In Louisiana we know how to prepare for Lent. We call it Mardi Gras. We take all of our most grandiose ideas and dress up as our wildest fantasies of who we would like to be. The costumes are always gaudy, but often beautifully so. Then we climb up on floats and parade through the streets of our towns and cities pretending to be royalty while we throw beads and trinkets to our adoring subjects. It is fun to be king, queen and court for a day. It is also exhausting, and we end Mardi Gras having spent, drunk and eaten way more than we should have. Then we spend 40 days of Lent trying to understand why we are so pleased to live for even a day what is an illusion, a pretense, really a lie. Why is it so much fun to pretend, and why can we not enjoy our day-to-day life as much?

There is a difference between fun, joy and pleasure and happiness, contentment and inner peace. One type of feeling breaks our boredom and/or worries, giving us momentary pleasure. We need it at times. It has some value. But the other feeling we truly yearn for. The prophet Isaiah speaks of it as something we thirst for. “All who are thirsty, come to the water! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? … Come to me heedfully, listen that you may have life … So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it” (Is 55: 1-11). 

Jesus, 500 years later, would tell the woman at the well (and us too) that he could give her “living water,” his spirit that would live within her forever, come what may. Jesus, of course, is present to us in many ways in Scripture, which is the word of God, in the consecrated bread and wine of the Mass, in eucharistic adoration, in his Spirit acting through the other sacraments, and in our neighbor who often comes to us as the thirsting, hungry, poor, and suffering Christ. 

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Isaiah told his Jewish readers that they must listen heedfully in order to have God’s life, his presence within them. Jesus and God his father are never far from us. Jesus said to his disciples that the kingdom of God was within them. But, as in Jesus’s parable of the sower’s seed that fell among thorns and was chocked off by the cares of the world, we are often too busy about our own ambitions and concerns to recognize God’s presence to us. 

We are now two full weeks into Lent and need to seriously focus on that real life that Jesus offers us. A good way to do this would be to pray and meditate on the Mass Scriptures of Lent. God’s word speaks most effectively at the eucharistic liturgy. There it resounds from many hearts and resonates in the rich diversity and strong unity of God’s people. The word we hear and share at liturgy is a word enriched by the memorial and Communion of Jesus’ sacrifice. It is a word that comes alive in the sacrament and seeks to come alive in the service and ministry of the community. However, even if one cannot attend Mass daily during Lent, it would help greatly to take a missalette from church and pray and meditate over the Lenten Scriptures. They can be found also in the monthly editions of small Magnificat books. 

Many of our diocesan church parishes have adoration chapels. What better way to pass the weeks of Lent than in the presence of our eucharistic Lord. What a perfect place to meditate on the Scripture of the Lenten Masses. 

Ever since the time of the apostles there has been a practice of fasting in the church. While the Catholic Church today strictly requires this of us only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and recommends abstinence from meat on all Lenten Fridays, Jesus in the Gospels speaks of fasting as a good spiritual practice as long as we don’t try to make a show of it. Christians throughout history have seen a spiritual value in imitating Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert. Jesus fasted and prayed to resist temptation. We who are sinful have more reason to follow his example. Fasting clears the mind and cleanses the heart. It sharpens our moral and spiritual determinations. 

Jesus also challenged all of us to become “poor in Spirit” because the poor realize how dependent on God they are. One of the best Catholic spiritual guides writing today, Father Richard Rohr OFM, says that we are most willing to let God into our lives when we feel most broken and inadequate. 

That is why we began Lent with ashes. “Lent,” he says, “is an ideal time to remember that we, in the deepest way, must learn to depend on God.”

A good Lent strengthens our faith in God’s promise, through Jesus’ resurrection, of our own eternal Easter. 

Father Carville is a retired priest in the Diocese of Baton Rouge and writes on current topics for The Catholic Commentator. He can be reached at johnnycarville@gmail.com.