“Christ the Lord was tempted and suffered for us; come, let us adore Him”
(Invitatory Antiphon for Lent, Liturgy of the Hours)
Each year, we reach the point where Lent is almost upon us; like the other seasons, it is regular fixture in the spiritual year. And every year, we enter into that season, having decided how we will take part in it, and to what degree. We then do so. We move through Lent and emerge weeks later into the radiant joy of Easter. It all sounds fairly simple. Easy, almost. And perhaps a little repetitive. Of course, that is not always the experience we have; sometimes it might be very different to what is described in the lines above.
The Liturgy of the Hours takes on a very particular character during Lent. The Hours of each day begin with the invitatory antiphon at the top of this page – ‘Christ the Lord was tempted and suffered for us; come, let us adore Him’. This single line recalls to our minds exactly what Lent really is – a time of preparation. For the Lord, this period was characterised by temptation from the evil one, and by suffering. Commenting on this, Fr Gabriel writes –
“Jesus was tempted because He willed it. We, however, are tempted without willing it, and often against our will. The temptation of Jesus was wholly exterior, for it found no echo within Him; on the contrary, our nature, wounded by the triple concupiscence of the flesh, of pride, and of avarice, is not only an easy prey for the assaults of the devil, but is itself the source of many temptations. It is impossible for us to live without temptations, our virtue does not consist in being exempt from them, but in being able to overcome them. It is a struggle which none can escape; God even wishes this struggle to be the price of eternal life.” (Divine Intimacy – Fr Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalene)
The same holy Priest also explains our part in all this –
“Jesus wills to continue His Passion in us so that we may be associated with Him in the work of redemption”.
And so now we have a clearer idea of what is offered to us – and what is expected from us – each Lent. This finds a clear echo in many of the writings of the great Saint Paul, and perhaps most explicitly in these lines –
“It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that still has to be undergone by Christ, for the sake of His Body, the Church.” (Col 1:24)
Paul clearly sees this close association of himself with the Lord, to the extent that he is able to take part in the Lord’s sufferings, adding them to His for the sake of the Church. And so it each for each of us.
Now, the character of Lent has purpose and meaning; we are associated with the Lord in His Passion for the sake of the Church and so that one day, God willing, we might share in His glory in Heaven. And those words ‘for the sake of His Body, the Church’ give our sufferings a communal dimension; they are intended not only for us personally and individually, but for ‘the Church’ – in other words, we are given the capacity to contribute to the treasury of grace. What we do, what we suffer, can touch and transform souls. And now, suddenly, we might see our experience of Lent in an altogether different light.
In the first paragraph above, I described one type of Lent – a common one, perhaps, but only one type; there are other types, also.
Lent is not always ‘easy’, it is not always something we simply walk through before reaching Easter. At times, it can be a very different experience for us – difficult, challenging. It can be a time of genuine trial of one sort or another. In such a time, the suffering can be keenly felt and the challenge can run very deep, like water slowly cutting a path through rock. Perhaps the most difficult form of such a trial is when we experience it without any of the usual supports structures, and sometimes without any spiritual consolation whatsoever. Thankfully, this can be a relatively rare experience and is often limited in terms of time. But it is the experience of some souls, at some times. Even when it might seem that the grace of God is absent, it is not; and sometimes, when we feel we are far from the Lord, He is never far from us. The Lord will never abandon us.
If any of this resembles our experience, then perhaps it will be helpful to re-read those deep words of Saint Paul, and to consider that regardless of the depth or difficulty of our personal experience of Lent, it compares only as a pale reflection of the time of trial of the Lord; and yet, that same Lord wills us each to walk a particular path through Lent, easy or not so easy, and that this is the path of our sanctification and ‘for the sake of His Body, the Church’.
May the Lord grant us every necessary grace to make this Lent worthwhile and profitable.