Lent: I am not afraid… I was born to do this

In these early days of Lent, the word that has kept coming back to me is poverty. When was the last time I experienced my own poverty? Normally we experience it after a huge failure or an unexpected tragedy. For some moments, or even longer, our lives can feel like a wasteland, an abandoned building… no hope.

These experiences are passive, but what is unique about Christianity is Jesus’ invitation to experience suffering voluntarily and actively. He beckons us – “don’t be afraid” – face the existential reality of having nothing, being nothing except through what God has made and given us. Jesus himself embraced this human condition when he entered the desert for forty days. Lent invites us to look suffering in the face and say with Joan of Arc,

I am not afraid… I was born to do this.

Fasting makes this obvious. Whether it’s food we’ve given up, or Netflix, or social media – it is that thing that normally props us up emotionally in some way. So these days of Lent expose our dependence, our poverty without all these external crutches. Each time we experience a craving or longing for that thing, we fall back on the commitment we’ve made to allow our desire to be filled only with God. Sometimes we will regret that commitment, sometimes we will break it. But at the beginning of Lent we decided we wanted to be filled more with God, and we can return back to that decision many times over.

Our poverty is less immediate when it comes to prayer. But it does show itself here too. Perhaps you have committed to a longer period of silent prayer every day. Perhaps you have committed to the rosary every day. Whatever it is, there will certainly be days when it is the very last thing in the world you want to do. This is often when Lent makes its impact. The greatest spiritual breakthroughs in my life have come when I have been obedient. When I have just quietly and humbly got on with the thing I committed to do, even though every fibre of my being resists. This is poverty – doing the next thing you are supposed to do, whether it seems dismally grey or full of colour.

I love the second reading for today, the first Sunday of Lent.

Death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned. (Romans 5:12)

Lent faces us with that death. Experiencing our poverty is an experience of this death, of this nothingness, this hopelessness without Christ. If we don’t experience the depths of this nothingness, this poverty, this death – through all the indulgences and luxuries in our lives – our desire for Christ will be next to non-existent. But getting in touch with the poverty of our lives opens our eyes to the fact we need a Saviour.

If it is certain that through one man’s fall so many died, it is even more certain that divine grace, coming through the one man, Jesus Christ, came to so many as an abundant free gift. (Romans 5:15)

If you have ever been in a desperate situation – on your knees begging for something to be fixed – and then some kind of salvation has come, you will know the unsurpassable joy of that deliverance. This is what is incredible about Jesus… he comes to save us as an abundant free gift. We don’t deserve this gift! Our fallen state, our poverty and death, is what we deserve. But the Father sees us, loves us and sends us Jesus

… it is even more certain that one man, Jesus Christ, will cause everyone to reign in life who receives the free gift that he does not deserve, of being made righteous. (Romans 5:17)

This is the amazing news! Behind the shell of our lives, the dismal greyness, the struggle… glimmers glory. The glory of the abundant free gift, of life forever with God. So let’s not be afraid to go for it… “I was born to do this.”

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