For the Christian, Lent is above all, a journey, a journey of repentance. It is important to stress that repentance is different from regret or remorse. The truth is many people can live their whole lives tormented about remorse without changing anything about themselves. Repentance is responding to God’s call through Jesus Christ our Lord. We turn to God, who heals us from sin and its destructive effects.
How do we repent of our sins?
1. Confession: Well, the Sacrament of Confession is one of the greatest graces we have as believers, where sacramentally the Lord absolves and frees us from the sins which create an obstacle between us and God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: "God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us. To receive his mercy, we must admit our faults. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And the Apostle John writes: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 8:9). Lent can be a turning point for us. The disciplines of Lent help us to leave behind old habits and the lazy addiction to the evil that deceives and ensnares us.
2. Practicing Self Denial: The Scriptures and the Church have always encouraged us to “practice” repentance. How do we do this? By removing some things from our lives during Lent, like certain foods, or activities on which we relied for comfort. This helps us to realize how spoiled we have become, how much we cling to worldly things. Giving up certain foods, candy, entertainments, etc. all help us to intensify our spiritual journey. These practices help us to acknowledge that God is the only true source of peace and happiness. Do something that hurts – make sacrifice, fast and give alms. Don’t make it a token act out of obligation – pray and ask the Lord how we can really sacrifice ourselves and unite ourselves to the cross. No true self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. We should be distrustful of a something that costs nothing and does not hurt.
3. Works of Charity: It’s not however, just about what we take out, but it is just as much about what we put into our lives this Lent. Sadly in the Western world, we seem to be moving more and more toward self-indulgence and selfishness. It is our fallen human nature that calls to us – to be anxious, to worry, to be fearful, and to try to fulfill all our wants and desires. This too is so harmful to the spiritual life. Lent is leading us on a journey to learn to trust God, for He alone can provide us with what we need. Only the Creator, not the creature, can offer us what we really need.
3. Almsgiving: One specific act of charity is to give alms, to help our brothers and sisters in need. It is clear in Scripture that God desires us to focus our attention on the needs of our brothers and sisters. Scripture speaks clearly to the fact that if we ignore the poor, we endanger our spiritual lives. We fill ourselves with heavenly treasure when we empty our pockets for the poor and needy. In the Catechism (#2443) it says: “God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them: “Give to him who begs from you, do not refuse him who would borrow from you.” (Matt 5:42) “The Church's love for the poor is a part of her constant tradition." (#2444)
4. Prayer: Prayer is not distinct to the Lenten season. But what the Lord asks us is to intensify our prayer life. There are many ways to do this. Stopping for a few moments throughout the day, at lunch time, in the car, early in the morning before we begin the day, and to pray and recollect ourselves, asking for God’s grace and taking time to listen to Him. Another profitable way to pray is to use the Scriptures. The goal of prayer is to dispose ourselves so that the Lord can make our hearts like His. “Fac cor nostrum secundum cor tuum” translated: “Make our hearts like yours” (Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous.
Pope Francis writes: In the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could harden our hearts, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of God’s boundless love, to taste his tenderness. Lent is a time of prayer, of more intense prayer, more prolonged, more assiduous, more able to take on the needs of the brethren; intercessory prayer, to intercede before God for the many situations of poverty and suffering.”
“It’s hard to get in shape spiritually if you only work out on Sunday”
God Bless, Fr. Dennis