In this week’s interview, Archbishop George J. Lucas explains to communication manager David Hazen that a successful Lent involves the discovery that Jesus is life for each one of us. He invites us to recall our own baptisms, consider what this sacrament means for our relationship with God, and embrace God’s plan for our lives through our Lenten practices.
Q: We are now a couple of weeks into Lent, a point at which Catholics may be encountering discouragement or difficulty in their Lenten journey. What focal point can you offer us to realign our prayer and reflection for the remainder of these 40 days?
I find it helpful near the beginning or middle of Lent to recall my own baptism, and I would encourage others to do so also.
At the Easter Vigil, there will be many baptisms performed all across our archdiocese. Easter is a great time to remember one’s own baptism and to celebrate it. The season of Lent, then, is preparing us for that day on which we will witness the baptisms of others and will be invited to renew our own professions of faith.
We should not be simply mechanical about the renewal of our baptismal promises, but should pay attention to the significance of that moment. It is a good time to think of our parents, godparents, and any of those who might have accompanied us to the baptismal font, because that was a day that marked a significant change for all of us in our relationship with God, with ourselves, and with all of creation.
We know that at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, the heavens opened and a voice from heaven proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son.” Our heavenly Father gave his affirmation to Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry and made clear who he is.
Similarly, we know that God looks on each of us on the day of baptism and says, “You are now my beloved daughter. You are now my beloved son.” Our relationship with God changes then. We are brought into the household of faith, and we are destined to receive the inheritance that goes to the children of the family: eternal life, won for us through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
On the day of baptism, God expresses his plan for us that we be saints. We could say that our life’s project is to figure out how to let God have his way. His design for us is to live forever with our sins forgiven.
Q: How can we use this time to live out that baptismal identity more fully?
The season of Lent is an opportunity to focus again on God’s will for you and for me, and to cooperate with that, because that is the will or the plan that is going to mean life for me.
Early in the season of Lent we recall the temptation of Adam and Eve and the original sin. At that moment, the devil offered Adam and Eve a lie, but an attractive one. He got them to believe that in some way God was competing with them for their good, and that to let God have his way would somehow diminish them. They were willing to say, “Yes, we see God’s plan all around us. There are so many things that God has given to us, so many things that we get to do. We love all that, but this one restriction, this one thing that God has told us not to do ….” They were convinced to see that as an impingement on their freedom, on their flourishing. It was a lie. They gave in to the lie, they chose it, and we live with the consequences.
What they did shows us what is at the heart of every temptation and every sin. God has announced his love for us. If we have come to know God as revealed in the Scriptures and in the person of Jesus, we know we have a loving God whose only desire for us is that we live, and live forever. Yet we continue to listen to the lie that God really wants to take something from us, so we don’t want to let God have his way. We want to have our own way. For all kinds of reasons – because of fear, because we are looking for pleasure, or because of our ignorance – we try to take over control of our lives and take from God his role in his plan for our flourishing.
The invitation we receive in Lent is to think again about God’s way, about his plan for us in Jesus Christ, and to give ourselves to it more fully once again. Our practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are designed to help us develop habits or patterns of life. It is like giving ourselves over to a training program for running a marathon. To be able to do something extraordinary, we have to practice day in and day out.
Lent can seem long, but the point is to practice giving God his way, getting out of ourselves a little, and giving ourselves to God’s plan over time so that it really becomes part of us. We become better equipped to cooperate in God’s plan and to have the joy and the peace of it even now.
Q: Do you think, then, that Lent is often perceived as a burden because we make it into a sort of project of our own self-perfection?
Yes, there is always a temptation to make Lent into our own project. However, the real opportunity is to give ourselves over more fully to God’s project, which is realized in our life with and in Jesus Christ.
We might ask ourselves what a successful Lent looks like. The question is not simply, “Did I stick to all my resolutions or all my plans?” We should think of some good practices to do, of course. But the point of all of our Lenten penance is to place ourselves more in the presence of God, to conform ourselves more to the plan of God. We will know we have had a successful Lent if at Easter, when it is time to renew our baptismal profession of faith, we are able to make those promises again joyfully and with the knowledge that our baptism means we are each a beloved son or daughter of God.
We sing alleluias all over the place and there is great rejoicing and celebration on Easter. What are we celebrating? Jesus is risen from the dead, true – that is the pivotal event in history. But the important question is: What does that mean for me here and now? This is what I should end up discovering during the season of Lent, that Jesus is life for me. That means that I, too, am a beloved son of God, and that God has in mind to give me the inheritance, which is life forever.