As the Church settles into the season of Lent, this video serves as a good reminder to evaluate not only what we have committed to, but why we are doing it. Since we are barely two weeks in, some of the initial stamina and determination surrounding our Lenten penances and commitments might still be holding strong. However, as the season goes on, some of that energy might wear off, and we might find ourselves second-guessing our resolutions, or wishing that Easter were already next week so we eat that chocolate bar that suddenly seems to be staring at us every day, or regain that extra 10-15 minutes of sleep that has been dedicated to prayer for the past two weeks.
Whatever the sacrifice or commitment is, we are usually able to resist the temptation to break it for a while, but as time drags on we often find ourselves looking back to the comforts we have severed ourselves from like Lot’s wife looks back to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible, and questioning why we decided to put ourselves through such agony in the first place.
A natural first question then is why does the Church even have a Lenten season? Why did the Church choose to dedicate more than a month to doing penance? Isn’t that a bit negative, sad and depressing?
The answer, as Fr. Mike Schmitz speaks about in the video, is found in Jesus’ own temptation in the desert for 40 days before he begins his public ministry: he does it for a who, and that who is you and I, and every other person throughout history. Jesus wasn’t forced to go into the desert, he chose to go. He allowed himself to suffer and undergo that trial so that he would be detached from every worldly temptation, and would therefore be better equipped to fulfill his mission, which ultimately ended with his death on the Cross – a sacrifice made to help alleviate our own suffering due to sin.
Not only does the Church commemorate this time in Jesus’ life with the season of Lent, but she also reminds Christians of our own eternal destiny and our call to be near to the Lord, to imitate him and to let go of this world so as to orient ourselves toward God, who is the only thing that will last.
In her journey through Lent, the Church also teaches that suffering is an innate part of our reality as human beings, and she shows us, with the witness of Christ, how to embrace it rather than run from it. Our culture of comfort often tells us that suffering is a bad thing, and that it should be rejected and avoided.
Because of this many have forgotten how to suffer, or how to find meaning in the suffering that is a part of life. We can find ourselves wanting to ignore or skip the painful parts of life and fast forward to the happy moments. We have forgotten the value of suffering, and that our joy increases as a result of it. If we didn’t suffer, would joy be as sweet as it is?
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Although suffering is a direct result of evil and should never be desired, as can be seen in God’s words to Adam and Eve after the Fall in the Garden of Eden, it has redemptive value thanks to Jesus, who embraced it as both a means of solidarity with mankind, as well as to show us how God triumphs over evil, and that no matter how small or great the suffering is, there will be a Resurrection.
Lent also serves as a time to reflect on our own hypocrisy and the ways in which we distance ourselves from God, and put concrete methods into place that will lead to true reconciliation and a deep conversion.
That brings us to the personal level. As we continue along the Lenten path, we can ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing – why are we fasting, praying, giving alms? Am I doing it because I have to? Because the Church tells me to? Am I doing it to lose weight? Am I doing it because I feel guilty if I don’t? Or am I doing it as a means of growing closer to God, of loving him and desiring to be holy?
Whatever our Lenten resolutions are, the “why” behind each of them is different. But there is one why – if we are truly imitating Christ – that should precede all of the others: love. Like Jesus, our “why” should also be a “who.” The various sacrifices and commitments we have made are not only a means of loving God and an expression of that love, but they are also a way of loving ourselves, of placing what is best for ourselves over what we immediately want or desire. Ultimately our spiritual well-being takes priority over our temporal comforts.
If you find yourself unsure about the commitments you made and why you made them, or if you find yourself second-guessing or regretting your sacrifices throughout the day, take a minute to recall why you chose what you did, and remember also that you chose it.
With this answer always present in our minds, this Lent can become a time of true conversion and blessing, and we will find ourselves able to celebrate the joy of the Easter Resurrection in a more acute way. With the why in mind our sacrifices will be even more worth the trial, because the joy we receive is lasting, and is always greater than the temporary sufferings that we undergo.