We are getting ready to enter into the season of Lent. Can you talk about the nature of the season?
During Lent, we are invited into the desert with Jesus as he fasted and prayed for 40 days in preparation for his public ministry. We are asked to observe 40 days of prayer and sacrifice in preparation to celebrate more worthily the Triduum, which is the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the liturgy of Good Friday and the Resurrection of Christ. Lent is a time when we are called to look very honestly at ourselves. In so doing, we ask God to help us to see ourselves as he sees us. First of all, he would remind us of the ways in which we are loved by him and the goodness that exists in our hearts and in our actions. And then, he would compassionately call us to look at our weaknesses and those things which lead us into sin.
What’s your definition of sin?
Sin is when we do not fulfill the dream that God has for us. We sin through the things that we do or say – or sometimes we sin through the things that we fail to do or fail to say. As we pray in the “Confiteor” at Mass: “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do…” I confess for what I have done and for what I have failed to do in my thoughts, words and actions. Very often it’s not the things that we do but fail to do in showing the love and the mercy of Jesus. Therefore, Lent calls us to be humble enough to go before the Lord and ask him to remind us of the areas of our life that need to change.
Does it go deeper than our behaviors?
Yes. We could look at our actions, but as we know, all actions are rooted in our heart by an attitude. My question to God for Lent is, “What attitude in my life is it that needs to be changed? How do I need to undergo conversion from some of the darkness that I embrace to the new life you call me to?” For me, it would be very easy to name eight or 10 or 12 ways in which I need to change, but, after all, we only have 40 days! I believe in Lent it is important to pick one area of our life, one attitude, that God is calling us to change. At the end of Lent, it’s not to say I fulfilled my penance but, more importantly, how I have changed, how I have come closer to God’s dream for me. How has my attitude become more like Christ?
What about the practice of giving things up for Lent?
That’s a very noble thing to do. Some people choose to do something extra in terms of kindness or prayer, which also is a noble thing to do. But our penance should match the area of our life that we’re trying to change and that God is calling us to conversion. Therefore, if it is my speech that causes me to sin, then my penance should relate in some way to being attentive and making sacrifices as to what I say, or perhaps more importantly, do not say. During Lent, we are called to embrace penance. We decide what penance we will use to help us to conversion. The church also requires us to fast, which is actually quite minimal. We are asked to fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday. That means for persons between the ages of 18 and 59, taking only one full meal. Two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal are allowed. We’re also asked to abstain from meat on all the Fridays of Lent. Let’s face it, that’s not much of a sacrifice for us in south Louisiana! Sometimes people will say that if a certain celebration falls on a Friday in Lent, it’s not “convenient” to abstain from meat. Penance is not convenient. It is supposed to be a sacrifice. We live in a world that tells us that convenience is more important than sacrifice or denying ourselves of something.
You’ve mentioned in the past about choosing one behavior or attitude to examine during Lent. Has anybody ever told you that’s a very practical way of going about Lenten sacrifice?
They have, and I guess, equally important, I’ve gotten something out of it. There was a time in my life when I would list all these things – these attitudes and actions – that needed to change, and I became overwhelmed and sort of despondent. Others have shared with me the same feeling. I think it’s very helpful to look into one area and say this is the root cause, the reason why I am able to justify sin or to neglect what God is asking me to do. I would hope we do a specific examination of conscience at the end of the day to see how well during that day we lived up to our Lenten penance, which was very specifically related to curbing a particular attitude. My prayer is for everyone to have a fruitful Lenten season so that we can more joyfully and worthily celebrate the Lord Jesus’ victory over death.
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