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It's Lent - an 'Outward Bound' for the Soul
By the 1960's a movement of outdoor education and character formation called Outward Bound began transforming lives through exposure to hardship and teamwork. As Catholics, we have entered a season of transformation called Lent, an "outward bound" for the soul.
Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash
WASHINGTON (Catholic Online) - In the early 1970's I was involved in youth work and received my first exposure to Outward Bound, an outdoor learning adventure that pushed people to achieve more than they ever thought possible. I heard about more than one life transformed by experiencing the hardships and pain through wilderness training.
Outward Bound harnesses a unique perspective that is shared by the Church, that suffering produces character. St. Paul puts it this way, "Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." (Romans 5:3-4)
According to their materials, "Outward Bound is to inspire character development and self-discovery in people of all ages and walks of life through challenge and adventure, and to impel them to achieve more than they ever thought possible, to show compassion for others and to actively engage in creating a better world."
Add a large dose of devotion to God and this sounds just like Christian formation.
A person is deprived of life's comforts often experiences a dose of reality long since forgotten. When placed in hardship, we learn our limits and discover that, by working together, we can accomplish incredible deeds.
The early Church thrived in adversity. They faced of persecution of a kind we, in our culture, could not begin to comprehend. They were humiliated, harassed, and imprisoned. They were also thrown to wild animals; they were covered in tar, then tied to posts and set on fire; they were also tortured through savage amputations while conscious. All of this came about as the result of simply believing the same things we now affirm and practice in our local parishes.
The Church flourished under hardship and the faith spread as a fire across the known world.
Believers, after the reign of Emperor Constantine, experienced a different world. They were now "legal" in the eyes of the state. The aggression they had formerly experienced was no longer as present. And the Church not only enjoyed the reprieve, they relaxed in relation to the faith.
The Fathers of the Church saw what was happening, and with great wisdom, began to develop a new rigor on the faithful that was incorporated into the Church calendar and which we now call Lent.
The term "Lent" means "Spring." Each Lent is a new springtime, a new beginning of our growth in Christ. The intensity and focus that it takes for a sprout to break through to the sunlight is found in our pursuit of holiness.
In Lent, we intensify our rigor through fasting and abstinence. We take away certain privileges and comforts, add to our acts of devotion, spend more time in examination, and focus more intently on our spiritual formation. During this season we strength our resolve in cooperating with the grace that is ours through Christ and His Sacraments.
Lent is a time of putting off
Growing up as an Anglican, Lent was always a part of our family tradition. I remember fasting candy as a young boy, which was hard to do especially at Saturday movie matinees. Forty days seemed like forty years, but self-denial was a trait instilled early.
As Catholics, during Lent we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We also abstain from meat on Friday. This, however, is only the minimum daily adult requirement requisite to position ourselves for growth.
We can use Lent as an opportunity to gain new control over areas that have dominion in our life, such as television and video games. By putting off these things or diminishing our use, we can regain time for things that are more important, particularly regarding things of faith.Â Such self-denial builds inner strength for us as followers of Christ. It allows us to take back our lives from cravings and habits.
Lent is a time of putting on
Lent is a season of addition as well as subtraction. We can add new practices or disciplines, perhaps attending daily mass, participating in a stronger daily devotional rigor, praying the rosary, or spending additional time before the Blessed Sacrament.
When we add things to our daily schedule, we mustn't think of Lent as a time of building up a spiritual bank account of activities that we leverage the rest of the year. Putting on is a return, a re-engagement with those things which should have a normal place in our lives always. By intensifying their presence during this season, we will hopefully build some new habits to take into Eastertide and beyond.
Lent is a time of letting go
The writer of Book of Hebrews offers us a wonderful admonition in the twelfth chapter:
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.
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"For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood." (Hebrews 12:1-4)
Those sins that cling to us, covered in the first verse, are the besetting sins that never seem to let us alone. The image here is a sin that wraps itself around us like a clinging vine and won't let us go. This kind of sin demands a radical extraction.
Most of those sins which entangle us are grave in nature and demand the fullest measure of grace we can obtain for victory. These sins have been with us either for a long time or with great intensity. or both!
The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (also called Confession) is a powerful grace given us by the Lord to deal with such strong and powerful sins. In our time of confession we receive the absolution necessary to open ourselves to the fullness of God's grace in our lives. We are reconciled to Him!
We also confess, eager to receive penance, which not only illustrates the depth of our sorrow for what we have done but positions us for a life of victory over those things which beset us.
Lent is a time of coming in
We must never forget that Lent is a time when the Church reminds her faithful to invite those who have left to come home and those who are not yet believers to taste and see that the Lord is good.
Do we have family or friends who have wandered away from the faith? How wonderful to pray for them during Lent and then put feet to our prayers by encouraging them to return. Think of the greatness of an Easter which the prodigal sons and daughters of Christ are returned to their families.
Think also of the greatness of Easter when those who have never known him might come and, with the Church, declare their love for Him, embracing the cross for their own.
The invitation of our Lord is to all. Saint Peter wrote, "So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time."Â (I Pt. 5:6)
Lent is upon us and we must respond. Famed Catholic Author Henri Nouwen puts it this way:
"How often have I lived through these weeks without paying much attention to penance, fasting, and prayer? How often have I missed the spiritual fruits of the season without even being aware of it?
"But how can I ever really celebrate Easter without observing Lent? How can I rejoice fully in your Resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death? Yes, Lord, I have to die-with you, through you, and in you-and thus become ready to recognize you when you appear to me in your Resurrection.
"There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess.... I see clearly now how little I have died with you, really gone your way and been faithful to it. O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones. Let me find you again. Amen. (from "A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee")
So let's embrace the journey! In these forty days we can set a new course for our lives that more abundantly brings attention to our Lord into our daily life.
Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and the CEO/Associate Publisher for the Northern Virginia Local Edition of Catholic Online (http://virginia.catholic.org). He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
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