The Grace of Lent Tide
It is of utmost important to understand the changes that happen at the beginning of Lent, throughout it, until we reach Easter Sunday.
Lent starts with a ritual of great humility: having some ashes put on our forehead, often in the form of a Sign of the Cross, accompanied by a word from the Priest that invites us to embark on the Journey of spiritual combat and warfare.
All the Community gathers humbly that day, in order to receive the Seal of that starting point. It is not a sacrament, but it is a sign of a deep grace, “the grace of Lent”. During that intense time of Lent, God seems to double His Grace for us. If during the year He seems to lean more on us, i.e. on the results of our last Lenten period and Easter Grace, during Lent He seems to redouble His grace in order for us to dig deeper. Our journey is a journey of spiritual growth, transformation, sanctification and it goes in circles, but at each turn we go deeper, like a helix (coil); each year, we go up a gear, and Lent is the moment when we change gear. This is why it is important to live Lent fully. In order to do so we need to become aware that God is giving us this redoubled Grace.
Doubling His Grace
Often we call Lent a “time of conversion”, and conversion means to leave creatures, abandon them, and go toward the Creator. Right? Of course it is about opening ourselves (because of God and with God) as well to God in our brothers and sisters. It is still “conversion”.
I would like to focus on another word: a spiritual deepening.
Turning to God, to Jesus is fundamental. But it is important not only to turn to Him, as if the rest of the whole year were spent away from Him, but to go deeper in our relationship with Him. And God's Providence sets up for us this very special time of Grace called Lent.
Discovering/deepening Friendship with Jesus
One of the great ways/means that God uses to reach us in Lent is through the abundance and power of His Word. Scripture is here to help us deepen our relationship with God. Let us remember that we are constantly crossing from one state to another: from the state of a Slave who doesn't know the will of his Master to a Friend who gets to know the will, feelings, behaviour of his Friend. That's a change and a half I would say. Who changes us? Who transforms us? Jesus' Word for us. This is why the main and first activity of Lent is to sit down, take time to listen to Jesus, preferably on a daily basis, in order to undergo this deep change.
The powerful grace of Lent is here to help give us a little push in order to sit down, be quiet, pray, ask and beg in order to listen to the word of our Friend, Jesus, who wants to share with us his thoughts. This can't happen without the Help of the redoubled Grace of the Holy Spirit. So imagine God, from on high, doubling the amount of the Holy Spirit he is pouring out.
Mary the Mother of Our New Heart
One person we hardly mention during Lent is Mary, while often the Feast of the Annunciation occurs during Lent and this is very meaningful. Why? Because the Annunciation is the embodiment of the renewed Grace of Lent, where we sit down, and want to listen to Jesus, to God, to his word. In Lent God wants to renew our heart, he removes some stony parts of our heart to put more human flesh into it. This human part comes out of Mary's Oven, where the Holy Spirit works renewing us. We need to seek the new heart, and this new heart is at the image of Mary's heart, even more: it is made by the Holy Spirit in her womb.
Let us listen to the description of this deep operation that God performs in us cyclically in our life, during Lent: “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:24-27)
The Holy Spirit Gathers Us Up
God “gathers” us, this is the Grace of Lent. If you keep quiet you'll sense this discreet increase in the Grace of God, and will start to sense in which sense it goes: it gathers us up. Not “all of us”, but all the parts of our being. In fact we are divided by all that attracts us outside, our energy is scattered here and there. The Grace of God “gathers us”.
It Gathers us closer to God... who dwells in us. And in order to do so, in order to get us closer to us, it has to make us bear more of a resemblance to God: we need a new heart, a heart of flesh moved by the Spirit of God.
How does this happen? With the Powerful guidance of the Word of God. We are rational beings, we have a mind, and this mind guides us everyday. But is the light of the mind purely a natural light? Are all the thoughts and desires that move us from God? Are they inseminated by God's Light? It is very important to understand that the best thing that can happen to us is to receive the Word of God's light in our mind, heart, feelings, imagination, visions and dreams. It is like allowing the Sun to rise on the land of our mind.
A person who never allowed the Light of the Sun to shine on his land can't imagine the difference. This is why God gives us a redoubled grace during Lent to bring us from the land of darkness (our mind left alone) to the land of the Sun, Jesus, where the soil of our Mind is inseminated by the Light of the Word of God. This is a unique experience that shows us that the Lord is not only Risen, but that he is living amongst us.
Without the Holy Spirit, this experience can't happen.
