Being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross. – Phil. 2:8
For as many years back as I can remember, I’ve not been able to give myself fully to the rigors of Lent. Each year, something or someone got in my way: a difficult academic schedule took up much of the extra prayer time I had hoped to set aside; a spiritual director forbad me from fasting the way I wanted; a hardened heart kept me from diving into Lent with full force. And I suppose that this year will be no different, though I am not going down without a fight. The prayers have begun, the fasting continues, and the onslaught of weariness or just the daily routine are subdued as best I can fend them off.
At base, I think it is important to recall the central theme of Lent, that of preparation for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery–the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ and His sending of the Paraclete among us. This image has always helped me focus my attention to this most central reality. “Let us look upon Him who was lifted up that He might draw us to Him; and, by being drawn one and all to Him, let us be drawn to each other, so that we may understand and feel that He has redeemed us one and all, and that, unless we love one another, we cannot really have love to Him who laid down His life for us.” So says Cardinal Newman. And he’s correct. We must “gaze on Him Whom [we] have pierced” (John 19:37).
A lenten meditation would be incomplete without noting that Christ’s death that we celebrate was fundamentally different from mere human death: “Man dies as a Martyr, but the Son of God dies as an atoning Sacrifice.” Christ the sacrificium–the sacrifice and the mystery–may indeed remain a mystery to us for the rest of our earthly lives. The very idea that God could come among us as a man and die for our sins, individually, is beyond our comprehension. And so it is a humbling thought. If taken to a certain extent, this thought could humble us to the point of utter despair. Yet Lent is not a time for despair, but for hope.
St. Augustine rightly notes that the “passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the hope of glory and a lesson in patience.” Indeed, “the death of the Lord our God should not be a cause of shame for us; rather, it should be our greatest hope, our greatest glory.” Let us keep this hope before us throughout this Lenten season. And as we gaze on the face of the crucified Lord, let us also hope to share in His resurrection.