February 1, 2013
“The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!” These words from Pope Benedict are a poignant message for our time, especially as we approach the Lenten Season. During Lent, the Church asks us to perform acts of penance in the form of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Oftentimes people look at doing penance grudgingly as, “Oh, now I have to give something up” as if penance is a form of punishment, but this is missing the point.
These acts of self-denial are meant to free
us from our disordered attachment to created goods. These things are good in themselves, but we can be addicted to them, enslaving ourselves. How many of us can’t go a day without our cell phone…Facebook…coffee? We are meant to be free, which allows us to love. In other words, the self-discipline that penance requires could be compared to the training an athlete undergoes so they can perform at their best capacity. St. Paul shares this analogy in reference to one’s pursuit of holiness as he says,
“Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.” (1 Cor. 9:24-25)
A few years back at a retreat a priest shared a suggestion of looking at the season of Lent as a race—to see those around us not as competitors, but as teammates—and that we should help support and encourage each other in our Lenten sacrifices. This idea began to permeate my mind. It evolved into a weekly gathering I had with the students I mentored where we offered prayer for protection, strength, and perseverance in the spiritual battle going on around us and performed an act of self-denial for a specific intention. This was a very powerful experience for us as we intentionally chose to fight as Christ’s soldiers. We became more strongly united and could see the difference this made in our lives and in those around us. We continued to meet even beyond Lent.
Two Lenten suggestions for you:
- As a family or amongst a group of friends, select a specific intention you all are going to offer your Lenten sacrifices for at the start of each week. Examples: for your parish, purity in mind and body, for a sick friend, for your vocation, etc.
- Check in with one another on how your Lenten sacrifices are going to encourage each other and hold one another accountable. Run to win!