On March 6 we celebrated Ash Wednesday. That great day marks the beginning for the season of Lent. For some Lent is a season that brings to mind drudgery and self deprecation, but is this what Lent is all about? Is it about us merely giving something up, or is there much more to it? Lent reminds us that spiritual warfare is real. It is a call to arms in which we latch on to Jesus and head into battle. We are not alone in this fight. We have the communion of saints and our Lord Jesus Christ by our side.
Perhaps we should start with what Lent is not. Lent is not a time to give up something in an attempt to be fashionable. Many give up a favorite food or desert and call it a day. The whole point of giving up something is to replace it with a spiritual practice. What spiritual practice you take up is totally up to you. Maybe you find yourself too busy to pray. As a result, you may wake up 10 minutes early to pray to replace the 10 minutes you take eating your favorite candy bar. My wife recently gave up Starbucks, and she has chosen to take the money she would normally spend and give it to the St. Vincent De Paul Society at our parish. You may choose to take time throughout the day and pray the Liturgy of the Hours. As previously stated, that is up to you and what you feel called to do. However, fasting without prayer is merely dieting. If you are obtaining or fasting, but not praying you are dieting.
Lent is an ancient practice that goes back to the earliest days of the church. In Luke 4:1-2 we read “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished” (NRSV). I was always intrigued as to why the sinless and divine Son of God went into the wilderness to be tempted. This is something that Jesus did to prepare himself for ministry. He was at his weakest after fasting for so long, and Satan knew that this may be his only chance. Jesus did this as an example for us. He knows how we are tempted because he experienced it first hand.
If Jesus was tempted, do we think we are somehow exempt? I certainly hope not, but as our Good Shepherd he is leading the way through danger. By doing so he is stating that he is with us and beside us on this tough journey. If you are a follower of Christ the evil one will come after you. That is a guarantee. We will get beat up at times, but we must get back up and dust ourselves off.
When I was in the military, we were taught to always keep your equipment in top condition. Whether it was out Kevlar helmet, rucksack, or weapon everything had to be maintained. Lent reminds us that there is more to life than the things of this world. It is a time to reflect and evaluate our equipment.
In the spiritual life our equipment is our mind and hearts. What are they preoccupied with? What filth have they accumulated over the past year? A weapon will not work if it is grungy and filthy. Likewise, our souls get dirty from venial sin. If we become complacent with venial sin it is much easier to fall into mortal sin. Regarding this 1 John 5:17 states, “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not mortal” (NRSV). Mortal sin severs our relationship with God. Essentially, we have made our choice, and it wasn’t God.
There is hope. The hope is Jesus Christ and the sacraments that he established. As previously stated, Lent is a time to reevaluate our spiritual lives. It is a time to reflect on the things we have done and not done. We all have sinned and have fallen short of God’s standard (Romans 3:23). This does not mean that God does not want us anymore. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Our Lord has established the sacrament of reconciliation so we can once again be in fellowship with him. The great church father St. John Chrysostom put it this way, “And though every day a man lives may rightly be a day of repentance, yet is it in these days more becoming, more appropriate, to confess our sins, to fast, and to give alms to the poor; since in these days you may wash clean the sins of the whole year”.
The evil once tries to tempt us in our weakness, just like he tried to tempt our Lord. A lion attacks the member of heard that is sick, weak, and alone. Satan tries to do the same thing. He will try to make us feel alone and like we are too messed up to be reconciled to God. That is one of his greatest lies. Jesus wants you! In the sacrament of confession, we are absolved over the sins that we have committed, both venial and mortal. We have a clean slate and are once again reconciled with the church (in the case of mortal sin).
Partaking of the great, and underutilized sacrament, assists us by strengthening our resolves against Satan and his temptations. It is a crucial weapon in our daily spiritual warfare. Without it we are taking a knife to a gunfight. A few months ago a priest told me “Take advantage of the sacraments. They are there to help us. A priest will make the time.” I implore you to make the sacrament of confession a key part of your Lenten journey this year. Go during scheduled times, make an appointment, and make the time to make a good confession. You will be happy that you did. There is nothing greater than the love of God, and we feel it especially after He forgives us.
About our guest blogger:
William is a convert to the Catholic faith. Before entering the church he was ordained as a Baptist and Lutheran and earned a Master of Divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary. William lives with his wife and four children in Tucson, AZ and teaches religious education for children and adults. Check out his website/blog at williamhemsworth.com for more great and informative Catholic content!