Ah, the first week of Lent—just about the time when I usually start to question the choice and discernment of my individual Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Is this a sacrifice I’m really committed to? How am I ever going to do this for six more weeks?
Have I really done enough to renew my prayer life? Is it too easy? Or, am I not asking enough of myself spiritually?
But this year, I have no doubts. Lent will lead me to depend on the Lord in prayer in new and profound ways, these weeks will involve personal physical and personal sacrifices well beyond giving up a favorite food or meal, and my capacity to give generously to others will grow.
Now, it’s not because I’ve reached some higher state of spiritual maturity. In fact, at times it seems like the opposite—more along the lines of the hesitant prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah we’ve heard about in the 3rd and 4th Sundays of Ordinary Time this February. And also especially like Simon Peter, teetering between obedience and doubt at the call God places in his life, needing Jesus’ personal assurance, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men,” before he is able to leave his life on Lake Gennesaret and follow Jesus (Luke 5:10-11).
What brings me to the place of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Simon Peter at the start of this Lent? Sometime during these early weeks of Lent, I will become a mother for the first time. While this is, overall, a joyous season of welcoming new life into our family for the first time for my husband and I, the details are always a bit more complicated.
Like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Simon Peter, I can’t turn back from the many anticipated (and unanticipated) ways God is inviting me to grow in prayer and sacrificial giving this Lent. And unlike past years (when I gleefully end Lent thinking of how I will no longer have to continue to uphold a particular spiritual discipline of prayer, fasting, or almsgiving), the call to continue my reliance on God as I live the joys and sacrifices of parenthood will certainly continue well beyond this Lenten season.
In this I stumble into the deeper wisdom of Christ revealed in our Church. In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council emphasize that Lent isn’t just about penitential practices, but also about living out baptism.
In my case this year, the immediacy of becoming a new parent places a tangible call in front of me. It’s pretty hard to ignore. And yet, my realization of my baptismal vocation as a disciple of Jesus Christ should be no less pronounced. In any year, the practices I hope to cultivate during Lent aren’t just for the sake of Lent, but for my life as one baptized in Christ, with a specific call in front of me—just as God had certainly had unique plans for Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Simon Peter.
Whether we find Lent easy or hard, Jesus assures us, “Do not be afraid.” God has called each of us to personally follow Christ as a disciple and given the Holy Spirit to guide us. It is this baptismal promise that assures us of the grace we need to continue on in Lent—knowing that it’s not just about holding out for six more weeks, but responding more and more, in deeper and more profound ways, to God’s call in each our lives.
Copyright © 2013, Colleen Vermeulen