I just read on Facebook a comment passed on by Barbara Nicolosi, summarizing an age old truism;
"If you like Lent, you're doing it wrong.".
I used to be one of those people who actually looked forward to lent, and would say so. I was a new Catholic, and everything Catholic was fresh and novel and interesting, so Lent seemed like a positively exotic spiritual exercise. I thought I would feel like Kwai Chang Caine at the Shaolin temple, probing spiritual truths, lifting sizzling cauldrons with my bare arms, inhaling peace and exhaling enlightenment (well, all except for the cauldrons thing).
What I discovered over the next several Lenten seasons is how weak, fleshly (not to mention fleshy) and self-centered I truly am, and that's always fun. Lent, in other words, has kicked my butt... up, down and sideways. It still does.
And that is the point, maybe. Not that Lent is supposed to make us feel shallow, weak and selfish... it just shows us that, yeah, we really ARE shallow, weak and selfish, no matter how we like to spin some more flattering narrative, and no matter how we would like to feel about it.
There is good news, of course. Great news, in fact. But before we can genuinely understand and embrace the Good News, we have to come to some real grasp on the Bad News that makes the Good News so necessary. We are fallen. We are preternaturally self-centered, weak and prone to sin. We begin to understand this more readily when we make the effort to deny ourselves some favorite thing, or change a bad habit, or stir ourselves to some good work that involves actual inconvenience.
Not that Lent is about being miserable. It is about realizing our sinfulness and our need for redemption. It is about repenting and firmly resolving to do better. It is about offering our Lord the praise of sacrifice. It is about spiritual training (as St. Paul said, "...train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things..."), it is about turning some of our faith flab to muscle. The Good News is that, through the Holy Spirit and in the strength of Christ, we can progress toward the heavenly ideal. We can be more godly, and find a deeper life in the Kingdom of Heaven. We can "produce fruit in keeping with repentance"... but only by the grace of God.
Lent, in other words, is a complex reality, taking on different shades of meaning at different times to different people. I have to say, again, that - even as difficult as it can be - I do look forward to it, if only for what it may teach me about myself, and (in spite of all my weakness) about the fathomless, unconditional love of Christ.