Pope Francis gave another one of his wonderful homilies this week. This one is on the devil, evil and Jesus’ triumph over both of them.
Pope Francis gave another one of his wonderful homilies this week. This one is on the devil, evil and Jesus’ triumph over both of them.
Mention of the devil offends people.
They don’t like to hear about him, any more than they want to hear about hell. The devil and hell are not a real entity and a real place we are told. They are the boogeyman and the boogeyplace that we Christians use to scare people into conversion.
Many Christians also dismiss the devil and hell. Back when I was a protestant, I was often corrected by my various pastors about my belief in both a literal hell and a literal devil. “Hell is separation from Christ,” I was told. “It is, simply the grave with no resurrection.”
“The devil is not an actual personality,” I heard another time. “There is no such thing.”
But the truth is, Jesus spoke often and graphically about both hell and the devil. There is no indication in any of His words that hell is a state of mind or that the devil was a figment of religious imagination. On the contrary, Jesus gave us our most clear portrait of both these realities.
Pope Francis, far from being politically correct, goes against this modern tide and speaks often of the devil and his works in our lives.
Maybe because, as a pastor of souls, he has met the devil many times. I’ve said before that it is a scalding, life-changing thing to look into another person’s eyes and see the devil looking back at you. Perhaps Pope Francis has had this experience. If he has, it would explain a lot.
The cheap grace of following the world in Jesus’ name is not grace at all. It is a lie we tell ourselves to keep from having to “chose this day whom” we “will serve.”
Sadly, it is also a delusion. Trendy jesus, pragmatic jesus and all the other false messiahs these theological snake-oil salesmen are selling having nothing to do with the real Jesus Christ Who was crucified on Calvary and calls each succeeding generation of Christians to “pick up your cross and follow Me.”
Following the real Jesus exacts a price. As the Light is smothered by the ever-encroaching darkness of humanity’s fealty to its own passions rather than the living God, the price for those who do not accede to the darkness goes up exponentially.
We may be willing to be friends with those who serve other gods, but they will not be friends with us. We may find our careers truncated, our friendships forfeit, our lives troubled in many ways when we follow Christ. He told us this would happen. If the world hates you, remember that it first hated me, He said.
The anger directed at us is just a side-blow, a glancing near miss of the object of the real hatred, which is satan’s hatred for the Savior of Humankind. Those who attack people for following Christ, even if they only do it with rudeness and exclusion, are the unwitting pawns of this evil.
Our task is always to be the witting servants of the good. God has no use and no desire for “unwitting pawns.” We can blunder into following satan, but we always chose to follow Christ.
Life in Christ is an intentional, moment by moment, living out of the faith. It can only be done through grace, and that grace does not come from us. There is no intelligence, courage or intuition we possess in and of ourselves that can equip us for following Jesus in a post Christian world.
The capacity to follow Him is a free gift of divine grace. He equips us to run the race that is before us if we ask Him daily and trust Him constantly. When we fail, all we have to do is reach out to Him and ask for forgiveness. That’s all there is to life in Christ: Just say “yes” to Him, and keep saying “yes” as each new challenge arises.
This is the Living Lord Who stood before Pilate, endured the blows and humiliations, hung from the cross and died. He understands everything He is asking of us because He has already endured all of it and far worse for us. He can help us on the Way as someone who has walked it Himself.
I want to congratulate Deacon Greg Kandra.
He has managed to make the devil mad at him.
How do I know this?
Some of the devil’s hate mail to the Deacon has been landing in my box here on Public Catholic. Not much, mind you, but it is mindlessly nasty stuff.
How did a kind and intelligent man like Deacon Greg Kandra inflame the devil so much?
He stood in front of a camera and said that the Catholic Church loves gay people, but that sex belongs in Holy Matrimony, between a man and a woman. He included both gay and straight people in this injunction concerning sex outside of marriage.
The reason for the hate mail is that, by stating this 2,000-year-old consistent teaching of the Church, and indeed, up until the last few years, all Christian churches, he crossed swords with one of the false gods of this world.
