It's so easy to do what needs to be done in order to get it out of the way, and so hard to do it from love, in love, and out of love.
Lent's coming. You can hear it in the readings and the propers at Mass.
Lent's coming. It's been the focus of every Catholic email blast and social media offer for the past month. Honestly, it isn't much different from the store shelves filled with Christmas decorations in September. Lent's coming. But it's not yet here. And while being prepared is a good thing, it may be even better to resist the temptation to be drawn back into the past or pushed forward into the future and learn how to be fully present in the here and now.
For most of the country, the time between Christmas and Lent is quiet. You take down the tree and lights, hope that the winter weather won't be particularly memorable, and wait for spring. But down here in the Gulf South, Mardi Gras season can be busier than what the vast majority of people call "the holidays." And that works for me, because it keeps me from jumping ahead of where we really are. There's plenty of time for Lent.
This year, I'm focusing less on which practices to embrace and more on how (and why) I'm embracing them. This year, I don't want to sign on for doing something "impressive," or take up a difficult practice just because it's difficult, or pledge to do something I should be doing anyway, like eating the way my doctors tell me. I don't want to practice Lent half-heartedly, looking for opportunities to relax whatever discipline I choose to observe. In short, I don't want to do what I'm supposed to do only because I'm supposed to do it. I want to do it for love.
In his brilliant play, "Murder in the Cathedral," TS Eliot examines the great temptations every committed Christian disciple faces. In the scene just before Thomas Becket meets his martyrdom, he speaks about the deep treachery of self-deception: "The last temptation is the greatest treason; to do the right deed for the wrong reason."
Right deeds, but wrong reasons. I know there are ways of living Lent in a way that sacrifices the right reasons for the right deeds because I've fallen to that myself. Of course, it is best to do the right things for the right reasons, and that is, ideally, what Lent gives us the opportunity to learn. Still, it can be hard to keep the promises we make, and even harder still to keep them simply because we love God.
"There is no love without sacrifice." The words of St. Maximilian Kolbe ring true because they were ratified by how he lived -- and ultimately, offered his life. But there can be sacrifice without love. I know how hard it is to fold laundry because I love the people who wore the clothing in the basket. I know how difficult it is to clean the bathroom because I love the people who use it, or cook for people not primarily because they need to eat dinner, but because I love them. It's so easy to do what needs to be done in order to get it out of the way, and so hard to do it from love, in love, and out of love.
But when we love someone? The list is never too long, and the tasks are never too difficult or demanding. Instead, things that might otherwise be taxing or distasteful become sweet. The laundry, the bathroom, the cooking all become joyous opportunities for self-giving love.
That's how Lent -- and the whole Christian life -- should be lived. When you fast, do it for love. When you pray, do it for love. When you give alms, do it for love. Because if we manage to do these things for love, we will end up doing them in love.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.