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Recently, I opened my youngest son’s school folder to find an envelope addressed to him. I told him about it, and he excitedly rushed over to open it. And when he did, the biggest smile erupted on his face. It was an invitation to his friend’s birthday party. In the midst of COVID, the birthday party invite was one of a thousand things that we had to forego. My 7-year-old son has not been able to celebrate his own, his cousins’, or his friends’ birthdays together for more than 2 years, so this invitation was special. It was obvious that my son felt eager and excited for this party. 

Tomorrow, we celebrate Ash Wednesday. On this day, we enter into a season of deep reflection and prayer. Our heavenly Father invites us on a 40-day journey into the desert. He invites us to be part of the crowd during a procession of palms and Hosannas. He desires our presence at a very special dinner and an evening garden gathering. And don’t forget, He invites us to play a part in a dramatic, yet real-life Passion play. The last place He wishes for us to visit is an empty tomb on an early Sunday morning. Will you be there? Please RSVP—ASAP. 

Will you accept this invitation as eagerly and with as much joy as my 7-year-old accepted his birthday party invitation? 

We often don’t think of entering into the Lenten season eagerly and with joy, do we? I know what you are thinking: Lent = sacrifice and fasting. And none of that necessarily equals joy. Or does it? 

Today, I want to encourage you to accept this invitation extended by the Church and our heavenly Father WITH EAGERNESS AND JOY. 

This Lenten invitation is gifted to us right in the middle of Ordinary Time in order to remind us that our Christian call is to be extra-ordinary. I don’t know about you, but I need the reminder right about now. In the middle of our ordinary lives, the Church, through the season of Lent, invites us to go deeper into the desert with Jesus. But we must remember, Jesus was not alone in the desert. Encountering Jesus there gives us the opportunity to become attuned and aware of who the other—very real—player is: the enemy of our souls. And the enemy would like nothing more than to distract us from our time with the Lord and lure us to join him for a succulent feast, tempting us with all of our favorite worldly desires, material goods, and pleasures.

The enemy tempted Jesus in the desert in three specific ways. He invited our Lord to do what FEELS right instead of what IS right, to question our heavenly Father’s love, and to desire His own glory over the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:3–10).

I bet we don’t even have to think too hard to realize the temptations the enemy used with Jesus are ones that we are all too familiar with ourselves. How many of us, in the words of St. Paul, “do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19)? I know I have some bad habits that I just can’t seem to kick. Or I kick them for a time, but then slowly, when I’m tired, stressed, or frustrated, those habits start reappearing. How many of us hold onto the shame of a past sin—one that we’ve received absolution for but continue to beat ourselves up about? How many of us get caught up in envy or jealousy when we see another person garner attention or acknowledgement for something we desire? Each of these situations can lead us down the road to sin, and none of them result in joy. 

Good thing the Bible didn’t end there in the desert. With each temptation offered, Jesus battled the enemy back with Scripture, “the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). And the devil left Him. 

Sister, the invitation into the desert with Jesus is to remind us who has won. Jesus didn’t just win the battle in the desert—He won the war on the cross! Lent reminds us that He fought for us then, and He fights for us now. Can we allow this truth to spark in us a desire to enter eagerly into Lent, into the desert of our spirits? It is in this season of Lent, in the desert with Jesus, that we are given the opportunity to discern how the enemy tempts us, to identify his plays against us. We are given the opportunity to learn how we respond to those temptations, and where we need Jesus the most. 

Here’s a hint: if we aren’t responding to the enemy with Scripture, as modeled by Jesus, then let this season be the time to change that. When we stop the enemy in His tracks with the truth of Scripture, he has no other play.

Sister, we have the blessing of knowledge on our side. We know what extraordinary events occur at the end of these 40 days. We know what happens the week after we read the Passion at Mass. We know that when Mary Magdalene and the other women approached the tomb of Jesus, the stone had been rolled away, and an angel greeted them and said Jesus was not there “for He has been risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28:6). What joy and eagerness the women must have felt as they set out to tell the other followers of Jesus! What joy and eagerness Jesus must have felt to be able to meet with His friends and His mother again, to reassure their doubts, to settle their fears, to forgive them and embolden them. 

Let’s allow what we already know and who we know to penetrate our hearts. We know Jesus rose from the dead. We don’t have to wait until Easter Sunday to allow that joy to fill our hearts. We can choose to live joyfully through this Lenten season knowing the desert is not the end, knowing the cross is not the end. 