For many people and indeed a growing number of churches, god the (little g) god, resides halfway between their waist and their knees. His worship is random sex, his vestments are contraceptives and his sacraments are azt, penicillin, abortion, et al.
Sadly, many of the “Christian” churches are in the process of walking away from the real God to follow after this little g god of our age. They’re drop-kicking the commandments off the front steps of their churches and replacing them with “statements” they write themselves full of meaningless gibberish about “inclusiveness and tolerance,” which basically mean that their little g god follows the world in pelvic region worship and eschews the Christ of the Cross.
Down the road we have other churches which give a lot of lip service to the commandments involving the pelvic regions of the human body, but twist the Scriptures in much the same way their heretical brethren do on other matters. Their little g god is the almighty $ sign.
I’ll talk more about that later. The point for now is simply that little g gods are being worshipped in lieu of the real God in many of our churches.
Whatever your sin, you can go find a little g god worshipping church to tell you that (a) it’s not a sin, and (b) the people who claim it’s a sin are in fact sinning when they say it.
However, that’s not enough. The devil who is the real little g god behind all these false idols, is a ravening hunger that craves annihilation. He can not rest so long as there is one matchstick of light and truth out there, anywhere. He doesn’t attack the little g worshipping churches. It doesn’t matter to him if he’s snared them with their lust for sex or their lust for money. Their light is cold and dead and they are his.
What he attacks — and as the world grows darker, his attacks become more focused — is any beam of the light of the real God, anywhere.
I don’t think it’s an accident that the Church which is under the most aggressive attacks today is the Catholic Church. The devil appears to hate the Catholic Church above all others. Why should this be so?
After all, the Church is full to the top with sinners. We’ve got all-too-human priests trying to shepherd a laity that aborts, divorces, lies, steals and watches porn. All of humanity is represented somewhere in the Catholic Church, including every single human sin.
So, why would a Church like that make the devil mad?
Because, this Church, for all its failings, does not put a little g god on its altars. Its sacraments are conduits of grace and the real presence of the living Christ. This Church will not tell people that their sins are ok. It does not comfort them and sustain them and support them in their sinfulness as it leads them down the wide path to their own eternal damnation. This Church, for all its many faults, is not in league with the devil.
Unlike the rapidly multiplying fallen churches out there, the Catholic Church does not encourage people to sin. It tells them their sins can be forgiven, but they must repent of those sins from the heart and try to change their ways. The Catholic Church doesn’t teach sin, it forgives sin.
And for that, it is hated. For that, it is attacked. For simply saying that the Church is following Christ with its teachings, even little people like me can get smacked with a few brickbats.
Sometimes, I get the by-blows of attacks that are really aimed at someone I admire. In this case, that someone is Deacon Kandra who had the honesty to tell people that the Church loves them and stands ready to support them in their life in Christ, no matter their sexual orientation, but that their sins are, in fact, sins, which need the forgiveness of God.
These poor, sad souls who come swooping in over the internet to drop their load of anger need prayer. They are lost and their fallen churches with their little g gods are even more lost. I am talking about pastors, and even whole denominations who claim to be shepherds of souls, but who deliberately lie to people about the state of their souls in order to be popular in the here and now.
This is sad beyond sad.
We need to do two things.
We need to examine our own hearts and cast out everything that comes between us and Christ. We need to pray for forgiveness and the grace to follow Him faithfully through the minefield of this world.
Then, we need to pray for our fallen brothers and sister who are being misled by little g god worshipping pastors and churches. We also need to pray for these churches and pastors. They are in grave peril.
We need to do this because rewriting a church’s mission statement doesn’t change anything but the church’s mission statement. The reality of sin and death, salvation through the cross and eternal hell still exist. Coming onto this blog or staging demonstrations that involve yelling and insulting and throwing tantrums to demand that God change the way things are doesn’t accomplish anything, either.
These things may feel like they are accomplishing something. They can bully other people. Enough of this kind of thing can get laws changed. It can even push whole denominations into denying themselves and re-writing who they are. But no amount of wind-milling temper tantrums can change the ultimate order of things.
