Oh, Lent, you are much like that dear old friend or family member who it is most difficult to like but impossible not to love for their great worth. That one who is brutally honest (always with the best of intentions), not softening any blows or dressing up the truth. This is what this season of penance, prayer and self-examination does to me: it looks me in the eye and speaks the truth.
I happened upon this statement by St. Therese of Liseux: “Look Jesus in the face. There you will see how He loves us.” She was speaking of Jesus found on the Cross, in particular. I’d add, “there you will see how you are to love.” During Lent, if we have courage enough to take it, we have the chance to look into the face of our Savior and see not only His love but ours as well – or lack thereof. Love… it’s a fluffy, comfy word in mainstream culture but this love that St. Therese discerns in the face of our Lord is neither fluffy nor comfy. It is every virtue practiced, every commandment obeyed, every sacrifice willingly offered, every selfish desire overturned for selflessness. That is love.
When I explain purgatory to the RCIA classes one thing I focus on is the nature of the suffering that occurs during that period of purification. Among the causes for pain in purgatory is the total self-awareness the soul gains of all the ways he or she might have been more ready for Heaven – all the opportunities of love that were negligently overlooked or willfully refused. How painful to realize not only the sheer number of missed chances to love (that is, to be like Christ) but also the consequences rippling out from them.
Lent can be a little slice of purgatory, I suppose. Face to face with my Savior, I can also stand face to face with myself and see just how much I am “found in Christ” and how much I remove myself from Him by my actions and inactions.
Lord, save us from ourselves.