A Lenten journey like never before

Editor’s note: The COVID-19 pandemic has made us reflect on what is most important in life. During Lent, The Compass offers an eight-part Lenten series of reflections on how readers can take their experiences from 2020 and apply them to Lent and Easter 2021.

Most of us would like to say that 2020 is over and behind us. Perhaps the year itself is done, but we can’t really say the same for the darkness that covered most of it. For many of us, this past year was like no other. We’ve all experienced fear to a certain extent, the darkness of thousands of deaths due to a silent virus, the separation of families and friends, and many other things that have caused us anxiety. All of this suffering has led us to a place where our brokenness has been exposed. I’m not sure we’ve been able to fully capitalize on the spiritual rewards that can be reaped from these strange times. 

This pandemic has brought a certain loneliness to people’s lives. All of a sudden the need to stay home — away from friends and even family at times — has really brought to light the great need we have for one another. The need is not only for another human being, but especially for our Lord and Creator, the Father in heaven who longs to be with us in the midst of the journey. This is not just a noble, romantic idea, but a reality that has the power to come alive in our hearts the more we are able to invite the Lord into our journey as we move on with our lives.

This Lent is like no other before. The pandemic has brought about an opportunity for solitude with Jesus in the desert — the desert of our hearts, lives and struggles as we face this sad reality. The Spirit of God is trying to lead us into this encounter with the Father, so that his life-giving mercy may become a reality within us. In the midst of the isolation, Jesus tries to grasp our attention so that he may show us his glorious and transfigured face, constantly gazing at us, longing to heal and transform our darkness. 

In the process of coming to know and experience the power of Jesus, in his zeal for cleansing the temple, he cleanses our hearts from any impurities, idols and anything else in it that does not belong to his Father. This is perhaps a painful experience as we come to realize that God asks us to surrender things, people and other experiences before his mercy. 

Unfortunately, many are not willing to let Jesus into their hearts to that extent because, once we hear his voice, it may ask for everything we are, have and own. The reason Jesus is so interested in helping us cleanse our hearts is because he knows the purpose and mission (for which we were built). His zeal and love for the heavenly Father makes him eager to let you and me know the transformative love he has for us — so much so that he is willing to endure a terribly painful Passion and death simply because you and I are in need of it.

There is a powerful invitation to be with God in solitude in the midst of the loneliness that the pandemic has brought about. The pandemic of 2020 is perhaps a visible sign of the power of sin that fills the heart with fear, doubt, division, darkness, separation and loneliness. Lent — and especially the Triduum (not technically part of Lent, but of Holy Week) — is also the most powerfully visible sign of the relentless love the Father has for us. It is the clear sign that the Father does not give up on us and has the power to destroy the powers of sin and death that try to enslave us. 

How can we be more attentive to the presence of God in our lives? How can we fortify ourselves so that we may be able to resist the powers of the evil one? My best recommendation to you is to simply spend time in the presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ. If you are blessed to belong to a parish with an adoration chapel, please consider making a weekly commitment to time with Jesus. It is in these smallest moments of silence that we are most able to experience the love and mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus — the mercy that has the power to transform our interior darkness with the light of his love. If your parish doesn’t have a place for eucharistic adoration, you can find a list of all the opportunities in our diocese on the diocesan website.

As you go about this Lenten journey, don’t let the evil one lead you into despair, loneliness or darkness. May we ask for the grace to come to Jesus and be alone with him in our prayer, that he may show us the face of the heavenly Father contemplating our poverty. The darkness of the 2020 pandemic is a great opportunity to turn to God. Let him cleanse our hearts and show us the depth of his merciful love for us. This is what Lent is all about.

Fr. López is pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Green Bay.

Here are links to earlier columns.