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What I Learned This Lent

Articles | March 26, 2024 | by Catholics for Catholics

As the Church enters Holy Week and Lent comes to a close, it provides an opportunity to reflect on these 40 days.  Are we any closer to the Lord than we were on Fat Tuesday?

I am still ignorant but I have learned much. 

I am Pharoah.  Though I would like to put myself in the sandals of the Israelites, saved from the Angel of Death, and freed from the bondage of sin, I find that I am too much like Pharoah.  How many opportunities has the Lord given me to amend my ways?  How many confessions have their been in which I have promised to amend my life, only to fail.  Must I endure frogs, locusts, and other warnings, to find that still my heart is still hard?  How many opportunities lay ahead to really have an interior transformation?  If Saint Alphonsus Liguori is correct in his homily on the number of sins beyond which God pardons no more, I pray that I have begun a true reversion.

I am the Israelites.  Theirs is a story of covenant after covenant, from which they stray.  How many times have I turned my back from the Lord and failed to live up to my end of the Everlasting Covenant?

I learned that the day of this writing, March 25, is a very special day.  For it is the calendar day that Catholic apologists believe was The Creation, The Annunciation, and the actual date of the Death of Christ. 

They further believe that the spot of the tree in the Garden, and the spot of the Crucifixion were one and the same.  They further believe that Calvary was a cold peak on Mount Moriah, the same mountain range where Abraham intended to sacrifice Isaac.  I don’t believe in coincidence. 

I am the rich man in the Gospel.  The biggest revelation I have had is about the unique relationship between the body, mind, spirit and will.  Like him, even if we follow the Commandments from our youth, we must leave something behind if we are to truly follow Christ.  For some it is a life of leisure, for others gluttony or lust.  If the spirit is willing and the flesh weak, it must be by an act of will that we mortify ourselves.  Before this Lent, I believed, perhaps hoped, that there would come some eureka moment at which time I would have concupiscence seared out of my mind.  That, at that moment I would no longer feel temptation.  Over the past thirty some-odd days I have come to learn, the hard way, that there will be no single prayer, no one devotion which will take these pleasures from my mind.  It takes an act of the will to repel, and only momentarily, temptations of the flesh; gluttony, lust, pride, envy, greed, sloth, and wrath from my conscience. 

Except for a very few cases when a Saint received this gift, faith alone is not enough to break or subvert my disordered desires.  There exists no magic prayer or moment of emotional epiphany through which comes the fullness of surrender.  It shall take an act of will.  Is my will strong enough to use this opportunity to honor the Lord by denying myself?  It’s just me and Him at that moment.  My will has to overcome the desire in my mind for that Krispy Kreme.  This sounds odd to casual onlookers.  To them, it is foolish that I avoid meat and in between meal snacking on days of fasting and abstinence.  What, after all, is wrong with having a cookie?  And it IS a hollow gesture if one were to watch it in a vacuum.  Unless one understands it in its fullness, it is a trivial challenge.  But as a creature, and not the Creator, I need to find a way to align my will to the will of the Father.  It is too abstract a concept to embrace unless it is looked at through the prism of mortification, offering, suffering, sacrifice, and obedience.  One Doughnut is unimportant to God, but my compulsive attachment to it or any other vice, in an inordinate way, stands as an obstacle between me and what is truly important. 

For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God.  And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.  For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us.  For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the revelation of the sons of God.  For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him that made it subject, in hope.  [Romans 8:16-20]

If we wish to be co-heirs with him, and glorified with him, we must suffer with him.  Indeed, these little obediences are the opportunity to link our faith to the suffering of Christ.  Further, they set a mental and spiritual precedent should the time come when we must offer a great loss or cross to God.  None of this is new, but I had been waiting for that special moment, at which time I would have accrued enough faith that it would become…easy.  I realize now that that is not going to happen.  It is a struggle and will be until my time of judgement.  Those temptations are going to continue to come.

And he was withdrawn away from them a stone’s cast; and kneeling down, he prayed, Saying: Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done.  And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed the longer.  And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground.  And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow.  [Luke 22:41-45]

If Christ’s time in agony in Gethsemane is any lesson, what right have I to expect to be any different?

The purest example of this is that of our Blessed Mother.  She was not supernaturally predisposed to accepting God’s will or suppressing her own.  The deck was not preordained or magically stacked in God’s favor.  Like Adam and Eve, before her, she had freedom to choose whether or not to orient her will to that of the Father.  Saint Bernard of Clairvaux wrote that Mary’s freedom to choose was such that at that moment when Saint Gabriel announced to Mary that she had been chosen to be the Mother of God, all the angels in Heaven held their breath waiting for her reply. 

In seemingly trivial matters or great, we all must choose.  Humanity’s fate may not hang on my fiat, but mine very well may.      



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