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Lent and the Difficult Christian Ideal

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“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

– G.K. Chesterton

What is Lent, after all?

Is it a season to embark on a new exercise program or engage in a much-needed diet? A time to give up chocolate and increase compliments? Is Lent little more than a grumbling Catholic version of New Year’s resolutions crushed into a forty-day time frame?

No.

Lent is a time to try our faith. A time for sackcloth and ashes. A time to pray, fast and give alms. Lent is a time to willingly walk with Christ into the barren wilderness where hunger gnaws, thorns cut and the devil prowls. At its inception, we are marked with blackest ash reminding us that we will die and, near its close, we are witness to indescribable savagery and grueling crucifixion. Lent is a season of deep cost.

But in the Catholic narrative, Lent is not all. To be sure, Lent and its suffering is a dark preamble to the magnificence of Easter and its hope-filled glory.

But we must remember – we must never forget – that Easter came at a horrendous price.

And so, as we slog through the arid desert places of Lent, we are called to consider sacrifice on a scale that only God can truly comprehend. We are called away from a place of self-centered shallowness and vain inconvenience to a place of deep interiority, communion, and, yes, meaningful sacrifice.

In the remaining days of Lent, we are called to see – I mean, truly see – the ideal of Christ (in his suffering and glory) and to adopt it (however imperfectly) for ourselves. In moments great and small, are we finding our Lenten call to the ideal challenging, but edifying? Or difficult and left untried?

Finish strong, friends.

Finish strong.

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