Understanding a Deeper Meaning of Lent

This article was posted on: March 11, 2019

When I was studying philosophy at St. Francis Major Seminary in Milwaukee, Father John Peifer defined wisdom as “knowing things in their causes.” A theological definition, however, would suggest “an enlightenment by the Holy Spirit to understand the mysteries of faith and thus to make proper judgments in life.” Both definitions have merit. Both Wisdom and Understanding are among the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit given to us in Confirmation.

The question is: During Lent, do we really understand the significance of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ? Moreover, do we really understand the discipline of the Lenten penances?

All the penances that we do during Lent are not only a reminder of our sinful humanity and our need to do something about our sins, shortcomings and faults, but they teach us the stark reality that resurrection entails the cross. Put simply, “no cross, no crown.” Those crosses will assail us in many forms – perhaps through sickness, financial worries, a failed marriage, loss of a job, the death of a loved one, having to move unwillingly to a new location in order to accept a job promotion, being slandered, having to cope with a wayward child, etc. St. John of the Cross, a Discalced Carmelite and Doctor of the Church, who endured many crosses during his life, identified himself with Christ Crucified.

Crosses in our life serve as a reminder that only by bearing them can we really be linked to Christ, who had to endure a Good Friday before His Resurrection. All of this reminds me of an episode in my seminary life. Prior to priestly ordination, each transitional deacon had to go before a board of three seminary professors to be quizzed on anything we had studied in our years of preparation. One of the five questions asked of me was: “What do you expect in the priesthood?” My answer was, “The cross.” When the rector shockingly asked for an explanation, I said, “The servant cannot be above the master.” (John 15:20)

Let us remember, though, that our crosses, if borne heroically, eventually lead to peace, joy and salvation in a new life. That new life must be prepared for , and we are reminded of this by observing the activity that takes place on Holy Saturday prior to the Easter Vigil. Churches are cleaned, Easter flowers are brought in, altar linens are changed, altar servers are practicing, etc. What is the deeper meaning?

The moral of the story is that even when the Paschal season ends, the faithful should be in constant preparation for their personal day of transition when their earthly life is over.

During the Easter season, I like to recall my mother’s near-death experience. She was wading near the shore at the Old Dam at Rock Dam, seven miles west of Willard, Wisconsin, when she fell into a water hole. She went down twice before being rescued by a bystander. ﷯When I was a teenager, she told me that her whole life passed before her, including everything she had ever done that was good or bad. She spoke of the tunnel, the light and the beauty of “the other side,” saying, “I wanted to cross over when I saw it.” St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:9 that “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” We are charged “to love Him,” to make this a reality for ourselves, if we hope to experience the joys of resurrection after our pilgrimage of life.


Msgr. Matthew Malnar

The Catholic Diocese of La Crosse
3710 East Ave. South
La Crosse, WI 54601

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