image of hands reaching together in front of the orange sunset

UNSPLASH/Alonso Reyes

Lent has begun. We are on a journey, on this annual retreat that we call “Lent.” It’s 40 days of taking “a long, loving look at the real,” as Carmelite William McNamara called contemplation.

This year’s Lenten journey for me began in prayer with the scriptural image of myself like blind Bartimaeus on the side of the road. As Jesus walks by, he asks Bartimaeus, “What would you like me to do for you?” This was not what I was expecting!

Jesus wasn’t asking me, “What would you like to give up for Lent?” or, as I sometimes translated it, “What heroic abnegation should you, Mark, perform to prove your love for me?”

Instead, when I stayed with, “What would you like me to do for you?” and looked into His eyes in my prayer, it came to me. I come back to this desire for new energy, direction.

I wonder as you are reading this, what desire do you have for Jesus to do for you? Take a moment and allow Christ’s “long, loving look” at you. What moves in your own heart to ask Him? What is your desire? No need to move on to the next paragraph! Really, take a moment.

There is an opportunity, of course, during this holy season, to at some point, once you feel the loving arms of Christ around you, to begin notice, with that “long, loving look,” about what might be a beneficial change for you. Where have I been looking for happiness and coming up empty? The early call of Jesus was: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” But I would suggest that doing this without looking into His eyes is only a recipe for scrupulosity, possibly spiritual weightlifting. What works for me is to imagine the loving arms of Christ around me, asking me, “Mark, what if you changed the direction you’re looking for happiness here?” It is normally some step to take, some new freedom to start living into.

Wherever you are in this Lenten journey, taking a few moments for this personal relationship will allow the journey to give life, for you and for others.

–Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM

A headshot photo of Provincial Minister Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM