July 22, 2019

The Blessings of Lent

All Christians know the story of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection by heart. They know, as well, the incomparable blessing bestowed by those events, succinctly expressed in the words, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

But some Christians are not as familiar with the smaller blessings prominent during the Lenten remembrance of the blessing of Salvation. Others, though familiar with them, may no longer appreciate them as they once did.

The first blessing is the gift of empathy. As we read about and reflect on the events culminating in Christ’s death on the cross, we vicariously experience with Him the degradation, humiliation, and pain he was subjected to and thereby become more sensitive first to the sufferings of those close to us and then, more expansively, to the sufferings of the poor, the outcast, the abused, and those denied their human dignity in this country and around the world.

The second blessing is appreciation of Christ’s humility. Reflecting on Christ’s passion requires us to put aside our thoughts of self for a time and in those moments, no matter how brief, we can grasp the vast difference between Christ’s example and the example recommended by our culture.

Our schools and other agencies of culture emphasize self-esteem, which amounts to inflating our egos, cultivating pride and self-importance, and putting ourselves first in everything. But Christ did the exact opposite. He taught that “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last,” and he exemplified that teaching by practicing humility and serving others, even to the point of death. The Bible is filled with references to His humility, notably these:

I gave My back to those who strike Me, And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting. Isaiah 50:6

He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Isaiah 53:3

And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart. Luke 2:51

Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. Matthew 3:13-15

And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Luke 9:58

Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

“For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves. Luke 22:27

Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. John 13:5

Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your king is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden. Matthew 21:5

[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Philippians 2:6,7

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:8

Awareness of Christ’s humility leads to a third blessing—the inspiration to follow His example, become humble ourselves, and put our feelings for others into action. The way to do so is nowhere more movingly described than in the prayer of St. Francis—by replacing hatred with love, injury with pardon, doubt with faith, despair with hope, darkness with light, and sadness with joy.

From the first three blessings two others follow naturally. Those who are blessed with the gift of empathy, are freed from self-absorption, and act (however imperfectly) in imitation of Christ know that His sacrifice was made not for mankind in the aggregate but for each individual personally. And this realization evokes the blessing of gratitude for God’s forgiveness and the blessing of forgiving others as one has been forgiven.

For anyone so richly blessed during Lent, the glory of Easter shines even more brilliantly.

As I write these thoughts, the celebration of the Passion is well underway, and the opportunity to receive all these blessings during Lent 2018 has almost passed. Yet the more joyful reality is that the opportunity and the blessings are not confined to any season but are available whenever we seek them.

Copyright © 2018 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Written by
Vincent Ryan Ruggiero

VINCENT RYAN RUGGIERO, M.A., is Professor of Humanities Emeritus, State University of New York, Delhi College. Prior to his twenty-nine year career in education, he was a social caseworker and an industrial engineer. The author of twenty-one books, his trade books include Warning: Nonsense Is Destroying America and The Practice of Loving Kindness. His textbooks include The Art of Thinking and Beyond Feelings, both in 10th editions and available in Chinese as well as English, Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, and A Guide to Sociological Thinking. His latest book, Corrupted Culture: Rediscovering America's Enduring Principles, Values, and Common Sense, is available at Amazon and in bookstores. Professor Ruggiero is internationally recognized as one of the pioneers of the Critical Thinking movement in education. Earlier in his career, he published essays in a variety of magazines and journals, including America, Catholic Mind, The Sign, The Lamp, and Catholic World.

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1 comment
  • Thank you for this column. As always , you start my day with beautiful and humble thoughts. (I’ve always thought self esteem promotion overrated and even dangerous). God Bless you!

Written by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero