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