Catholic Spirituality,  Catholics Do What?,  Lent

Making Lent all about Him

I have a persistent and myopically modern tendency to make my spiritual life all about me. It comes out most aggressively during the penitential season of Lent when I start thinking a few weeks out “oh, what should I do this year?” (Note the emphasis on me, myself, and I and also on my assumption that I’ll be taking some definite action in order to accomplish… something.)

And of course I ought to give something up for Lent, or make the effort to take up some laudable pious practice, or else stop doing something bad that I can’t seem to detach from.

But the reality of Lent is that it is much less about growth in personal holiness and a sort of spiritual self improvement campaign and is more to do, actually, with the entire body of Christ – the Church – as a whole, turning back to Her first love, the Lord, and loving Him more faithfully than She ever has before. Amy Welborn unpacks it succinctly and beautifully here.

This Lent our beautiful, broken, and beleaguered Church needs all of us to repent more sincerely and with more humility than we’ve ever managed in the past. We are all scandalized by and mysteriously, simultaneously, the cause of scandal within the Body of Christ. Since “God is light and in Him there is no darkness, at all,” (1 Jn 1:5)  we know that any duplicity and darkness within His body belongs … to us.

I say this not in order to minimize the horror or depravity that 2018 brought to light, but to remind myself, foremost, that the single most effective thing that I can do to transform the Church and the world is to become a saint. And that God has offered a pretty great template for sainthood in the 3 pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

I transform myself – correction, Jenny, – I allow myself to be transformed most effectively and most fully through prayer. No self improvement campaign can ever succeed without starting there. And trust me, I’ve tried them all, and I’ve tried doing it without prayer time and time again. I am coming to understand that prayer is nothing more than pulling my fingers out of my ears, fixing my heart on His, and aligning my will with God’s as best I can.

I’ve been praying these past couple weeks, “God, show me what you want me to do this Lent?” and hearing radio silence. Even while on retreat. I began to suspect that perhaps I was asking the wrong question. And that as much as I might benefit from it being so, having a perfectly #keto 40 days wasn’t God’s greatest good for me this year.

When I stopped asking what I should do and started asking Him what He wanted from me, the radio silence exploded and He broke in, loud and clear, again and again:

Be with me.

Look at me.

Come here.

Surely that can’t be all He wants from me for Lent, though. What about a daily sacrifice that will really hurt, like coffee? What about cutting out sugar? What about a daily family rosary? What about…

Every time I run through my list of better ideas I feel like He smiles and sort of cocks His head and waits. He’ll accept whatever it is that I decide to offer to Him, and I know it.

But He has made it perfectly clear that the thing He would be most pleased to receive from me this Lent is… me.

The nature of our quality time will probably look a little different from day to day, based on who slept through the night, who is currently vomiting, if anyone, and the myriad other practicalities of my vocation, but surely the One who called me to it understands that barf covers a multitude of good intentions.

I’ll make a small sacrifice of sleep and personal time to rise early and give Him the first part of my day, and there’s the almsgiving. I’ll pull out my rosary instead of my phone while I’m sitting in carline, and there’s the fasting. And all of it makes up in its various imperfect parts a sort of all-encompassing prayer offered, moment by moment, over the course of a day.

Over the course of a week.

Over the course of a lifetime.

I always feel a little sheepish when I come screeching to a halt 5 days into Lent, chocolate or wine or whatever already halfway to my lips before I remember. He doesn’t need my little sacrifices, but oh, how much He wants them. He doesn’t need to spend time with me in the quiet dark of a house still in slumber, but He wants to.

This Lent may we decide again each day that we’re going to give Him the thing most pleasing to His fatherly heart: ourselves.


  • jeanette

    In a book of meditations I have been using for years, “Divine Intimacy” by Carmelite Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdelen, OCD, the topic of “Corporal Mortification” was yesterday’s meditation. In it, he quotes St. Theresa of Avila as saying, “if prayer is to be genuine it must be reinforced with this practice [of mortification]: for prayer and self-indulgence do not go together” (Way, 4). Earlier in this same meditation, he states this about corporal mortification: “The purpose of corporal mortification is not to inflict pain and privation on the body for the pleasure of making it suffer, but to discipline and control all its tendencies which are contrary to the life of grace.”

