The call of Lent is always at heart a call to conversion. Jesus himself provided the script when he made his first public appearance after his baptism and his desert conversation with the Tempter. Then and now, the Tempter’s goal is to persuade us to desert our own true identity as God’s beloved for a different name than Christian, with a different allegiance defined by a different voice, a voice that promises all gain, no pain. Knowing very well that we may already have taken at least a few steps down that path since we made or renewed our baptismal vows last Easter, Jesus calls: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
The problem arises when we lay our deepest commitments and best intentions aside for a bit and then forget where we have put them. To speak from personal experience, I sit down at the computer in the morning intent on putting into writing the thoughts I’ve been pondering about Lent for all of you (and myself). But my morning coffee seems long ago, I’m overwhelmed by the number of e-mails I should be answering, and other jobs pressing, so the visual tug of my online news site calls out to me to read it from beginning to end, as if the latest gossip about the British royal family mattered to my day, or the newest buzz about an obscure mollusk recently discovered near the Hawaiian islands will nudge me closer to the reign of God. Twenty minutes disappear, and the essay on Lent is still nothing but a blank page. (And I don’t even care about the gossip or the mollusks!)
Originally, Lent began with the First Sunday of Lent. Contingencies irrelevant here caused the days from Ash Wednesday to the First Sunday to be added. They always seem to me to be a runway that allows me to get up some speed before I launch into the heart of the Lenten season. So here is my suggestion to you: take these days to search out what seem to be for you the thorns that keep God’s word from bearing fruit in you—ask for a little help from the Holy Spirit to see and hear more clearly; spend some time reading through St. Benedict’s list of Lenten tools in RB 49 and the whole tool shop laid out in Chapter 4—ask yourself which ones would best suit the work of dealing with your particular varieties of thorns; write them down, with enough detail to keep you honest as the season unfolds and they lose the appeal of a fresh start. Try praying Psalm 95 daily during Lent, either as part of the Hours or on its own, to ask God for the grace to hear and heed his word, with the help of your tool selection. Make periodic checks on the state of your inner briar patch—does it look any thinner? (Effort is what Lent calls for, not resounding total success!) All along the way, pray to St. Benedict for his support.