“Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Jl 2:12-13).
There’s a moment in every Lent when I begin to stumble. When the promises I made seem too difficult, when I convince myself that the Lord doesn’t need my sacrifice, when I begin to follow the call of comfort and leave Christ’s side—and very suddenly I find myself lost in the desert. Maybe this experience sounds familiar to you, finding yourself two, four, six weeks into Lent, and all of a sudden you lose your motivation and forget why you decided to make your Lenten promises in the first place. It can be tempting when you find yourself in the place I fondly call “the mid-Lent slump” to give up entirely and say, “Maybe next year will be better,” “Maybe next year will be my year,” but in this post I want to present a different solution. This year, when we find ourselves lost in the desert, let’s press into the discomfort and ask Christ to teach us how to be with Him there.
There’s a meditation that I have found to be incredibly helpful when I find myself in this place during Lent. Begin by placing yourself at the scene of the Baptism in the Jordan. What does it look like, smell like, sound like? How do you feel when it is revealed that the man in front of you is the Son of God? Then Jesus begins to walk into the desert and you follow Him. Why do you follow? Have you prepared for this trip, or have you brought nothing, trusting that He will provide? How do you feel now that you are in the desert?
When we find ourselves in “the mid-Lent slump,” we need to remind ourselves of why we committed to Lent in the first place. When we are able to remember this “why,” we are given new strength to continue into the desert, to press in with Jesus into the discomfort, leaning on Him for strength, because we realize we aren’t alone in the desert. All of this, however, can be very difficult without practical steps to return to Jesus in the desert. Here are some that I have found to be most helpful when Lent becomes difficult.
Most importantly, as you press into Lent in the midst of the “slump,” remember the Lord’s unending mercy and love for you. As it says in Joel 2, God desires for us to return to Him with contrite hearts so that He can pour out His mercy and grace onto us. When you find yourself struggling in Lent, turn back to Him in all His kindness, and ask Him to walk with you and give you the strength you need to continue following Him into the desert.
“Dear young people, the happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth, hidden in the Eucharist. Only He gives the fullness of life to humanity!” – Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Young People, Apostolic Journey to Cologne on the Occasion of the 20th World Youth Day
Growing up as a cradle Catholic, it was always easy to take the Eucharist for granted. Even though I recognized the true presence, it was tempting to see Holy Communion, adoration, and Jesus being present in the tabernacle as a bonus to the faith and not the foundation of the way I lived my life. Now that I serve in youth ministry, I see that this line of thinking too often becomes the norm for young Catholics.
But what happens when young Catholics live a life centered around the Eucharist, when they allow themselves to be consumed by Christ, finding complete freedom in complete surrender? They begin to live in their identity as beloved sons and daughters.
I got to witness this transformation firsthand this summer serving as a missionary with Catholic Youth Summer Camp. Every week, I watched middle school and high school students meet Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time, experiencing His love and feeling the truth of their identity in a real, tangible way. And every week after these experiences, there was a shift in the way these kids lived their lives. It was as if they were no longer afraid of being judged or not accepted by the teenagers around them; instead, they were confident in the sufficiency of the love they felt from God. When the campers started to recognize and feel the truth of their identity as sons and daughters, when they realized that they can look into Jesus in the Eucharist and physically see that truth, they no longer cared about the opinions of the people around them and would do whatever brought them joy. This often looked like the small but life-changing steps of fully entering into the Mass and worship, taking times of prayer seriously, and having childlike fun and joy throughout the day.
Throughout the summer, I began to realize that the experience that these teenagers had in their first moment of encounter with Jesus, the childlike joy and freedom they experienced, is not an experience for them—or for children—alone. All of us, including You and I, are all seen by the Father as His beloved daughters and sons, and He desires to show us that truth and the love He holds for us in a real, tangible way through the Eucharist. Every time we receive Jesus into our bodies, every time we spend time gazing into His face in adoration, we give Him the opportunity to remind us of how unconditionally loved we are, how we belong with Him and nothing else. These truths give us the freedom to not fear what waits in the world, nor fear the chains of sin or worldliness. They help us recognize that there is no fear in the perfect love we experience living in Jesus Christ, and the only thing we have to worry about is following His will. When the world is not something to fear, we can recognize creation as the gift that it is and receive what the Lord has waiting for us.
The next time you go to Mass or adoration, recognize that Love Incarnate is entering you in order to prove just how far He’ll go to show that you belong with Him. Allow that truth of His unconditional love and your belonging in it to shape the way you live your life, embracing the freedom He has won and given to us.