Taking Lent by Force

Most of us dread Lent on some level. And that’s natural because it doesn’t appeal to our senses.

Let’s be honest, we’ve all been tempted to cut the Lenten corners:

“Let’s see…how about no alcohol…wait…scratch that… alcohol…I mean no beer (cuz then I can still have a bourbon in the evening); no desserts…desserts…I mean no chocolate (this is going to be brutal!); and of course, no television except for reruns of Person of Interest since it stars Jim Caviezel and he played Jesus.”

But while it’s hard, Lent is huge. It’s a very necessary part of spiritual growth. In fact, there’s a sense in which it is the most important season on the liturgical calendar. Think about it.

While there’s certainly a sense in which Christ made the path to heaven “easier” by his Incarnation, death and resurrection, he also made it go straight uphill. And in order to progress up the hill, we don’t have to be just good, but perfect. (Mt 5:48)

That means this hill isn’t just an uphill climb, it’s an uphill battle. It’s a hilltop that must be taken by force.

After all, what does it mean to be a saint?

The great 19th century French Jesuit, Fr. Grou says that if it just means certain routines and staying faithful to a few favorite devotions that are compatible to a life of basic self-comfort, there would be a lot of saints.

That kind of life is to which the Israelites were called in the Old Testament. They had a whole laundry list of prayers and sacrifices that had to be done on a regular basis.

But those sacrifices were all ordered to changing their lives and receiving “a new heart” (Ez. 26:36).

And we’re called to the same kind of transformation. We’re called to more than saying our rosaries and getting to Mass.

We’re called to interior warfare against ourselves. Why?

Because pride and self-love are our two biggest enemies. Nothing harms us more.

To put it bluntly, we are our own greatest enemy. That doesn’t mean we’re totally corrupt as I was taught by Calvinists growing up. But we are fallen.

We have to realize that sin blurs our vision of God. It causes us to chase after the bright lights and baubles of this world.

That’s why we’re our own greatest enemy. That’s why the saints describe the spiritual life as a war. In the final tally, spiritual progress is measured by how many victories we win over ourselves.

This is a hard concept for a lot of people to accept, especially those who are used to the sweetness of the Lord and consolations that are common in the early stages of the spiritual life.

But Lent is a great reminder that the spiritual life isn’t one of constant comfort and sweetness. It’s a war. It’s a fight against an enemy that will use every one of our weaknesses against us.

That’s why it’s so important to strip ourselves of attachment to the things of this world and turn our eyes toward heaven. This world isn’t bad, but it’s not nearly as amazing as the world to come, our ecstatic union with God Almighty.

It’s an incredible, unbelievable, eternal life worth fighting for!

And this understanding should have an impact on how we mortify ourselves during this penitential season.

When deciding what to sacrifice, think about your weaknesses. Think about the major faults that cause you to fall back in your journey up the spiritual mountain.

Those are the things you need to target in Lent.

Exterior sacrifice is meant to lead to interior transformation. So ask the Lord how your penances this Lent can help you win the spiritual war.

Make Lent matter for eternity.

God bless you!

Matthew

P.S. It’s coming! CLICK HERE to sign up for the wait list to be notified when it goes live.

The most dynamic, clearest path to spiritual transformation you’ll find anywhere.” – Mike Aquilina, Author & EWTN Personality

034: How the Cross Actually Saves You (and how it doesn’t)

catholic_FINAL_150Perhaps the most dramatic and gut-wrenching moment of the crucifixion is Christ’s cry of dereliction: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

But many people have no idea what it actually means.

Like so many other converts to Catholicism, I was raised with a misunderstanding of how the Cross of Christ actually saves me. Believe it or not, over the years I’ve heard some homilies at Mass make the same mistake. (Not in my home parish…just in case my parish priest is reading this:)

But it’s important. Because if you get the Cross wrong, you get everything wrong.80px-Miguel_Angel_Crucifixion_La_Redonda_Logrono_Spain

In this special Triduum/Easter episode of The Art of Catholic, I’ll briefly discuss:

  • What Jesus actually did on the Cross: both the correct and incorrect views
  • How the way we’re saved dramatically impacts our view of salvation and thus how we live
  • How to understand the apparent abandonment of the Son by the Father as he hung on the Cross
  • Why the Cross should fill us with confidence

This episode will help you dive more deeply into the mystery and tragic beauty of what is happened on Golgotha. (And as a huge bonus, I’m opening the show with a clip from the great Truth & Life Audio Bible.)

God bless and have a blessed Triduum and Easter!

Matthew

P.S. Don’t forget to grab your FREE copy of my quick guide to deeper prayer 8 Ways To Jumpstart Your Prayer Life Cover Image8 Ways To Jumpstart Your Prayer Life! It’s an easy step-by-step guide to help you rocket to God!

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Did You Have A “Rash Wednesday”?

“I’m giving up all tv, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter…Super CatholicNothing edible will enter my body for forty days. And I’m going to read all 150 Psalms daily while wearing a hair shirt that would bring Bigfoot to tears.”

Sound familiar? We’re all big talkers at the beginning of Lent, aren’t we? We’re going to get really holy, get really in touch with our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross. We’re strong enough! Who needs food! (It’s a scientific fact that most rash Lenten resolutions are made on a full stomach.)

So how’s it going? Uh-huh…thought so.

If you’ve struggled to keep up with your lenten resolutions just take a deep breath and relax. It’s hard to sacrifice. It’s meant to be hard. And for those of us who bit off more than we could chew, it can be discouraging because we weren’t able to perfectly keep our promises. We failed!

But let’s keep a couple things in mind.

First of all, be realistic. If you’re trying to do too much, take a step back and get real. I’m not trying to get anyone off the hook, because the whole point is to be sacrificial and it’s never easy. But at the same time, it would do us good to recall the famous line from Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character in Magnum Force: “Man’s got to know his limitations…”

Second, the Lord is merciful. He’s not mad at you for failing. He might be chuckling at your inability to put down the Oreo and walk away, but he’s not mad. He’s the most merciful person in the world!

Remember, Lenten sacrifice isn’t for him. It’s for us. It’s meant to help us take our eyes off of this world and focus on the next. It’s meant to help us love Christ more, not get down on ourselves.

So if you’ve fallen a few times already, stand up and brush the Little Debbie crumbs off your pants. Then pick up your Lenten cross and start again…but maybe with one made from a little lighter wood.

God bless!

Matt