By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde
We truly misunderstand the purpose of Lent if we think of our Lenten observance as yet another goal or task on a checklist. We likewise misunderstand if we consider our Lenten sacrifice as simply a duty to fulfill, relying solely on our own strength of will to accomplish it.
We may have chosen a particular sacrifice because we recognized that this penitential act would have side benefits, like weight loss or healthier eating. While it is true that refraining from eating sweets may reduce our waistlines, it should be clear that this is not the primary end of our actions.
In fact, when we perceive these sacrifices merely as a challenge on the path to self-improvement, we are missing the central focus of fasting and penance: union with our suffering Lord. Rather, these sacrifices offer us the opportunity, in a special way during these 40 days, to make a conscious prayer to Our Lord each time we choose to have water instead of a glass of wine, to read the Scriptures instead of watching television, or to kneel to say a family Rosary instead of checking Facebook. Let us pray to Him during these days, “Lord, give me the grace to demonstrate my love for You through a recognition of my weaknesses and a sacrificial act that reminds me of Your Presence in my life.”
Through this recognition that Lenten sacrifices are an offering of love to the Lord, we are able to recommit ourselves each day to these actions. If we slip and either forget or neglect to observe our Lenten practices, we should not be disheartened! Lent is not a contest – we have not lost the race if we are not as steadfast in our commitments as we were on Ash Wednesday.
Instead, our lapses are another reminder of our radical need for God’s gift of grace in our lives. We can learn much from Saint Faustina who truly recognized that it is the Lord Who gives us our strength. In her diary she wrote, “O my Jesus, how very easy it is to become holy; all that is needed is a bit of good will. If Jesus sees this little bit of good will in the soul, he hurries to give Himself to the soul, and nothing can stop Him, neither shortcomings nor falls, absolutely nothing” (Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy in My Soul, 291).
With this trust in the Lord’s mercy and love, I invite you to join me as we recommit ourselves more intentionally in these last days of Lent to the Lenten practices we have chosen. As we contemplate the suffering of Christ and His desire to give His own life for us on the Cross, let us bring our prayerful sacrifices to Him, thereby demonstrating our love and allowing ourselves to be more united to Him each day.