Taking Lent by Force

by Matthew Leonard
by Matthew Leonard

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!


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

23 Responses

  1. A down to earth and practical strategy for Lent. I don’t think I ever got excited for the Lenten season until I started listening to/ reading Matthew Leonard’s content.

    I’m doing a partial technology fast (still need it for work and communication unfortunately) so I pay less attention to the screen and radio and more attention to hearing God and my wife.

    1. Your partial technology penance is one of mine, too, Michael. Thanks for the comment and may the Lord douse you in graces this Lent! Let’s be saints!

  2. Very helpful and informative as always, thank you so much for guiding us more deeply in our faith! Blessings

  3. This is exactly what I needed to read today. It hit right home and brings all the thoughts running through my mind into perspective.
    Thank you so much for this!

  4. Yes! Let’s make Lent matter for eternity!!
    Michael took the words right out of my mouth” “I don’t think I ever got excited for the Lenten season until I started listening to/reading Matthew Leonard’s content.”
    Thanks Matthew!

  5. God bless you and your challenging task, Janet. My mother is currently caretaker for my father and I know that it is a tiring and thankless job at times. I’m so glad you are able to see the blessing in it. May the Holy Spirit be with you every moment.

  6. Thank you so much Mr. Leonard. This is what i really need to hear/read. Lent starts tomorrow and i am full of hope that everyone who has gone astray from the Catholic faith will find this church season, the most beautiful and wonderful church season a way to come back home.
    God bless you Mr.Leonard.

  7. Love the robust title! ‘Fasting’ off Facebook and ALL alcohol (I love my ‘hoppy’ IPA on weekends!) this year as well upping as fasting and abstinence each Weds and Fri.

    1. Love it, Frank. God’s going to bless you. (Alcohol is one on my hit list, too. I love a short bourbon at night:).

  8. I have a son who is at this time a functioning alcoholic. He stopped going to Mass when he went to college and is now 42. He tells me he likes alcohol and doesn’twant to stop.
    I have been praying for him for many years and will continue until God sees fit to get him to seek help. I uprooted myself and moved closer to him after my husband died. He has a beautiful daughter whom I get to take care of while he is working and when he
    has her. (a joint custody situation).
    I need strength and to get it I plan on spending more time in adoration and at daily mass. I can’t get through this without God. My heart feels broken. Jesus walk through this with me, please!!!

    1. Mary, your note broke my heart. I read it to my wife last evening. Know you and your son are in my prayers. Remember that Christ loves him even more than you do. Offer your penances this Lent for his conversion and beg St. Monica for her intercession. The Lord loves you and is always faithful.

  9. Janet, this was so timely as I have the same struggle with my mother-in-law. My heart leads me one way but the rest of me lags way behind. This Lent, my charity has to begin at home. Thank you Janet, and Mr. Leonard. God bless you.

    1. So true for all of us, Vashti. It always starts at home. God bless you and may your Lent be fruitful for dynamic spiritual growth.

  10. Hi Matt! Hello from Brazil here. Great great advice! Man, thanks so much. God Bless you. “…interior warfare against ourselves” – If I don’t take it in this way, my Lent will be a failure this year! Also “…Because pride and self-love are our two biggest enemies. Nothing harms us more.” – I receive great light reading this.
    My weakness at this moment is related to not helping much or att all at home when I come from work. The problem is that I do not want to do it as a “task”. I really wanted this to be part of what I am. To let my wife feel that I care for them and am doing things not as an obligation but because they are my family and I care for them. Pray for me brother.

    1. Thanks for the note, Marlon. Being present with your wife and family is one of the biggest struggles men all over the world have, especially in this day and age. As far as not wanting to do it as a “task,” realize that beginning to practice something in that manner is what lays the groundwork for a change of heart. As I alluded to in the post, the Israelites had “do” various things as tasks as directed by the Lord. But all of it was meant to help them grow in love. So regardless of motivation, just do them and give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to move your heart. God bless you. (I lifted you up in prayer this morning, and I ask the same of you:).

  11. Mr. Leonard,
    Greetings! Peace!
    “Thank You” for your uplifting essay. We all need to be reminded of what Lent is all about!
    God Bless You and Your Ministry!

    I would also like to know if I may send you an email regarding your articles on Constant Prayer?
    Could you send me how I may email you?
    Thank You for your consideration in this regard.

    1. Hi, Dolores. Probably the best way is to email me through the contact button at the top of my website. God bless!

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