Sister, this Lent, let us confidently accept the invitation of this season without reluctance or hesitation. Let’s resolve to be joyful in our discernment of what to abstain from each day or which spiritual book or devotion to begin. Let us choose to fill our hearts with a sense of extraordinary eagerness to return to confession, to ask for forgiveness, or to mend a fractured relationship. 

And let us remember our Lord's words to His disciples and to us: “I have told you all these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Take heart, sister. He has won. Let’s celebrate the victory by having an extraordinary Lent. Let us RSVP to Lent—to Jesus—ASAP and with joy in our hearts. 

Your sister in Christ,
Jeannine

Six years ago, I heard Lisa Brenninkmeyer preach on Loving People To Christ.  Since that day, I have gone back to view the video of this talk at least ten times. And there is one line that always gets me. It's the kind of line you hear that cracks you up and has you elbowing your girlfriend next to you, because it is not only funny, but sadly...it is true.

In the spirit of evangelization and reaching the farthest woman out there, Lisa shared that whenever she gives a shout out and says, “I want everybody to come back here next year with a friend”, we kind of go, “Oh, well, they're all here, so I'm good! Done. Check.” Does this sound familiar? Because it does to me. In fact, I just reviewed my Parish's annual Walking With Purpose Program Survey, and I kid you not, but in answer to the question, “Did you invite women to join you on Connect Coffee days”, someone responded, “No. All of my friends are already there.”  See why we laugh?

And I am not picking on any woman who responded this way. I am not laughing at someone out there. I am laughing at me. Because I could've written that response myself.

I am going on my sixth year in Walking with Purpose, having served in a variety of roles, and I will honestly share that the year I simply participated, I got oh so comfortable. I figured I had reached out enough. I had been a Coordinator and a small group leader. I had even worked for National as a Regional Area Coordinator. It was clearly time I got some well-deserved rest, and let some other laborer hit the fields and bring forth the harvest. Now, make no mistake, God is all for our rest and refreshment, and when it comes to ministry work, we especially need it. But rest and complacency are not the same thing. The truth is, if we want to contribute to the building up of God's Kingdom, I am pretty sure we need to cross feeling comfortable off of our lists.

How did I know I was too comfortable? It wasn't because I started showing up at Bible Study in my pajamas (as tempting as it was).  It was because I stopped reaching outside of my circle.

“We get comfortable in our holy huddle”, Lisa says, referring to these circles. ”We turn inward. The circle gets smaller and smaller and what we become are spiritual consumers looking for the next thing to feed us and keep us going and the focus stays right here.”

Let's be honest. We want to be the one that God sends out, so long as He doesn't send us outside of our comfort zone. We come up with all sorts of reasons why God shouldn't send us:  we don't know enough; we are not the right woman; we can just live it out right where we are with the small circle of friends that we have and that is good enough. But ladies, God is not calling us to comfort. He is calling us to go and gather every single one of His precious daughters, and by the power of His spirit, to lead them to Him so that He can break open their hearts just as He has done to our own. We are called to freely give away what we ourselves have been given, and the only way we can do that is if we broaden our circles.

Is this scary? Yes. Is evangelization going to be a battle? Absolutely. But the biggest battle we are facing is one that is hidden. “The war is against our selfish hearts”, says Lisa. And I nod my head in agreement to the beat of my own selfish heart, because really, do I practice as I preach? Do I reach out so that I feel the stretch? Hebrews 12:15 instructs us to “see to it that nobody misses the grace of God.” Notice, the Scripture verse does not say, “see to it that nobody within your small circle misses the grace of God.” Nobody refers to everybody.

Did you ever consider that your story might be what saves another woman? Did you ever consider that there is someone in your neighborhood, at your school, in your grocery store, at the gym, at your Bible Study, that is in desperate need of your specific story? You will never know the difference your story can make in someone's life if you sit in the same chair and tell it to the same person, year after year. As Lisa says, “We all agree in the power of His presence, but we sometimes underestimate the power of ours.”

This year I have decided to leave the comfort of my Walking with Purpose seat at my table, and step back into the role of Coordinator. Perhaps God is calling you to step out of your comfortable seat as well? Widening our circles, and reaching beyond who we know, is both responsibility and gift. We can still keep our comfy circles. Building His Kingdom can be both. As a wise woman told me, “We need to embrace the power of ‘and.'” We can love our like-minded friends who know us so well, and reach out beyond our comfort zone to the woman whose face is familiar but whose name we don't know. Matthew 10:8 says, “Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give.”

This is the charge. This is God's command. It's time to get uncomfortable and start drawing bigger circles.

 

View Loving People to Christ video.

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