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Everything to gain

“To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).

What if this Lent, this were the goal? To live is Christ. Life lived to its fullest is life that is wholly engulfed in Christ. It is Christ. Lent is a time to die to ourselves in such a way that we grow and flourish and live entirely Christlike. As we measure and count the days until Easter, we can take each one for what it’s worth and live fully in it as God intended. One day at a time, we can carefully cultivate souls that are genuinely Christian.

Just before uttering our Lenten motto, St. Paul expressed that it was his eager expectation and hope that Christ would be honored with his body. “To live is Christ and to die is gain” are the two ways Christ can be honored. And they are the two ways that we can use Lent to offer ourselves to God completely while drawing closer to both Christ on the cross and Christ risen from the tomb. 

We always focus on what to give up and then, maybe what extra works to add. But what if we focus instead on how to live? St. Paul says he is coming to the Philippians in order to increase the joy in their faith, in order to bear fruit with his labor. The labor we do for our families can be joyful, fruitful labor if we die to ourselves in the ordinary everyday moments of life.

For St. Paul, and for us, to die is to be with Christ. Dying is a gain of immeasurable worth. Dying well honors Christ because nothing we leave in life is worth more than living with God. Lent reminds us to die to self and to live for Christ in this world in order to be happy with him in the next. Our small mortifications every day are ways we can honor and exalt Jesus by being more satisfied in him than in any of the comforts of life. St. Paul’s wholehearted joy in this way of living can be ours as well. We can know what it is to labor with joy. 

We cannot bear fruit or share joy if we don’t tend the gardens of our souls. What if we dedicate Lent to nourishing the soil so that it will bear good fruit? What if we tend to our spirits so that there is joy to share? What will feed the fruit-bearing soul? We are weary and barren and grace-hungry. In the waning days of winter, let Lent be a time of intentional attention to our souls.

Dedicate Lent to tending your soul. Clear the debris. Live in a state of grace. A fruitful Lent begins with confession so that your soul is not weighed down by the burdens of sin. Christ waits to lift the heaviness and to open conduits of grace. Without grace, all the efforts to sacrifice are for naught. Go to confession. And then go again the following week. Cultivate a habit of keeping the channels of grace clear. 

Nourish yourself with the Eucharist. Celebrate at Mass as often as you can. Live in a state of gratitude for the gifts God freely gives. Sit quietly before the real presence of Christ in adoration. Let God tend your soul. That’s it. Just do that.

This is a very simple Lent. Not easy necessarily, but simple. 

Your Lenten plans don’t have to be complicated. You don’t even have to give up coffee or chocolate. Just present yourself to Christ in the sacraments, take what he gives, and offer him your whole life in return. 

You have everything to gain.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Northern Virginia.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020

@elizabethfoss