we are sinners who need the constant help of grace, but we’re also beloved children of God. He lives with us and our life is open to holiness and happiness.
8. Don’t live on events alone, but live on The Real event
It’s the gaze that returns and looks at Christ, and remembers Christ, alive and present when He seems absent, or when everyone else seems to forget Him. It’s the gaze of Mary, that seeks to be in tune with the heart of her Son. In difficult times, or even when everything’s going fine, we should ask ourselves: What good does God want me to get from these present circumstances? Since in every situation, no matter how painful it is, there is Christ’s Resurrection, the singular real and true event that fills our lives, and reality itself, with meaning and hope.
9. Learn to live with losing and accept being defeated by others
Give up the gifts to keep the giver. Give up what one has in one’s arms to be able to embrace the Father. This is precisely the spirit with which we give up some “good” for the 40 days of Lent. Accept going to God with our empty hands, because He wants our hands, not hands full of stuff and encumbrances, but just our hands. As Christians, we believe that when a failure befalls us, it is because God wants to triumph. When darkness comes, it’s because He wants to be the Light.
«No fighter is more divine than one who can achieve victory through defeat. In the instant when he receives the deadly wound, his opponent falls to the ground, himself struck a final blow. For he strikes love and is thus himself struck by love. And by letting itself be struck, love proves what had to be proven: that it is indeed love» (Hans Urs von Balthasar).
10. Believe that the Cross is the tree of life
As Christians, we are called to carry the cross. Jesus never said otherwise. Rather, He affirmed this point many times. The cross has always been, is, and always will be the way, the place, the occasion, the instrument of our salvation. To live complaining of the cross as if it was an obstacle is to live as if we weren’t Christians. The Lord, who carried his own cross, and was wounded for our sins, is on the cross. Truly, He is present on each and everyone of our crosses.
11. Recognize your concrete place in the Church
We’re not the center of the story, therefore, we must live as members of the Church. We must not focus only on ourselves, nor on what happens to us. Neither should we sanctify ourselves however we please, making up our Christian walk as is most comfortable for us on a whim. We must know and be faithful to the place God has put us in for the sake of our own happiness.
12. Live Lent in hope
Live Lent (and beyond) waiting for the Lord to work a miracle. Our human life is characterized by our necessity to be saved. No one can prevent the spring from blooming, nor the storm from calming. Ask yourself: What are my defeats? Because they are the very seed that will make grow the new life of God’s grace. Deep down below our fall are Jesus’ hands. He has put Himself so far down beneath the surface, so that there can be no fall so horrible He can’t rescue us from. He has put Himself before hell.
Our life consists of growing in proportion with what we expect, in accordance with our hope.
This post was translated into English by Lorena Tabares. You may find the original article on the Catholic-Link Spanish page, here