Lent to God (2)
It’s 2022, and the world has become such a strange place over the past couple of years that it’s sometimes hard to know one’s place in it. And in a strange and interesting twist on things, it’s this very strangeness that has led me to a set of new insights on my approach to faith, the spiritual life, and in particular, Lent.
As I’ve listened to homilies and read the scriptures over these past weeks, as I attended our parish mission last week, and as I’ve prayed and reflected each day, I’ve come to see a new perspective on the whole idea of doing penance. This perspective is rooted in a new understanding of the deep and abiding need to do penance. Of course, Jesus died so that we could be free of our sins; but St. Paul also tells us in Colossians 1:24-26: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.”
My very human and perhaps too simple reading of these verses tells me that Jesus lacked nothing in His redemptive act! What He did was leave us some work to do, something by which we can continue His mission to destroy sin. And that work, I think, is to do penance.
By doing penance for our sins, we remind ourselves of the way sin separates us from God, as well as how our sins offend God. When we have separated ourselves from someone whom we love – indeed, from Someone Who loves us “with the greatest love” – isn’t it in our hearts to do anything we can to make up for that offense?
Certainly, Jesus atoned once and for all for the sins of the world, of each of us individually. His atonement makes it possible for us once more to have eternal life in heaven. And yet, He has left us this task. He has provided us with this opportunity. We are called to do penance, and we have that opportunity, because He allows us to participate in His redemptive acts.
If satisfying our earthly and bodily desires would lead us to heaven, then the way we live would need no correction. But we know better. It is by denying ourselves the constant and immediate desires of our human selves that we are reminded of our natural tendency to sin. And the very fact that we have the grace of God’s forgiveness and mercy when we repent of our sins should keep us mindful of the need for penance.
Yes, the penances we receive upon completing a good confession and act of contrition have great value, and they are validation for the absolution we receive. The penances we willingly do in our daily lives help us to keep always before us the need to make amends for the sins we have committed and the need to change our lives so that we keep ourselves from descending back into sin.
And so, with these thoughts on my mind, and inspired by the grace the Holy Spirit brings, I’m approaching Lent this year of 2022 with a deeper penitential spirit, with a more deliberate intention to deny myself and my earthly and bodily desires in a way that reflects both my regret for how sin hurts my relationship with God and offends the very Person Who loves me most, and with a soulful desire to participate more fully in the redemptive acts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Leading up to this Ash Wednesday, I’ve spent time in prayerful reflection, and I believe I have a fuller understanding of what grace calls me to do, as well as a clearer intention to live a penitential life during this Lent and beyond.
All for the greater honor and glory of God! For this is not about me, nor is it about what others might think of me. It is my hope and prayer that all others will see in me, as I go forward, is the great joy that comes with living the life Jesus calls me to.
I can most certainly live with that.
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