by Jayson M. Brunelle
This past Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of the holy season of Lent – a 40-day period of intensified prayer, fasting and almsgiving in preparation for the high holy days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.
I had the tremendous privilege of distributing ashes this past Wednesday, all the while exhorting the faithful to “Turn away from sin and remain faithful to the Gospel,” while I marked their foreheads with the ashes of last year’s incinerated palms. In fact, the entire Ash Wednesday liturgy was, for me, a profound reminder of the radical importance of this season of penitence and grace. I experienced a deep inner calling to take this Lent more seriously than I ever have in the past – to map out a concrete plan of action for increased and deeper prayer, fasting from certain unnecessary pleasures and a commitment to sharing what God has so graciously given to me with my less fortunate brothers and sisters in Christ.
What seems to distinguish this Lent from previous ones, for me, is the fact that I have undergone a very deep, personal, spiritual transformation over the last year. I seem to possess a gratitude for the gift of my existence that I never quite had before. Undoubtably, this is due to God’s tremendous gift of grace at work in my life. But in order to receive such grace, I needed to subjectively dispose myself to receive those graces that are objectively present in the sacraments and also communicated through prayer. Moreover, I have a greater appreciation for and understanding of the absolutely necessary role that salvific suffering plays in the overall process of sanctification. While human suffering remains a great mystery, I am convinced that it is not at all accidental to the human experience, but rather an integral, necessary aspect of it. I must say, of all the spiritual truths I’ve had to learn the hard way, the single most difficult axiom to learn, by far, was and is the reality that it is chiefly through prayer and suffering that God the Father, through the action of the Holy Spirit and the mediation of Mary, molds us into replicas of His crucified Son. After all, Christ exhorts us in Luke 9:23 that “If anyone wants to be a follower of [His], let him renounce himself, take up his cross every day and follow [Him].” Moreover, He promises that in doing so, “[We] will find rest for [our] souls, for [His] yoke is easy and [His] burden light” (Matt 11:29,30).
The goal of Lent is none other than the goal of Christian living in general, only amplified, which is to be conformed to Christ crucified. When we use the term “crucified,” we really mean to say that we must die to the wold, the flesh and the devil – putting to certain death the concupiscence of the eyes, the concupiscence of the flesh, and the pride of life. These are, simply put, the enemies of every Christian attempting to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. More specifically, and according to Aquinas, we are called to die to our irrational selves. Yet, true life in Christ is anything but death; rather, it is Life – a life lived according to the authentically rational self. Aquinas taught that it is impossible to choose evil for evil’s sake. The human person always chooses for the sake of a good, even if this good is only a perceived good and not an actual good. If the human intellect had not been dulled as a consequence of original sin, human persons would always choose for the sake of an actual good, knowing clearly how to live an authentically rational life. Unfortunately, because our intellects are dim, there is quite a discrepancy between a perceived good and an actual good, and we often choose for the sake of the former, thereby betraying our rational selves. Thus, when Christ asks us to die to ourselves, He is truly asking us to die to our irrational selves in order that we might have His divine Life and have it to the fullest extent possible. Grace enlightens the intellect and strengthens the will, enabling us to live according to our rational selves, and we receive this grace, as stated above, through prayer and the sacraments.
My prayer for each reader and for myself this lent is that God provide each of us with all the graces necessary to enter more deeply and profoundly into this season of grace, in order to live rationally and thereby be better prepared to celebrate, remember and memorialize the great events of Christ’s institution of the Eucharist, His most sorrowful Passion, His descent into death, and His glorious Resurrection. May God bless each and every one of us through the all-powerful and never-failing intercession of Mary Immaculate. “May the Lord bless us, protect us from every evil, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.”