On the Record: Emerge from Lent with a sense of self

Ken Weber, [email protected]

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Loyola has had a tough few months. The loss of Chance Briant, Kyra Koman and Dr. Jon Altschul have made this a “season” of challenge and pain. Maybe talking about a season in the church calendar right now seems unimportant, or at best, lagniappe. Then again, maybe it’s exactly what needs to be talked about.

Lent is patterned from the 40 days Jesus spent wandering in the desert, which itself may have been patterned after the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert centuries before, in search of the home promised them by God. It was in this desert that both the Israelites and Jesus encountered strong temptations to leave God. In our “desert” of loss in these past months, we too may be tempted to wander away from whatever it is we experience as central to our very being (which some call “God”).

Lent is a time of purification – a crucible in which to burn away all the “extra” in life – leaving only the essential, precious metal. It’s a time to slow down, to consider what’s most important in our lives. The losses we’ve suffered may have brought the usual whir in our minds and hearts to a slow turning, if not to a halt. While they’ve offered plenty of pain, they’ve also afforded us an opportunity to contemplate what it is we most deeply cherish. And for many of us, what we most deeply cherish boils down to life itself. (“Choose life,” the saying goes.) But what kind of life? How do we best live this life we’re all supposed to cherish so much?

St. Ignatius tells us the answer lies deep in our hearts; that our deepest desires are the same as God’s desires for us. During Lent, we adopt certain changes in our behavior or habits in order to more clearly discover these desires. We strip away things we consume (by fasting), things that distract (by praying) and things we possess (by almsgiving). We divest ourselves of the defenses from God (from our truest selves) that our culture sells us, just as the Israelites rejected their home as slaves in Egypt, and as Jesus rejected the temptations to absolute self-reliance, self-serving power, and belief in himself over belief in God’s love for him in the desert. Through this process, the Israelites did find their promised home and Jesus either discovered or confirmed who he was.

Another term for this process is “discovering our vocation.” The answer to all the questions is the same: What is my vocation? What should I do with my life? What do I want to do with my life? What is my life for? What is the meaning of life? The answer – says Ignatius, Jesus, and lots of others throughout time – is to discover who we are and share that with others. Ignatius calls it “praising, reverencing and serving God.”

So, now that Lent is coming to a close, what’s next? Well, continuing to pattern our season after the experience of Jesus, what comes next is our re-emerging from the desert, strengthened by an experience of coming to know a little more of our deepest selves (i.e., coming to know a little more of God). Through our experience of loss, either self-imposed or thrust upon us, we have turned inward to explore what truly sustains us through all of life, especially the tough times. And we continue to live – to share our newly discovered selves with others. And when Lent ends, we celebrate life itself at Easter – a life that has no end, because it is lived in love.

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