    Hence, when we think of the “fasting” part of Lent, we really should not shy away for corporal mortification, as that strengthens us in spiritual ways that are very important. A spiritual life requires a balancing of disciplines.

    There are two ways in our life where we experience this kind of mortification: intentional and unintentional. And we can embrace both. If we live a particularly difficult life, corporal mortifications may come more frequently to us and we embrace those as chosen by God and don’t have to go seeking them out. In the less difficult life, we need to impose them on ourselves so that in a generous spirit we may accept the mortification as a means of self-disicipline.

    • Dan

      The particularly difficult life as opposed to the less difficult life. All life is difficult, and for that reason the only mortification necessary would be fasting. This is enough because life is difficult enough even for the strongest of us, why add more of the unnecessary variety? Self-denial in the form of fasting has to be more noble than any kind of self-discipline inflicted on oneself, even if that mortification is offered to God. I’ve always felt strongly that He would rather us help another carry their burden than add to our own. There just seems to be so much more grace in helping those less fortunate whatever your circumstances in life, like Pope John the XXIII said “I have looked into your eyes with my eyes. I have put my heart near your heart.”
      On suffering I tend to agree more with this beauty-“It is not true that suffering ennobles the character; happiness does that sometimes, but suffering for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.”-W.Sommerset Maugham. It does not feel like suffering when you are helping/loving another in their own trials, even if you share their burden.

  • Kathleen O

    Love this so much, Jenny! Reminds me of something I read yesterday in Fr. Jacques Philippe book The Eight Doors to the Kingdom… Funnily enough, he was actually talking about selfies but I feel like we can do a little too much of the spiritual “selfies” so I think it applies.. “An impure heart is forever looking at itself instead of instead of at God. The craze for ‘selfies’ is a kind of symbol of this obsessive preoccupation with oneself and one’s image in the eyes of others. As such it is profoundly opposed to biblical purity. A pure heart is turned toward God, not the self. Indeed of all man-made idols, the self is the worst of all.” Wow that one punched me in the gut and yet it is so true! (And I’m not knocking all selfies.. especially the ones moms take so that they can have a few pictures with their children 🙂 )

  • Dan

    “Certain thoughts are prayers. There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees.”- Victor Hugo (Ya so that’s how my daily prayers feel.)
    “Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.”- Arthur Golden (and this is how the long arc of life feels.)
    “Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in their mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe in God the idea, not God himself.”-Miguel de Unamuno. (Mic drop)
    Im grateful that Lent is here. The Mystery of this time brought me back last year. Thanks in particular for your comments on prayer. In prayer I cant get past feeling totally unworthy and mumbling “help my wife and kids” before I retreat into some forced silence of my mind. But I like the silence. Called to be saints? I like that….”All of the places of our lives are sanctuaries; some of them just happen to have steeples. And all people in our lives are saints; it is just that some of them have day jobs and most will never have a feast day named for them.”-Robert Hugh Benson

  • Jenny Shaffer

    I did the same thing, asking God what he wanted from me this Lent and feeling no answer, until I prayed nine memorares with this intent this morning and finally heard, “Be still and know that I am God.” Stubbornly, I wasn’t entirely satisfied, but reading your reflection drives home the message. Thank you! Adoration is good place for me to be still.

  • Lisa

    This. My husband told me this year that instead of me trying to do more things this Lent and in turn beating myself up when I fal short- he encouraged me to lean into this season of motherhood. Kids up during the night, early mornings, my uncharitable attitude, so many opportunities for sanctification that I can lean into and open myself up to being purified in. Here’s to a Lent that is more about Him and less about me.

  • Annette Beegle

    Cheers, Lisa. It unerveves me when people choose spiritual darkness. I shouldn’t judge, but oh how it deeply affects me!

  • Talia Kruse

    This is so true Jenny. Lately, my personal prayer has just been me sitting and staring at our Sacred Heart of Jesus picture in the living room during nap time for 5-10 minutes. And it’s been the best prayer routine; mostly because it forces me to not do anything but just be with Him.

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