Bishop Stephen Berg offers Lenten reflection

By Bishop Stephen J. Berg
Over the years I have learned to enter into the season of Lent with a sense of joy and peace. It was not always so. I am sure that we all share memories of abstaining from habits and luxuries, of making resolutions, all of which remind of us of our human weakness and tendency to fail.

During my childhood, in our family observances of Lent, my mother occasionally served us Jello to bolster our annual war of abstinence against candy. The Jello did not alleviate the craving at all, but we were “in it” together, and how meaningful those memories are today.

To stop, think, and honestly recognize our humanity is of course necessary to our discipleship in Christ. But in and of itself, the exercise of Lenten observance falls short if it involves only our own resolutions and activities. The question, “what am I doing this Lent?” (a good question), is secondary. As we have already begun our Lenten observance, let’s consider and turn to what really is the prior question: “What is God doing in my life this Lent?”

In consideration of that prior question it is necessary to suspend some of the mental processes which normally drive us. Take some time to stop, think, and pray. To step outside ourselves, our sins, our expectations, and ponder the message that God endlessly sends us. As God holds us in his gaze (as he does constantly), what does he see?

In this year of his declaration of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, Pope Francis teaches us that Jesus Christ is the face of God’s mercy, and that through the Father’s inexhaustible love we are forgiven.

That is the message of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. To a certain extent we can understand this, especially those of us who know how deeply we need to be forgiven. But the main adventure still lies ahead. That greater adventure is to experience the deeper conversion of the heart, the grace to see ourselves through God’s eyes. Our Lord knows that we fall short, but he is with us. We are “in it” together. He constantly tells us, “be not afraid, open your hearts, take on my divine vision of you who are my Beloved.”

To receive mercy means simply, in the highest and purest form of expression, to receive love. To receive love more and more is to turn away from the “Do I have to?” Lenten observance, to “Do I want to?” This is the conversion we long for, the meaning of Lent. When we turn from ourselves to God’s love, when we pray to desire and know better this inexpressible love, we are inevitably focused on the higher question, “What is God doing in my life?” And we have opened ourselves to seeing what he wants us to see, and how he is working, and how he loves us. Now our Lenten resolutions become meaningful. Our prayer is lifted up into praise and thanksgiving, and we are now being prepared by him, for the real and beautiful Easter ahead.

What a beautiful season is upon us where we take steps together with our Lord, in the certainty that Christ has the power to change us and is knocking at our door to invite us further into his life. To walk closer with Jesus in our suffering world, to see the wisdom of the Cross which leads to the Resurrection, these are the joyful goals of our observance. From this comes peace, joy and renewal. Let us connect with God in these days ahead. Then we are prepared, we shall really experience Easter in fullness, joy, and the eternal love of our Lord!