Last week I led a Lenten Retreat for a very special group of women in California. They were incredibly open, receptive, and unguarded – willing to share their thoughts and feelings from their hearts. The focus of the retreat was on experiencing Lent through the Passion of the Christ. The retreat was held in the Serra Retreat Center in Malibu – an absolutely stunning place nestled in the mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was a most sacred weekend.
As I prepared for the retreat, I came to believe that Lent is not just about penitence or guilt or giving up, but rather a time for deep introspection. The Lenten Season can serve as an annual invitation for us to draw closer to God, to look at our lives – not so we may severely criticize ourselves but rather that we can identify obstacles that keep us away from God. As we explore such barriers, we may be able to gently move them out of the way and come closer to God’s love. Perhaps then we will feel real life and love – the very love we celebrate on Easter morning.
So for the women at the retreat – and for me, our experience together offered us the gift of time and the possibility of drawing closer to the Christ. Although self-examination was part of the process, we did not sit long with any guilt we might have had about our wrongdoings or our faults. We understood that such a process would have gone against the Gospel message about forgiveness and new hope, as shown by the life of the Christ.
But we knew that in order to arrive at a transformed or new life it was important for us to name parts of our lives that are in the dark, where life has difficulty flourishing. So we started our retreat in the wilderness, as Jesus had done, and began to transform our own wildernesses – the barren and chaotic parts of our lives – into places where we could invite God in.
As we proceeded through the Passion of the Christ, we went through Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and even Easter. Perhaps the most meaningful part of the retreat for me was when we left the chapel (where we remembered the Passover meal in the Upper Room) with our candles and moved into the garden to experience Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. There we asked ourselves: If we had been there, would we have stayed awake? Or would we have fallen asleep out of sheer exhaustion or fear? Are we awake today? Do we abandon, deny, or betray Jesus in our daily living?
Yes, so many thoughts and experiences to help bring us closer to God. May we ask ourselves such questions this Lenten Season.
Beloved, during this Lenten Season, we know that you call us to draw away from the roaring noise of the world, to strive to do what is right, to lay up our treasure in heaven. Give us the strength to listen to you and to follow you. May we grow in holiness as we go forth on this Lenten journey with you. Amen.