I often find Lent to be a struggle. I’m the sort of person who likes to set goals and achieve them. Typically, this translates into making lofty Lenten resolutions, trying to rid myself of every bad habit, and ending up disappointed and disheartened when I fall short. When I heard the readings on the final Sunday before Lent, they seemed to be calling me to break out of this pattern.
These readings, just a few days before Ash Wednesday, do not issue a challenge to achieve ambitious spiritual goals. Rather, the readings speak to us of growth and fruitfulness. The first reading sets the theme by describing how “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had” (). Similarly, in the Gospel, Jesus reminds us that “every tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44-45). Sirach 27:6). Similarly, in the Gospel, Jesus reminds us that “every tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44-45).
This theme of fruitfulness is woven throughout Scripture. In the Gospel of John, Jesus commands the disciples to “go and bear fruit that will remain” (John 15:16). Pope Francis describes bearing fruit as one of the identifying characteristics of missionary disciples. His description of the Church as an evangelizing community contains wisdom that can be applied to our approach to Lent:
“An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear” (Evangelii Gaudium, 24).
What if instead of thinking about what I should be giving up for Lent or how I’m doing with what I resolved, I reflected on how I can allow this Lent to be a season of growth and lasting fruit? Shifting our focus and directing our attention to the fruit that God wants our lives to bear opens us up to the possibility of new life. It reminds us that this Lenten journey is not about achieving something on our own merits. It is the Lord, the sower, who scatters seed generously and brings forth new life. Pruning all that is unhealthy is an important part of the growing process, yet our focus is not on what we leave behind. When we set our eyes on the good fruits God is bringing about, we maintain a much healthier perspective. Instead of getting caught up in feelings of defeat or failure for missing the mark, Lent can truly prepare us for the newness of life we celebrate in a special way during the Easter season.
Lenten resolutions are a good and worthwhile practice, but we must be careful not to lose sight of their greater purpose. They are not about giving up something as if that were the end in itself. Giving up sweets or putting limits on our binge-watching is not simply about an exercise of willpower. They are meant to open us up something more. Instead of seeing our Lenten resolutions as a “no” to something, we can see them as a “yes” to caring for our well-being, a “yes” to more time for prayer and meaningful conversation with friends and family. These are the lasting fruits toward which such disciplines are intended.
As we continue our Lenten journey, let us not grow impatient at the weeds that crop up and threaten our good intentions. Let us not grumble or overreact when we stumble. Rather than giving in to feelings of defeat and failure, let us allow God’s grace to take root in us and renew us so that we may bear fruit that will remain, no matter how great or small it may be.