If a life-disrupting pandemic had to come at any time, I am glad it chose to arrive in Lent.
Lent is the season in which the Church encourages us to make a concerted effort to strive against our vices and turn away from temptation – to go above and beyond in seeking holiness. And yet, while the practices of prayer and fasting and giving certainly help us grow in virtue, Lent isn’t about the success of our own striving, the achievements of our own strength. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Lent is about trying so hard to follow God that we reach the point where we find our strength to be insufficient, our virtue too weak, our will too easily persuaded by the siren call of sin – because it is at that point that we, pinioned between the laws of the fast and the temptations of the flesh, between God’s standard of holiness and our own weakness, have no other recourse than to cry to God for help. In brief, Lent forces us to turn to God.
And when the threat of sickness and economic instability comes tearing through the world, with all its concomitant stress on the fault lines already present in society and all its strain on each individual in their own way, that posture of turning towards God is exactly the response we need. And here we are, already practicing it, already trying to make it a habit, just in time to deal with something more! If I have learned to come to God and fill my spirit with prayer when my body is hungry from fasting, it is easier to come to God with my anxiety and receive His peace and presence when I am tempted to distract myself with the constant noise and bustle of social media or the news or games on my phone.
There is also this reassurance, of which Lent reminds me, that God also has experienced suffering and hardship in this life. He is not ignorant of the emotional responses natural to humanity; he knows them from the inside. And he chose to face them, without taking the way out of comfort or escape from men or angels, that we might have the hope of eternal life in him. It is a hope we can cling to; it is an example we can strive to emulate; it is a strength and a grace that can keep our feet from falling.
Visit This Ain’t The Lyceum for more on Good Friday and Easter, including this: “It is from the darkest and most uncertain of times that we are made new.”