Lent Begins With Desire

by Catherine Doherty

Preparation for Lent begins with desire. Can you weigh desire? Can you measure it with a yardstick? Can you unwrap it and know the chemical content? No, my friends, you can’t. Desire is like a flame; it starts small and it grows.

We exist to desire the Desired One: God. As St. Augustine says, “Our hearts were made for Thyself, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in Thee.” In this is the preparation for Lent: a desire deep down in the heart for God.

We come together because we desire him. Some of us come with only a foggy idea of him outlined in our heart. He seemed so tired to us; he had a cross upon his back. Perhaps some of us heard a hammer hitting nails that went through a human hand, and turned away because of fear that maybe this would happen to us.

But Lent is a strange season. When we ask, “Where do you live, Lord?” Lent says, “Come and see.”

If you had enough desire that you came toward him to ask the question, you will follow him. And you will find a tree to climb, like Zaccheus in the Gospel, because following will not be enough—you will have to see him. Zaccheus in that tree drew the attention of Christ, and he heard him say, Come down, I shall sup with you tonight (See Lk 19:1–10.).

Lent is a moment not only of desire, but of hearing and touching, for in Christ’s day when a guest came to dinner, you washed his feet, put oil on his head and kissed him. So Zaccheus, in his passionate desire to see Christ, was allowed not only to see him, but also to hear him and touch him. That is the beginning of Lent.

What happened to Zaccheus later? He cried out, I will give half of my goods to the poor, and to everyone whom I have defrauded, I will pay back four times the amount.

That is repentance. That is making right what was wrong. This is what we have to do, you and I, during Lent.

It is also the moment of forgiveness. He who repents is forgiven. The weeks before and during Lent are weeks of deep thought.

Lent should fan our desire for God into a bonfire. The Incarnation has taken place, Christ was born in Bethlehem; he was a carpenter in Nazareth where things were quiet.

Then the megaphone of centuries brings to us his words. They are powerful, at moments terribilus—terrible: Unless you leave father and mother …  (Mt 19:29, Mk 10:29, Luke 18:29); and at the next moment they are compassionate and gentle: Has no one condemned you? Neither shall I condemn you (John 8:10-11).

Christ grows into his fullness in these three years of his preaching right before our eyes.

But we are approaching a threshold where his preaching will make way for pain and surrender. We approach a reality that he has enunciated to us and that we usually take lightly: Greater love has no man than he lays down his life for his brother (John 15:13).

We are going to enter the moment in which our brother Jesus Christ laid down his life for you and me and every human being who has ever lived in this world, for he is brother to everyone.

Now we are quiet. Each one of us enters into his own heart and looks for that desire for God. Day by day we should seek that desire, for it is one of our greatest treasures. It is that pearl of great price for which we need to sell all that we possess.

Our desire might be a little flame barely visible or it might already be a bonfire in us. Be that as it may, we are going to watch and see how God loved us.

This is what Lent is all about. Like Zaccheus, we are going to climb a big tree of faith to watch, so that no word of those last weeks of Christ’s life passes in one ear and out the other. Every step, every act, every word must now be enclosed in our desire.

For if we are to fulfill our desire to see him when the door of death opens—and even before, for the Kingdom of God begins now—we have to imitate him whom we are going to look at.

To be able to look at all that we have to see will require that we empty ourselves of many things, since the kind of fiery desire we must have takes a lot of space. It is not little kindling that we are going to ignite but huge dry wood.

We must desire to empty every corner of ourselves of everything but this person called Jesus Christ, God and man, who died and resurrected so that we might see the face of his Father and meet the Triune God, the goal of all who have been born.

How does one get this great desire? The answer is always the same: prayer, fasting and mortification.

But prayer is very simple: “God, I believe; help my unbelief.” In that prayer God will send faith, and faith is the match that kindles desire.

What can bring me to desire God? Two things: finding someone who desires him, and praying to get that desire.

Adapted from Season of Mercy, (1996), pp.13-16, available in the 2011 edition from MH Publications