Lent and the Ignatian Way to Prepare Yourself for Easter

By Ted Dziak, S.J.

Lent always has a bigger religious following in the liturgical season comparison than any other – and surely beats out Advent every year.  (Who gives up chocolate or dessert for Advent?)  

Both Advent and Lent are seasons of preparation and anticipation – Advent is anticipation of the birth of Jesus and Lent is preparation for the resurrection of Jesus – Easter.  Lent always has more of a penitential element, and the obvious reason is the passion of Jesus, which is a major element of Lent.  

Of course, if you live in New Orleans, you can’t discount Mardi Gras influencing Lent, and even in some ways, overshadowing it, initially.  It’s almost as if we don’t have time to think much of Lent for that tall flag (purple, yellow and green, of course) distracts and waves everywhere.  For some it is the only celebration, and Ash Wednesday merely signals the end of Mardi Gras.  (Everyone in NOLA knows exactly when Mardi Gras ends – at midnight.)  

A Jesuit Way to Celebrate Lent

For those of us in the AMDG world who see Lent as a time to deepen ourselves spiritually, perhaps all we have to do is look to our founder, Ignatius of Loyola, who talks of our purpose on earth very clearly.  “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.”  [Principle & Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises.]   And even simplified it even further when he simply said his goal was, to ‘save souls.’  By this, he meant that he sought to help his fellow humans realize that they each have a unique relationship with God.  Our goal then is to deepen our relationship with our God.  

What better goal of Lenten observance can there be, than this Ignatian goal: to deepen and strengthen our personal relationship with God.  

Of course we cannot just wake up on the first day of Lent, get that black cross on our forehead and say, “beginning today, I am going to have a strong relationship with God.”  Deepening a relationship is not a Lenten task to be checked off, like giving up desserts.    

When we seek to build any relationship, like a friendship, we have to have the desire, the perseverance and an open heart to the other.  Even if we have the desire to know God, we are so easily distracted, lazy and evasive even.  And there is no one way, one formula, that fits all.  So we have to try to consciously do this in a systematic way.

We Start by Paying Attention

So how do we even begin by building that relationship with God?   We start by paying attention.  God has been in our lives since before we were born, but somehow we fail to notice God’s presence in our lives – in our world and in our relationships.  One of Ignatius’ (and the Jesuits’) most familiar phrases is ‘Finding God in All Things.’   We can start by trying to consciously building in some daily focused reflection – recognizing the gifts that God has given us.  ‘Focused’ is the key word here – bring into our hearts and minds the loving relationships, the beautiful world God has placed us in and puts us in every day: that morning sunrise or the early morning fog or the small flower budding in our garden.  It can be remembering the beautiful ride in the morning laughing with the family or paying attention to that amazing song on the radio that brought a rush of memories.  Paying attention to the regular, even mundane, by opening our heart and bringing it all to God.  We find God in everything we do by paying attention.

We may think it is a challenge to consciously pay attention to God’s presence in our life, but actually it is very simple.   For, as Ignatius said so often, to quiet ourselves to look into the depths of our heart, we realize that it is not we who seek God, but is God who seeks relationship with us.  So it is not a matter of our seeking to ‘find’ God, but God is there all the time, just waiting for us.   

The Spiritual House-cleaning of Lent: Freedom and Indifference

We get busy and distracted often.  So our second Lenten step is to clear away the clutter that distracts us.  To feel the presence of God, we need freedom.  Lent is a time to rid ourselves of those habits and vices that distract us and do not give us the freedom to find God in the depths of our heart, to strengthen our relationship.  Ignatius calls this seeking indifference.  No one can tell you what those chains are that keep you from being free, for they are uniquely ours alone, but they must be broken.  Lent can be a time of cleaning – sort of a spiritual house-cleaning.

We need the freedom to truly feel and experience God’s love and God’s grace in our lives.

A Time of Gratitude

Lastly, Lent should be a time of gratitude. At Manresa, as he sat and prayed beside the River Cardoner, Ignatius received an epiphany that changed his life forever and changed the way he looked at everything.  This was his unique moment of absolute clarity.  Ignatius realized that all of creation was a gift from a loving God, and at that moment, he experienced a great sense of gratitude. 

Not many people of faith have experienced a lucid all-encompassing vision like Ignatius, and most of us have to consciously pause and deeply reflect on our relationship with our God.  But after we seek the freedom and indifference that allows to do this, we can all experience gratitude. And it is a desire we offer to God too seldom.  

Our whole life should be one of gratitude.  Instead of worrying about what we do not have, Lent can be a time to focus on the gifts that God has given to us.  And express gratitude for them.   When have we consciously taken time to thank God for the talents and the skills we have, the loving relationships – family, friends, colleagues and neighbors – with whom we are blessed.

Gratitude also means we start with ourselves – loving ourselves for who we are – whatever age or body type, whatever intellect or crazy little idiosyncrasies we have adopted.  Thank God for this.   We must love ourselves as God made us, not in comparison to some perfect image. And we thank God for our lives.

So Ignatius calls us to pay attention to God, to clear away the clutter that distracts us, and to express gratitude for everything God has given us.  We do this and we build that relationship with our God even stronger.

Lent is a season of hope and a preparation of Easter.  God’s love for us is evident all around us and starts here on earth, God’s creation.   God is found in all things.  

Father Ted Dziak, S.J, is the Vice-President for Mission and Ministry and University Chaplain.

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