Desert-like Lent pushes us beyond the usual

Last summer I replaced the plants in my garden that required daily watering with succulents that could go for days, even weeks without water. Since then I’ve discovered these hardy little plants can withstand not only heat and drought-like conditions, but freezing temperatures and everything else the winter months throw at them.

In fact, not only did they survive, but they seemed to thrive and are now sprouting an interesting array of flowers. Watching them during the past year has given me a new appreciation for their ability to bloom even in extreme conditions, bearing a close resemblance to their desert cousins.

Anyone who’s been to the desert knows that winter in the desert can be brutal. With nighttime temperatures falling well below freezing and with little or no rain, the bleak landscape offers little to please the eye. And yet, in the springtime, deserts come alive. The drab grey green of the cacti boast flowers in vibrant shades of red, yellow and orange, which offers a good analogy for Lent.

Lent reminds us that not only can we survive the penitential season, but it can help us thrive the rest of the year. It’s the only liturgical season that has a penitential theme, carrying with it a focus on increased prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and all three require a level of self-discipline.

Since we’re already several weeks into the season, we do well to consider how well we’re weathering the desert-like conditions. If we pray only when we feel like it, go without dessert when we’re too full to eat another bite, or give away what we no longer need or could use, what’s the merit in that?

Lent invites us to go beyond what we do every other season of the year, because flowers that bloom in the soul do best when subjected to harsh conditions. It’s what the Paschal Mystery is all about.

One of the advantages of writing this column is that I can’t ask others to do what I am unwilling to do myself. It’s easy to make excuses for ourselves. I know because I speak from experience, and as I listen to others lament their progress, I know I’m not alone.

I admit that I may be preaching to the choir, but if you’re like me, there’s always room for improvement. So, here are suggestions that we may all find helpful:

1. Let’s admit that on our own we’re helpless when it comes to carrying out our good intentions. Even the desire to do good is the result of God’s initiative.

2. Let’s ask God to help us remain faithful to whatever it is that we are being called to do to make this the best Lent ever.

3. If we fall, know that with God’s grace, we can pick ourselves up and start again. A good place to begin is at the Stations of the Cross where Jesus fell three times, teaching us what to do when we fall.

4. If I’m tempted to disregard the first three because I don’t think they apply to me, pray for the virtue of humility. Keep in mind the first stumbling block toward overcoming our faults is denial. This makes vigilance imperative because inspiration can happen anywhere and anytime.

The other day as I was preparing for an upcoming parish morning of reflection in Richmond, I was looking for a few words to add to the flyer to fill in the space when a card fell out of a book that I had taken off the shelf. It was one of those moments when I had to wonder if my guardian angel sent the card falling to the floor.

After reading it and adding it to the flyer, I decided it also merited space in this column. I’m not able to credit the source since the inscription was anonymous, but its application is universal.

I shall not pass this way again.

Any good thing that I can do

Or any kindness that I can show,

Let me do it NOW!

Let me not defer or neglect it,

for I shall not pass this way again.

May the rest of your Lent be fruitful and a time of grace, filling your Easter with a spectacular array of flowers, transforming your soul to a garden where miracles abound!

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