Posted by: John B. Switzer, ObSB, PhD | March 6, 2014

A Theologian’s Challenge for Lent

lent_6316cAre you still looking for the right Lenten sacrifice? Still wondering how you should mark this season of penitence? If so, you’ve come to the right place. But please don’t proceed any further unless you’re serious. Better to simply close the browser. Move along. There is nothing here for you.

Still reading? Good. Now be warned: this may be the toughest Lenten challenge ever bestowed upon you. But if you seriously give it a try and if you have only modest success, I believe you will have accomplished something good for the world. It will be much like the wonderful idea of our Jewish neighbors when they speak of tikkun olam, “repairing the world.” Surely such an idea animated Jesus as he taught his followers how to treat one another.

According to the gospels, Jesus placed a tremendous emphasis on love. But love is not a feeling. I’s a way of life that should transcend feelings. As Jesuit theologian William O’Malley has written, love is a conscious and active commitment to the well-being of others. Genuine love really does repair the world because it rises above the unpredictable vagaries of emotion. I can find nothing in the gospels to suggest that Jesus wanted us to feel good about each other all the time. Even he became aggravated with his disciples.

Now here’s your challenge. This Lent, respectfully engage someone with whom you have profound differences. Perhaps it will be a loved one with whom you have bickered in the past. Maybe it’s a person of another religion or another political ideology. It could be anyone with whom you disagree.

You won’t have to go looking for opportunities to try this. They come regularly, but too often we either run away from them because differences of opinion frighten us or we take the opposite tack and simply try to win a debate.

This Lent, I’m challenging you to engage others with a new intention. Seek only to understand. Inquire and then listen. Keep your own opinion to yourself unless it’s specifically requested. Even then, keep the focus on learning as fully as possible what your dialogue partner thinks and believes. Try to understand why they think as they do or how they came to believe as they do.

Place your own needs into the background for a while. You don’t always have to be right. You don’t always have to get your point across. And you certainly don’t have to agree.

I warned you that this would be difficult. You may already be imagining a thousand reasons to avoid this Lenten discipline. Once you have gone through the many reasons not to try this, start a new list. Imagine all the good things that might come out of it. Then report back, will you? I look forward to hearing from you. I’m not just challenging you; I’m also challenging myself.


  1. I’m up for it Dr. Switzer! Let’s change the world.

    • Thanks, Steven … we’re in this together!

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