I recently dropped off my car off for service. A maintenance light had been nagging me for at least a month, so I finally did something about it. $880 later, I drove away with my "newly improved" car. Ugh.
The maintenance light had bugged me because it reminded me that something needed fixing . . . and it made me nervous to think that my vehicle might break down at any time. While $880 was tough to take, I had to pay it.
There is a cost to driving a car. If we never go in for tune up, or if we fail to fix problems that arise, our car will ultimately fail us. Most things in life that are valuable to us "cost" us something.
That made me think about my spiritual life: are there "costs" to a good spiritual life?
Lent reminds us that being a Christian is worth something, and that it should cost something as well. The Church in her wisdom has given us days of abstinence and penance, and although we could never pay back Christ what has done for us (and we aren't being asked to) we can unite ourselves to Him and draw nearer to His cross.
Lent is the perfect time for a spiritual tune up since the Church offers opportunities throughout these forty days to prepare ourselves to commemorate Christ's death and resurrection. It's our maintenance light, so to speak, alerting us to recharge our spiritual batteries and to re-align our priorities with God's will.
It's good to remember that Jesus knows what is best for us. He is the one who asks us to deny ourselves and to take up our cross:
"Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'"(Matthew 16:24)Lent is the path to the cross. It's our chance to deny ourselves and ready ourselves to carry it.
On Ash Wednesday our foreheads are marked with ashes. According to EWTN, this sign of "mourning, mortality and penance" originated in the days of the Old Testament. If we think of this as a sign of our mission, then Lent is to go forth on that mission. We journey to the cross of Good Friday, but our true destination is the Easter resurrection.
Father Raoul Plus, a wonderful author, once said,
"Our Lord was quite frank with His Apostles when He sent them forth on their mission: 'Can you drink of the chalice which I shall drink?' And Our Lord asks me too: 'Can you drink of the chalice? Can you bear your part in your Master's sufferings?'"It seems to me that I start out every Lent with a strong resolve. Ash Wednesday finds me ready and willing to undergo a spiritual tune up. But somewhere along the path of Lent, I waver. I forget about the opportunity I've been given to grow closer to Christ and my resolve fades.
But here we are again, at the beginning of Lent. I hope this year will be different, and I know that God wants me to succeed. As strong as my will is, His is much greater, and when I sin or lose heart, I can fall back on His great mercy, which is always available.
"Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)
Which brings us back to my opening point: I didn't want to risk something happening to my car, so I took it in for maintenance work, even though I knew there would be a price to pay.
Am I willing to do the same for my soul? Doesn't it need maintenance work, too? Probably even more so. At the very least, my soul needs a good washing (through the Sacrament of Confession!) and Lent is a good time for this.
My hope in this wonderful season of Lent is to get my soul in better working order. In the small sacrifices I make, in the days of abstinence and fasting, and through the prayers of the Church, I hope to draw closer to Christ and to be united with Him in that suffering.
Because ultimately, Christianity does not focus on suffering and on Christ Crucified, but on the joy of Christ Risen. Let us keep this in mind and prepare ourselves to rejoice with Him on Easter day.
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:5)
This article has been updated and was originally published in February 2016. © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.