I Need Lent

As the days of Great Lent are growing near, we commemorate the 1st & 2nd finding of the Head of the Forerunner on Feb 24th. He's preparing us to the way of the Lord.

We commemorate the 1st & 2nd finding of the Head of the Forerunner* on Feb 24th. As the days of Great Lent are growing near, let us remember to repent and turn back to the Lord.

Recently, just a few days ago, I asked somebody, “How are you doing?” Their response was to some degree unexpected but to those who have struggled to live the Christian life, perhaps it wasn’t that unusual. The young man said to me, “Father, I need Lent.” He went on to say, “I think I’ve come to realize how wise the church is in providing this annual challenge. I need lent.”

So needless to say, for the past few days I’ve been thinking about these simple three words, “I need Lent,” and you may be asking yourself, why is Father Evan talking about Great Lent? It’s still January, it is not even the Triodion yet; that three week preparatory period that comes right before Lent.

Well, the answer is, Great Lent is just around the corner. The Triodion and its first reading from the Gospel of St. Luke, on the Publican and the Pharisee, is February 9th. And many of you who have grown rather accustomed to the rhythm of the church and its liturgical year may notice today’s reading of Zacchaeus is often associated with the coming of Great Lent.

Now, today, I’m wondering out loud, do I need Lent? Some of you may be thinking, no, I don’t want Lent. Yet it’s my experience that my own spiritual life and my connection to Christ is not what it should be. And often this is the result of not any conscious decision to deny Jesus Christ, to forego His teachings, but something much more benign and therefore dangerous. Really, the culprit of why I don’t live a more transformative life committed to Jesus has more to do with my own inattention and laziness than anything else. I think this is the strong point that St. Paul is attempting to make when he wrote his epistle to the Hebrews.

If you look and read carefully the first few verses in the beginning of the 2nd Chapter, you’ll encounter the following. This is St. Paul speaking:

Therefore, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.

He’s not talking about any conscious decision to deny Jesus, we just drift.

For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation.

The truth is I am not very diligent when it comes to a Christian life. And I think the basis of my inattention and my own laziness comes down to something pretty simple, but integral.  My love for Jesus, my zeal for Christ and my attention to the things of God grows cold after a time.  My heart doesn’t beat with zeal and it’s sad to say that I am most of the time, lukewarm and tepid, perhaps, you know the condition I am describing.

You are, like me passionate about things, you get excited. You love a fad and you get engrossed in something easily. You read a new book or passage of scripture, you hear something in a sermon, or you go to confession and for a time, you’re zealous, you’re pious.

But slowly and imperceptibly things change. Maybe some of you remember how little I like the dentist and how for seven years, seven years I didn’t go! I couldn’t stand them scraping and grinding my teeth, the thought of it just made me shutter.  I went recently on Tuesday, the new hygienist greeted me and she scraped by teeth raw. They were so smooth. I woke up this morning and already the tartar is starting to build.

You see, we lose sight of our original repentance. Our attention to the commandments of God and the great gift of salvation slowly but surely becomes a worn out play thing. I think this is part of the power of today’s gospel.  It tells us about a man who got up one day and despite all that he had done in his previous life, he decided to go out and see Jesus. He was intentional in his desire and in his pursuit. He overcame what confronted him and he climbed a tree and looked for the Savior. And so when I hear this reading today and I heard the statement of that young man, I came to the conclusion, I need Lent.

And I really could change the words to ‘I need Jesus again.’ I need to seek Him out, again. I need to break out of the slumber of my every day. I need to come back and deal with the slow but sure build up of my sin upon my soul. I’ve got to leave my comfort zone. That’s why some of you who have been through Lent are thinking you don’t want it, you know what’s coming. You know the challenge that is in front of you, the arduous journey and difficult process of removing sin to get to Jesus.

I need to overcome this past year of sin and recapture or maybe for some of you to gain for the first time the reality of your first love. So, let me prepare you by my words today for what is coming. Lent is around the corner and I hope you will see like I’m trying to see myself, the value in its arrival. With it comes the opportunity to seek out Jesus again. It’s an opportunity to set aside our complacency, our inattentiveness, and to seek out what’s truly important; the salvation of your soul. I need Lent but so do you.

*This icon of the Finding of the Head of the Forerunner was found here.