March 12, 2024 // Perspective

The Mission of Lent: Running Toward Love Himself

“By your help, we beseech you, Lord our God, may we walk eagerly in that same charity with which, out of love for the world, Your Son handed Himself over to death.”

The collect prayer for the Fifth Sunday of Lent places us, yet again, in the heart of the mystery toward which we are walking in this Lenten season. Love and death are two themes that emerge from the prayers for the Mass and the readings. Both the option for the raising of Lazarus (for parishes doing the Scrutanies) and Year B (“unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat”) speak of this mixture of love and death – a seemingly inseparable duo of human experience that is so intimately tied together that it is hardly possible to list all the different ways in which we relate to this combination of forces.

Yet, as the Bride exclaims in the Song of Songs (8:6-7): “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.”

We see in this Sunday’s collect that we are not praying for a banal love – a love only focused on good works/social justice, or a love that is shut off from the world and limited to myself or even one other human person. We are praying for the love with which Christ faced death for us. This is a passionate love – an unquenchable fire burning in the very heart of God.

As Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis comments in “Love’s Sacred Order,” “Not only are divine love and human passion not incompatible; there is no truly Christian faith and experience that does not have passionate love at its center, love in the image of Christ’s own. Christianity, therefore, is not primarily a set of philosophical propositions appealing to the mind and looking there for assent, or a social project to realize an earthly utopia. All Christian truth (whether intellectual or social) ultimately derives from the Heart of God as a burning furnace of love: ‘I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!’ The purple of Lent is not a sign of mourning or sorrow in the first place, but the color of royalty and of passion, the color announcing the love unto death of the King of the Universe.”

Thus, our asking God for the love that took His Son to the Cross is not a causal request. It is a request to taste even a small drop of the passionate love of God, which burns everything without consuming it – like the burning bush, one of the earliest manifestations of God in salvation history. We began these Lenten reflections by pointing out that Lent is not so much a time for accomplishment as it is an opening up of our hearts to the Lord. As we turn toward this final push, we see what it is exactly we are opening ourselves to: a love stronger than death.

Jesus Christ is our only way to the love we long for. He is the only truth that not only tells, but shows us, how to live it. He is the life that is the source of the love that conquers death. Thus, Lent is ultimately a season of love – the transforming work of God’s life in this world, and the goal toward which all of creation has been directed since the foundations of the world. As St. Augustine puts it: “Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: We run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.”

This Fifth Sunday of Lent directs our Lenten penances and pilgrimage to its true goal: not just the celebration of the Easter mysteries and sacraments, but being consumed, overtaken, and completely won over by Love Himself as He pours His life out on the cross and wraps us up in His love, which is mercy and justice itself.

Father Mark Hellinger is Parochial Vicar for St. John the Baptist Church in Fort Wayne. He will continue to write weekly reflections throughout Lent.

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.