"Then Jesus said to his disciples, Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?"
To live more fully and joyfully as Christians, we must remember love is the supreme law and the ultimate purpose of our Lenten practices. The 40 days leading up to Easter are about love. Love of our Father in Heaven, and the sacrifice made for our salvation.
Jesus is our ultimate role model. He prayed and fasted for 40 days before he set out on his public ministry, saying, "I have set an example, that you should also do as I do."- John 13:15.
This season presents us with an opportunity to grow deeper in our relationship with God. Lent can be a painful season of reflection, penitence, and self-sacrifice translating to outright gloom; but, it does not have to be. Nineteenth-century writer Frederick Charles Woodhouse summarized the gloomy mood of Lent in his Manual for Lent.
“There is a shadowy gloom that broods over the whole season, partly the darkness that for those three hours, and ever since, hangs about the Cross; partly the solitary darkness that all penitents instinctively seek, as they hide themselves from the world’s eyes, and all alone gaze down into the forbidding secret places of their own hearts.”
Instead of focusing on our pain and what we are "giving up", our time is better spent focusing on this period as both a time of penance and joy. Renewing our spirit and our commitment and love to God.
We can do this by using this penitential season to acknowledge the crosses we bear and the example of Jesus to carry our crosses with joy. Jesus chose not to focus on the pain and suffering He would endure but the joy He would experience in Heaven. As Christians, we can strive to do the same.
Woodhouse explains how we get in our ways sometimes when it comes to our happiness and joy because we sin, and our sins become "barriers in the way of our happiness." To look to this season and experience a joyful Lent we should embrace ways we can set aside our sin and align our souls more closely to God (more on that next week). A good way to do this is through prayer and almsgiving. Almsgiving helps us develop a generous spirit and grow stronger in our faith and to love God above all earthly things. We grow closer to God and are more joyful when we pray.
If nothing else, remember… When Jesus entered His public ministry, He was scorned, humiliated, and betrayed by one of his own. He carried His cross, with joy, but even He at one point had help. He has set for us the ultimate example of courage, perseverance, hope, with the promise of eternal joy.
Ask yourself, are your crosses too much of a burden? Have you asked Jesus to help carry them for you? Lay down your burdens at the foot of his cross and pray that he helps you to carry your own more joyfully.
As you work on acknowledging your cross and carrying them joyfully meditate on this….
“In this world you will have many troubles, but cheer up and take heart, for I have overcome the world.”