Every year when we come to the beginning of Lent, I always remind myself of the importance of such a holy season in which the soul has the abundant opportunity to receive grace upon grace, in unnumbered measure. It is in this time that I always encourage those I am entrusted with, and all who will hear, that Lent isn’t just about giving up something for the sake of a tradition year after year. We must make a great sacrifice during this time, and we may even make many sacrifices during this time, but they must be appropriate to our progress in the spiritual life. For, as St. Paul eloquently instructs, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child (1 Cor 13:11)”. However, sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice does not bode well for one’s progress in the spiritual life. When we sacrifice, when we humble ourselves for the sake of the Kingdom of God, we must also increase in virtue and in ways that expand our religious and spiritual understanding; “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect (St. Matt 5:48)”.
Therefore, not only must we make great sacrifices according to our particular progress in the spiritual life and within our state of life, but we must also make choices about which things we wish to take up in the spiritual life that will continue to be with us as we move from the season of Lent into Eastertide and beyond. While some may be accustomed to sacrificing sweets such as candy or ice cream, Holy Mother Church instructs us to do more. For example, we may make the particular sacrifice of sleeping on the ground so many days a week, or we may choose to pray the Most Holy Rosary kneeling on a broomstick, we may choose to forego the comforts of a warm shower and take an ice-cold shower, or we may even choose other pious practices of mortification such as flagellation with our Spiritual Director’s permission and guidance. But, this is not enough if we forego positive acts of charity and religion which are the crowning glory of the spiritual life.
In addition to our mortifications, we may choose to visit nursing homes, we may choose to pray all 15 decades of the Rosary daily instead of just praying a third part of the Rosary, we may choose to attend Stations of the Cross weekly, we may choose to work in community food pantries and soup kitchens helping the poor and destitute, we may choose to learn the Divine Office and unite ourselves to the universal prayer of the Church, we may choose to spend an extra 15-45 minutes in prayer each day as we converse with the God of our Redemption, and we should also choose to increase our love of God by spiritual reading which unites us to God Who gave us our faith, but also our intellect in order to know Him and His Providence for us.
In short, let us prepare for and make this holy season of Lent the most spiritually edifying time of our lives; let us pray for the Pope, the Church, the restoration of Tradition, and most especially let us take extra time to learn about the lives of the Saints who have shown us how to be the light in such a dark world.
In closing, may we take our inspiration from St. Dominic who was a great Saint that showed his love of God and His creatures by his continued mortification of walking without shoes, sleeping on the ground, intense flagellations, but also by his love of the poor though the giving of alms, but most importantly, by giving the Eternal Word to a world though his example and preaching. May we all come to know the love of God more intimately during this holy season of Lent.