The Journey of Lent: “Baby Steps” In Following Jesus
Holy Week is just few days from now and we are still given the opportunity to focus and ponder on God’s love for us, on how our Lord Jesus Christ died for our sake to redeem us from the bondage of sin. One of the phrases in one of the Gospels during this Lenten Season states: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me”. This is one of the many beautiful pronouncements of our Lord Jesus Christ which will make us pause for a moment and reflect on it.
In all honesty, this kind of resolve to follow Jesus would require tremendous humility and selflessness from all of us so as to truly follow Him. Have we had the chance to reflect on this? Can we really make a commitment to this effect? Do we find it hard to invite ourselves to be in the state of grace, to participate in God’s Kingdom by following Jesus and obeying His commands, at least this Lenten Season – to start with? Perhaps, we should further ask ourselves: Why am I practicing fasting and abstinence? What is the meaning of all these – about this Journey of Lent? What am I doing? Where am I going? Am I going to Jesus or am I going away from Him? What and where are the areas that I have to improve and grow in my relationship with God? Oh, so many series of questions!
All of us are called to become holy, or simply to follow Jesus. As St Matthew puts it, “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect”. St. Paul has said this too, that we are called to be holy. Similarly, St. Jose Maria Escriva also propounded and showed how ordinary people (young and old alike, rich or poor; businessmen and laborers; professors, students and out of school youth; homemakers and househelpers, among others) can sanctify their daily work, by offering them to God everyday. Pope Francis likewise believes in this and echoes the same when he mentioned, in one of his General Audiences at the Vatican, that we are called to be saints and that we can do it in the course of our ordinary lives.
Well, some of us may find it hard and may simply set this aside for the time being, or perhaps some of us may try to make it work and embrace the right path for the sake of our love for God. These hesitations in following Jesus stem from the fact that we have been used to adopting the status quo- that we simply go through the motions, going through the cycle of life, because that’s relatively easy for us to do. It’s easy to live life on a daily routine basis, including going through the motions with our faith and our daily norms, e.g., fulfilling our obligations as Christians – hearing mass on Sundays to hear God’s word (without reflecting much on it), then the following day is Monday – some of us may have to go to work, then we go back home, we eat, we sleep and we go on with our lives – forgetting the very essense of our Christian faith – the meaning of the Word of God – why are we on earth, the very purpose of our existence.
It is completely understandable that some of us may think that choosing to entirely follow Jesus may be cumbersome because of the enormous responsibility attached to it and the sacrifices expected from doing so. We have this fear that following Jesus may shatter our family dreams, our careers, our aspirations in life. We have this fear that we may lose our loved ones, wealth and other properties, that we may have to detach ourselves from material things if we opt to make friends with God. Well, one way or another, we may be right in our assumptions that following Jesus won’t be a piece of cake. Definitely, there will be struggles along the way, or even falls and failures, and loses, but what would be pleasing to God is that we tried and strove hard for it – and He will do the rest – for everyone who follows and obeys Him in return.
Pope Francis, reminded us that “we are called to be saints” and doing so would require God’s blessings because “holiness” is a gift from God and we cannot do it on our own volition. We have to ask God for it and pray fervently for it to be granted. According to the Holy Father, the call for holiness is not only addressed to the nuns, priests and bishops and those who have the opportunity and the willingness to break away from the ordinary tasks and their comfort zones but to everyone, including ordinary lay people. However, the problem lies within ourselves. We tend to think that becoming holy is imitating the life of the saints. As mentioned earlier, we have this kind of fear knowing that some of the saints have left their homes/families and have fully devoted their life to God by prayer and seclusion, others have been martyred because of their faith. Hence the notion that ordinary people and sinners like us would not be prequalified as potential saints-in-making as it is impossible for us to measure up to what most of the saints did. It should be noted, however, that there were saints who have made terrible decisions but have changed and have resolved to follow Christ. Likewise, we have to be reminded that our dear Lord Jesus Christ made it very clear that His mission and vision in coming down to earth was not to call the righteous, but to call sinners. The main purpose of why Jesus is basically inviting us to holiness is for us to share His joy and love to us with the end view of sharing the same to others so all of us can follow Jesus and to be with Him in His Kingdom in Heaven.
The Holy Father emphasized that we can practice holiness everywhere we are, be inside the Church, at home, at our workplaces, or wherever we are, in-transit going home or somewhere else. It is about the little things that we do on a daily basis: by saying the Morning Prayer when we wake up, by thanking God for the good night’s sleep, for waking us up to a sunny day, for the good coffee that perks us up, for the good ride to the office while reciting the Holy Rosary, for helping an elderly cross the street while on our way walking to our office building, for smiling and greeting our office mates (even those whom we think dislike us!), for avoiding engaging in gossips and rumors, for passing by the Church or observing the Holy Week activities, and when we’re back home, by preparing and attending to our family’s needs, and when we open our social media accounts before we go to bed and say our evening prayers, we react nicely to posts of our friends sharing with us a prayer, their activities for the day, their accomplishments and all. And if we have spare time on some days, we can help in spreading the Word of God and the Church teachings to others especially the youth. These are simple gestures of kindness and love which are considered “baby steps” towards holiness. And perhaps if we become attuned to this habit of making God happy by doing good works to others, this might lead us to more greater tasks, more opportunities that will lead us to be much better persons, humble and selfless, qualities which will qualify us to be tagged as holy. Isn’t it wonderful, doing the baby steps towards holiness?
That is why for the whole year, particularly during the Lenten season, we are called to make amends and repent for our sins – we are given second chances to be fully converted and go back to God. It is certainly not easy to follow Jesus, not with our weak and human sinful natures. As such, we have to pray to God to help us and grant us the strength to stay away from sins. Jesus is inviting us to follow Him, and if He is inviting us, that means it’s possible, even for us ordinary people to be passionate about God just like what the other holy people did.
Let’s say the Serenity Prayer for our quest to holiness: Our loving and generous God, grant us the grace to accept the things we cannot change; courage to change the things we can; and wisdom to know the difference. May all of us have a joyful and blessed Journey of Lent. A holy and meaningful Holy Week to one and all. Amen.
(this article has also been published in a Catholic magazine abroad, same author – myusefultips!)