Not guiding, but Being Guided
In Lent we are constantly crossing from being without a Guide to having a Guide, a Shepherd, Jesus himself. We often live our life being the boss of ourself, even if we are Christians and very committed Christians. We are the boss of ourselves. This is not correct. We do even manage Jesus, and tell him where we are going, and he has to make it work, otherwise we will get upset with Him. We take him in our car, beside us and we hold the driving wheel, decide, drive, and he has to sit quietly and make it happen. Is that normal? Not at all. We need to discover this new way of doing things: having him as our real guide, learning to sense him (with the spiritual senses that the Holy Spirit make grow in us), to listen to him, to prefer him, to be patient for the right moment, to allow Him to guide us, and be happy for being with him having him as our only Treasure in life.
It is not only about being guided by Jesus, but learning to enter deeper into Jesus himself, discovering his love for us and learning that new reality: that life is worth it because of him because of having him as our unique love. We then start to learn how to love him “with all our heart, all our mind, all our strength”. Loving Him in himself, and not loving him because of what we can get of him. He is not only our Creator, not only our Redeemer, he is our love, the only love, the one that gives meaning to our lives.
Under Jesus' Guidance
As we said, in order to be under his guidance, we need to sit down, and be quiet, ask for the Help of the Holy Spirit, open the Word of God on today's pages (the Reading of the Mass). What will the word of Jesus do to us? Well it will change us from the old creature (old man) to the new creature, made by Jesus on the Cross, coming out of his side, coming out of Mary's womb.
The Word of God, meditating on the Word of God, being in the presence of Jesus, allowing His word to enter within us, we discover its operation: it removes the masks, the fancy dress (costume, disguise) we are wearing, and brings truth into our lives. It removes this double life in us, the inner one and the outer one. The word of God pierces the surface of the outer skin we put on and reaches the depths of our being, our heart, touches us, and makes our heart blossom under the action of the Grace of the Holy Spirit, make us take one step forward in the unification of our being (inner and outer).
The spiritual Senses
One of the most important characteristic of the new way of life with Jesus is the growth in us of “spiritual senses”. This reality is often mentioned by the Fathers of the Church and the Mystics. In fact, our new inner being develops under the new Action of the Holy Spirit. Our new being, received in Baptism and in Confirmation, wakes up, and develops in a specific way: new senses develop in our inner being and their function is to allow us to listen, see and sense Jesus in our lives. Our soul, as the image of our body, develops new capacities, senses, antennas, that allow us to receive Jesus' Spirit (the Holy Spirit), inner guidance. Indeed, our new inner Master is the Holy Spirit: He explains to us Jesus' words, He reminds us at the right time of Jesus' words, He connects us with Him, He gives to our conscience new senses, making us “feel” Jesus' emotions, desires, and guidance.
Lent time, being the time where we deepen our relationship with Jesus, is the time where the Holy Spirit develops our inner being. It is important to take him as our real inner Master and listen to Him, or better said: ask him to help us hear Jesus' words, sense and follow His guidance.
Certainly that deeper opening toward Jesus will open us to his body: our brothers. We can't claim to love him if we neglect him in our brothers and sister. So a greater attention to him in them will increase.
Where would this new faithfulness to Jesus take us? It will make us much more docile and flexible to Jesus' will and guidance. It will make us more humane. It will help us fulfil our normal daily duties in a better way. In fact, it is not leading us astray on a new and strange/unknown path, I mean in the daily basis of our tasks. We will still have 24 hours/day to live, we will still sleep 6-7-8 hours a day, we will still eat, rest and meet our friends, we will still work, have the same duties at home, but paradoxically everything will change. The exterior frame might not change (it might!) but the interior frame will change. It is like when you fall in love: you have somebody in your life. This person is with you all the time, makes the sun brighter and the evening more beautiful. It gives you a new taste, a new meaning. Wouldn't you call this: happiness? A long lasting one? A real one? Yes, indeed.
Conclusion: The Power of Lent
Is Lent doing all this in our life? Can it?? Welcome Lent, welcome the Grace of Lent!
In fact, the core of Lent is Jesus; He is doing all this. His Passion, Death and Resurrection does all this. Lent is a series or Graces we receive, that will prepare us to receive the Big Grace of going in a new way through the Passion-Death-Resurrection of the Lord. We will then be able to Rise more with him and in him.
Let us thank God for increasing his grace in us in Lent, let us embrace Lent, let us be unified by its grace and unique purpose: getting closer to Jesus.