Editor’s Note: Franciscan priest Fr. Greg Friedman reflects on approaching Lent without pride in order to allow God to direct us towards the most beneficial practice during these 40 days.
“Doing something” for Lent? Even though we are midway through Lent, it’s a valid question. Some years ago I marched in to see my spiritual director, and told him that I had decided what to do for Lent. As I ran down my list, he stopped me. “I’d like to suggest something for you,” he said.
We proceeded to talk for the next 40 minutes about his idea for my Lent. He was drawing upon the themes of my life, which he knew well. His idea for me sounded quite reasonable—as we neared the end of the session, I said I would accept what he was suggesting, but added, “What about the other things—shouldn’t I still do them as well?”
My spiritual director was blunt: “No, just do what I told you.” And so I let go of my chosen “baggage” for the Lent I’d planned, and walked according to another’s way—a way of spiritual wisdom.
It was an important lesson, one I’ve kept in mind over the years. How can I “let go” of the Lent I would choose? I question my initial ideas for observing Lent: Are these practices which will only further my ego, offering me something to take pride in when I reach Easter? Will they allow me to move—with God’s help—to abandon my “false self” and discover who I truly am in God’s eyes?
Then, as Lent begins, I keep evaluating. Is my Lenten observance faithful to the purpose of Lent, to what God is inviting me to do, day by day? Lent, as re-focused by the Second Vatican Council, has been restored to its ancient purpose: a time to prepare candidates for Baptism. Those already baptized journey with them, seeking to renew, through penance and works of mercy, the commitment made in Baptism—to die to self, to die “in Christ” and be reborn.
That “dying to self” is a life-long spiritual path; something we can only do with God’s help. Anything we “do” for Lent will only be helpful if somehow we allow God to inspire us in our choice, and along our day-by-day Lenten journey.
This year, by the way, my initial ideas for Lent got preempted by God within the first few days! By Lent’s end, I’m not sure if they’ll still be the same, but I hope to arrive at the Easter renewal of baptism with less baggage!
- What have you been “doing for Lent”?
- How have your choices changed during the days of Lent?
Fr. Greg Friedman, OFM, is a Franciscan priest on the staff of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, DC, where he edits The Holy Land Review, and helps to promote the mission of the Franciscans in the Holy Land. He is a writer of spiritual books and articles, as well as poetry.