It is already the middle of Lent. For many, we may still be seeking to firm up our resolve to be people of prayer, fasting and almsgiving during these 40 days. The ashes from Ash Wednesday are no longer visible. However, with eyes of faith, we can still recognize the deeper call to conversion and sense the spiritual stillness they symbolized.
Intending to find respite, we run from one place to the other, hopeful that our sacrifices will yield some good fruit. Our lives are often replete with personal projects, work tasks, family commitments and social gatherings that consume many of our days and hours. So, in the midst of our daily routines and busy schedules, we search for ways to turn our eyes and hearts to the Lord, trusting that God will hear our deepest longings and will refresh our souls (Psalm 19: 6-14).
Indeed, our hearts are heavy with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic that still linger. Even as we adapt to this new reality, the temptation is always before us to put our guard down and grow careless in following up with the recommended health practices and guidance of faith. And, while it is true that there is much needed and found hope in the promise of the vaccine, the stark reality of the number of deaths brings profound sorrow and mourning to us.
As the amount of suffering and death brought about by the pandemic continues to plague our communities and world, we are also moved to pray in remembrance and healing for one another. Perhaps more than other times, this Lenten season is a time for us to go deeper into contemplating the Lord, finding Him, especially, in the most vulnerable and excluded around us.
We know from faith that the suffering and cross we carry during this pandemic moment isn’t for naught. In fact, we trust that our suffering in prayer, fasting and almsgiving, when drawn closer to the cross of Christ, will find redemptive meaning and grace (Colossians 1:24; 1 Corinthians 15:58). Like Mary and the apostle John, we are invited to place ourselves close to the loving mercy and care of God in Christ Jesus and in this manner experience the gift of community and mutual care for one another by the foot of the Cross (John 19:25-27).
The holy men and women that have gone before us show that our encounter with Christ will never disappoint. In the saints, we not only see lives transformed by the mercy of God but can also recognize our own vocation to holiness and hope in the Lord: “So now that we have been justified by faith … let us exult, too, in our hardships, understanding that hardship develops perseverance … and a hope that will not let us down, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5: 1-7).
As we continue to draw nearer to the cross of Christ and the hope found in His Resurrection, we pray that our hearts will receive the love of God already given to us by the Spirit. Only by holding on to this generous grace in Christ will our hearts find the needed direction and prayer to carry us through these 40 days and beyond. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit He saves (Psalm 34:17-20).
F. Javier Orozco
First published March 11, 2021 in the St. Louis Review