It can be difficult to imagine how it's even possible to exude joy during Lent.
Those of us who give up the regular indulgences of ordinary time — chocolate, caffeine, fast food — often find ourselves feeling melancholy, maybe even downright cranky.
We're geared to focus on the penitential nature of Lent. Focusing on our sins isn't particularly pleasant. But as Pope Francis noted in his World Communications Day message for 2017, it's all in how we look at things.
"Life is not simply a bare succession of events, but a history, a story waiting to be told through the choice of an interpretative lens that can select and gather the most relevant data," he wrote. "In and of itself, reality has no one clear meaning. Everything depends on the way we look at things, on the lens we use to view them. If we change that lens, reality itself appears different. So how can we begin to 'read' reality through the right lens?"
For Catholics, the answer lies in the Good News found in the Gospel. We all know where Lent leads — to His Resurrection.
With that bigger picture in mind, consider ways in which we might experience joy during Lent. Keep in mind, we're asked to do these things with the joy of the Holy Spirit:
• Personal spiritual growth and becoming closer to the Lord;
• Acts of penance, and the joy that comes with thinking of and doing for others;
• Uniting outselves with Christ's sufferings;
• Living out the Gospel message in our thoughts, words and actions.
Author Marilyn Gustin who wrote "Choosing Joy for Lent" (Liguori Publications), noted we are transformed when we seek joy in life. She suggested several methods — detachment, surrender, contentment, noninjury, discipline and contemplation — as ways of being open to the power of the Holy Spirit.
We know that finding joy in Lent might be a challenge. Our culture is overwhelmed with words and actions that are contrary to respect for human life, in its many stages. Disagreements with others who don't hold the same values have become much more than disagreements. Oftentimes, there's a complete breakdown of communication, giving people labels, or placing them on "sides."
During Lent, we are called to seek out how Christ's example of how He communicated with others. We are called to unite ourselves with Christ's suffering on the cross, a part of God's salvific plan for humankind. And through His suffering, we must look for the joyful signs and the bigger picture of what God has planned for us.
We can start by shifting our lens of the Good News on the small things in life. Lent is a time for reflection, which helps us grow. It's a time for Reconciliation, and forgiveness comes with and overwhelming feeling of joy. It's a time of reaching out to others who might have different views than us, and finding commonalities.
When we do those things, and we contemplate Christ's salvation as a gift we are left with a feeling of gratitude. And we give thanks to God.
That is joy.