If you are like me, I often fail at my new year's resolutions. I have tried to change my diet, I have tried to exercise more, I’ve tried to give up watching Star Trek (actually, I’ve never done something as silly as that). I have failed at all of these. And then, typically, I resign myself to my old habits and wait for the next new year’s to make another attempt.
Unfortunately, Catholics will often approach Lent in the same manner. We attempt to change our ways, to pray more, to sin less, to take on a penance. And if we have failed once at these spiritual endeavors, we then resign ourselves to not even trying and often then indulge in our sacrifices.
I would propose a different tactic. Remember that our Lord is forgiving and merciful. He wants us to be holy. He also knows that we are a work in progress and thus we will regularly fail. What God does expect of us is to keep trying to pursue holiness, even if we have failed. That is the beauty of our God. He does not expect us to be born perfect, nor is God’s policy a “one strike and you're out” approach. Rather, like a loving Father, he accepts his children's’ failings, but also will not let them cease trying to improve and grow.
So if you have failed in your Lenten practices, or have come up short, do not believe the lie that now you should give up. Do not give into the temptation to despair that it is pointless to try again because you don’t have a perfect record. Rather, ask forgiveness from God, receive his grace and pursue the good changes you have already attempted.
God wants you to grow in holiness and Lent is the grace-filled season where this is our goal. Let us not focus on our failings in this noble pursuit, but move forward with God’s grace, mercy and love.
During the season of Lent, many Catholics make sacrifices. We sacrifice meat on Fridays, we sacrifice entire meals on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We even take on other sacrifices of pleasurable things that we “give up.” As we make these sacrifices, it is very tempting to focus on the sacrifice itself. We can be tempted to notice only that which I’m giving up and then it will encourage bitterness and frustration. However, what we ought to be doing is paying attention to not what we are giving up, but we ought to pay attention to the one for whom we are making these sacrifices, namely God!
When a couple is in love, they will make sacrifices for each other on a daily basis and it brings them joy. From where does this joy come? It is not from the sacrifices they make, but rather the joy comes from seeing the other whom they love while they make their sacrifices. And so it should be for us this Lent. As we make our sacrifices, great or small, let us not focus on what we are giving up, but focus on the one for whom we are making our sacrifices. When we choose this focus in our hearts, we will see that not only are we sacrificing out of love for God, but He is sacrificing out of love for us.
Fr Nathan LaLiberte