The word “Lent” literally means “to lengthen” or “to stretch”–a fitting name for a season inspired by Jesus’ time alone in the wilderness, his fasting and temptations. Let me first say that if you are already struggling to keep your Lenten promise(s) . . . that’s totally normal! Lent should stretch you, make you push yourself. And, more importantly, make you rely more than ever on God’s grace.
Saint Pope John Paul II, before he was a theologian, was a philosopher, steeped in the study of human experience known as phenomenology. Every Lent, I am reminded of a particular truth which is central to his philosophy of the human person; namely, that when the human person is at his or her limits–the limits of human effort, thought, and desire–in that moment, he or she is most profoundly in contact with the divine. In other words, God lives at the thresholds of human experience. He pitches his tent at both the heights and the depths of life. Therefore, it is precisely in those moments of felt weakness, loneliness, powerlessness, and confusion that we are on the verge of touching the face of God. Or, better yet, allowing God to touch us.
This Lent, don’t fear or condemn yourself for breaking your Lenten promise(s), or for seeming to fail in some other aspect of Christian life. Instead, turn to Christ and his grace which comes to us in so many ways (e.g., prayer, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Christian fellowship, scripture reading, and service of others). Trust that his will is made perfect in your weakness, that if you reach out beyond your limits you will, in fact, take hold on heaven. God will grasp your hand!