If you’ve been putting off doing something for God every day, Lent is a good time to start
February 15, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — The famous nineteenth-century English bishop William Bernard Ullathorne says: “It belongs to the man who is in quest of his supreme good to draw as near to divine things as his condition of life will allow.”
The purpose of Lent is twofold: first, to do penance for our own sins, as we prepare to celebrate the feast of feasts, Easter; second, and more deeply and lastingly, to re-establish an intimate relationship with God that we tend to let slide at other times. If the Church never called us to take our spiritual obligations more seriously during a specific season each year, all but the rarest of the rare would drift farther and farther away with the passage of time. And indeed, it cannot be denied that the removal of a pre-Lenten period (Septuagesimatide) to gear us up for spiritual warfare and the almost complete abolition of fasting during Lent and abstinence during the rest of the year have produced a situation in which even Lent itself, sadly, does not seem to do much for us.
It would be easier, yes, if the Church still required us to do serious penance during Lent. But we should not and must not hide behind the bad policy decisions of others when we ourselves are free to take steps we know would help us to refocus and recommit. At my personal judgment, God will not ask me why other people failed to do what they could have done, but rather why I failed to do what I could have done. (By the same token, He will be merciful to the sheep who have been misled by the plausible lies of their shepherds, but that is a topic for another time.)
We need to bring the blazing light of reality, the spotlight of truth, to bear on our interior lives. We are so good at deceiving ourselves that it takes considerable courage and resolve to break through the deception and realize who we are (or who we are not) and what we are doing (or not doing).
You and I are Christians when, and only when, we are either communing with our Lord in prayer or doing the kind of work that will, over time, foster and deepen that communion. This is what it means to “love God above all things” and to “seek first the kingdom of God.” Our goal should be, as the Benedictines say, “to pray and to work” — not setting these against each other, but seeing them as a fundamental unity, a building up of the kingdom inside us and outside us. We are builders. We are supposed to build a cathedral within the soul and make it as beautiful a home for the divine Presence as can be. We are also supposed to help make this world, or rather the people of this world, a cathedral for the same divine Presence.
Do we realize that without God, we are nothing? We would not even exist without Him causing us to be at each moment. As Jesus says: “Without me you can do nothing.” Lent is an opportunity to take this truth to heart and let it shape our daily lives, our daily schedules.
The greatest gift God has ever given or will ever give in this world is the Most Holy Eucharist. He gives Himself to us, each and every time the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered. While there are situations in which daily Mass attendance is not possible or not feasible — and this is a cause of great sorrow to many devout souls — there are also situations in which attendance would be possible for us, and the problem instead is that we do not organize our time well, or have mixed up priorities, or refuse to acquire the discipline necessary for making it happen more consistently.
As a wise man once said, “no one has ever starved because there wasn’t enough time to eat.” We give time to the things that matter to us, such as eating and sleeping or social media and recreation. What we can’t live without, we find time for. Perhaps there are things we think we can’t live without that are in fact holding us back from living fully the human and divine life for which we were created.
If I were a nonbeliever and I heard that Catholics believe that every day, God literally gives Himself to those who go to Mass, I would have to assume that every Catholic in the world goes every day. I mean, who wouldn’t, if he knew that God would enter into him personally and share His divine life with him?
If we knew that a slightly daft and extravagantly generous rich person would be standing on the corner of Main Street every day at noon handing out $100 bills, we would flock down there to collect the money. Yet what is $100, or even $100 million, compared to sanctifying grace, compared to the gift of eternal life, compared to Jesus Himself? But Christians can pass up Jesus more easily than they would pass up a $100 bill. That should be a source of embarrassment. It should prompt us to ask whether we have graduated yet from the school of materialism in which we, as fallen human beings, were enrolled against our will and have moved into the corporate ranks of believing Christians.
As I admitted a moment ago, daily Mass is not always possible, especially if one is looking for a truly reverent liturgy at which the Lord is worshiped fittingly and received by the faithful on the tongue and kneeling, as is most appropriate. In that case, we need to ask ourselves the same questions about other practices commended by the saints, by which we can unite ourselves to our Eternal High Priest. How about praying some part of the Divine Office, the other public liturgy of the Church? Or praying devoutly at home the prayers of the missal? How about recommitting to the daily rosary, if one has drifted from it? Or the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture (lectio divina)? Or a daily fast, at least in the form of skipping one meal?
Wise spiritual directors counsel against trying to do too many things or too much at once, but we should do something daily, committing to it calmly and resuming it with determination if we happen to forget it or slip up. The devil tries to discourage us from taking up prayer and penance (“it’s all a waste of time and effort, what good is it anyway?,” etc.), and then, if we do manage to take it up, he waits for us to stumble or fail (“Hah! You see how good your resolutions were! Might as well give up if you can’t do it for forty days straight,” etc.). In the spiritual battle, nothing is more important that calm perseverance.
Lent prompts each of to ask himself: what matters to me in my life? What gives it meaning? What comes first? Maybe we are not sure, or we say one thing and do another, or we falter with inconsistency. God understands our confusion. We are weak, fallen, ignorant, and damaged creatures. Our Holy Mother the Church is urging us to take a chance on making God first, on giving Him more room. He will take over our life if we let Him — and this is the best thing that could ever happen, because He has the goodness, wisdom, and power to be in charge and not to make a mess of things, as we do when we’re left to ourselves.
Dr. Kwasniewski is taking a short break from writing new material for LifeSiteNews while he finishes several books he has agreed to deliver to publishers. We wish him well in these endeavors and look forward to his blog posts resuming in the Easter season.