On Quinquagesima Sunday, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the priest who celebrated Mass for us put the ultimate goal for Lent rather simply: When Easter comes, will we have grown in our love for Christ compared to what it was when Lent started?
Three things that will help in achieving this end, which can be done anytime but especially during Lent if you don’t do them already, are prayer, spiritual reading, and fasting. Prayer, as St. Teresa of Avila says, is simply “conversation with the One Whom we know loves us.” It is essential in the growth of our spiritual life and will help us get to know Our Lord better. After all, conversation is how we get to know anyone better!
Spiritual reading helps us to learn and reflect on the truths of our Faith and also leads us to learn more about Christ. When we read, we should read slowly to really take in the information and pray about what it means for our lives and our relationship with Christ.
Fasting helps us to wean ourselves off of the things of this world so that we grow in the realization of our dependence on God and in our love for Him, for as St. Matthew says in his Gospel, “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (4:4). We usually think of fasting in terms of food, but it’s also good to fast from things that hinder us from growing in our relationship and love for Christ, particularly during Lent. This is also a good opportunity for prayer and reflection. What are things that you are attached to to the point of neglecting your relationship with Christ? It might be relationships with other people or forms of entertainment like TV or music. Lent is a great time to start fasting from these things and using the time instead for prayer and meditation in order to grow closer to Christ.
Fr. Hathaway, the priest that said Mass that day, also began to go through the “Love is patient, love is kind” reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that was the Epistle for that day. He used St. Alphonsus Liguori’s commentary on the passage to go through the points about love that St. Paul makes and this is something that is a great reflection for us during Lent. If we want to grow in our love for Christ, we have to meditate on what constitutes love and the areas on which we need to improve. We can also insert Christ’s name into the passage in place of the word love, since He Himself is Love, and this will help us better understand the Person of Christ and how He operates.
Another exercise that we can do with the passage is to insert our own names in place of the word love and thus make an examination of conscience and evaluate how we’re doing in expressing the definition of love in our lives. We can ask Jesus to help us grow in these areas and this will better help us grow in our love for Him.
Applying these methods and even others during Lent will help us to achieve its ultimate goal: giving of ourselves even just a little more so that we can celebrate Easter with true joy and a greater love for Christ than we had on Ash Wednesday.