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BEFORE THE CROSS | In Lent, turn your weaknesses and failures over to Jesus

The apostles are examples of transformation that we seek to emulate

Lent starts Feb. 26, on Ash Wednesday, and the readings for this week can help us think ahead and make our Lenten plans.

The apostle James urges us not to be like “a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind.” If we simply follow our desires we’ll be pushed all over the place. We need to be more stable in the life of faith than that.

Every Lenten resolution makes some contribution to the life of faith, and that’s good. But last-minute Lenten resolutions often lack deep insight into where we most need to grow — to pull up weeds and put down deeper roots. So now is a good time to begin thinking: How might Lent help us be less like a wave?

The characterization of the apostles in the Gospel of Mark offers a great encouragement.

On Tuesday, we hear about the time when they forgot to bring bread on a journey. Jesus warns them to guard against the “leaven” of the Pharisees. He’s talking about hypocrisy, but they think He’s talking about the lack of bread! He reminds them about the times He multiplied loaves for the 5,000 and the 4,000, to make it clear: He’s perfectly capable of producing bread. Then He chastises them: “Do you not understand?” But one of Mark’s key points is just that: They don’t!

On Thursday, we hear about the time when Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, showing his great insight into Jesus’ identity and mission. Immediately after, however, he rebuked Jesus for talking about the cross, showing his deep confusion and misunderstanding about Jesus’ identity and mission.

Time and again, Mark paints a portrait of the disciples that’s easy for us to identify with! Like them, there are times when we show great faith and times when we show deep confusion, times when we share the mission and times when we’re an obstacle to the Lord’s work.

But that’s precisely one of Mark’s points. The apostles start out just like us. Then something happens: Their repeated failures are followed by a transformation, and they become great heroes of the faith. Maybe, if they started out just like us, we can end up just like them. But we have to go through a transformation, too.

Lent can help with that. And it will if we take the places of our weakness and failure and turn them over to Jesus. St. Augustine once put it this way: “God means to fill each of you with what is good; so cast out what is bad! If He wishes to fill you with honey and you are full of sour wine, where is the honey to go? The vessel must be emptied of its contents and then be cleansed. Yes, it must be cleansed even if you have to work hard and scour it. It must be made fit for the new thing.”

That’s good advice for Lent.

Where is it that you most need to be purified? Maybe there’s something that’s present in your life that needs to be absent or diminished; maybe there’s something that’s missing in your life that needs to be present or strengthened. Think and pray about it. Then, next week, your Lent can address it right from the start.

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