God is God and we are not.
Little g gods are just reflections of our worst, most venal selves in action. Following them leads us wandering in circles in the wilderness of life.
However, we don’t have to be lost. If fact, we are only lost if we chose to be. There is an easy-to-follow, readily-accessible, true compass that will lead you home. That true compass is the 2,000 year old consistent teachings of the Catholic Church.
Live for yourself! Lookin’ out for number one! Do unto others before they do it to you first! Greed is good. Survival of the fittest. He who has the gold, rules.
These sentiments are how we make a little hell of our time here on earth. They enable us to lie, steal, cheat and destroy everything that gives real satisfaction, meaning and purpose to our lives.
The underlying worldview for so many of the abuses trendy fringies are pushing on our society have at their base a Me Only, I’m All That Matters value system. This leads us to believe that children are not people but commodities that we can design, kill, exploit, abuse and indoctrinate at our pleasure. It’s the force that empowers the infidelities, battering and incests that change home from a sanctuary into a place of dread.
We want what we want when we want it, and we are so verbally gifted that we can make up stories that allow us to convince ourselves that our wants and desires are somehow a manifestation of the common good. We are destroying ourselves from the inside out as a people, a nation and a culture with the excesses of I want it and I will have it and I don’t accept any argument to the contrary.
Narcissism reigns in a devil-dominated world.
“Eat of the fruit, and you will not die,” Satan told the woman in his famous first lying truth. “You will not die,” he said. He didn’t add that one word; he didn’t say, “today.” “Take, eat, and you will not die today.”
“God is a liar,” he implied, and the woman along with the man after her, bought the lying truth.
We have not progressed in our centuries of “progress” from that initial sin. We still listen to the lying truths of Satan, and we are still destroyed by them.
Glittery promises of something that passes for life abundant are what he offers. Do as you please. Lie to yourself and anyone stupid enough to listen to you about the harm your selfishness does. Lie to everyone around you, including, ultimately, yourself, and do as you please. Do it, not because it’s right or fair or because you are being honest with anyone, including yourself, about the consequences. Do it because it pleases you to do it and you are the only arbiter of right and wrong that you accept.
“Satan is a liar and the father of lies,” Jesus told us.
The other end of the devil’s empty promises is a nothingness, an absolute zero, that only those who’ve looked off into that eternal futility can imagine.
Pope Francis touched on this today during one of his wonderful morning homilies. “We must say that with Satan, the payback is rotten,” he said, “He always rips us off, Always!”
The Holy Father contrasted the selfish way of living that the devil promotes with the generous and loving way of life that Jesus exemplified. He taught that those who live just for themselves, are, in the end, like Judas, in that they lose everything, including their eternal life. He pointed out that Judas “was an idolator, attached to money … this attitude of selfishness developed into the betrayal of Jesus … he who isolates his conscience in selfishness, loses it in the end.”
Every single one of us is tempted to put ourselves first, always and in everything. We are natural born self-lovers. But those who try to explain us with an over-arching theory of survival of the fittest as our only motivation find themselves stumped almost immediately by the enormous sacrifices human beings make for other people.
I am not talking only about the things mothers will do to protect their children, or fathers who give their lives to protect their families. I am also referring to people who give their lives for total strangers, or those who, like St Thomas More, give their lives for the love of Christ.
There is much more to us than you can find by dissecting us in an anatomy lab. We, alone of all the creatures on this planet, are moral beings. We understand what evil is, which is why we are capable of committing it. We, again alone of all the creatures on this planet, are responsible — to ourselves, to one another, to our society, our world and ultimately to God.
God numbers the hairs of our heads. He remembers things we do that we forget ourselves as soon as we do them. We are not just grass that lives for a while and then withers and dies. We are part of eternity. As such, what we do balances on an eternal scale.
“Satan is a liar and the father of lies,” Jesus said. The first such lie was and is that God Himself lies to us. From the Garden to today, the lie is the same. “Do as you please. Because God lies when he tells you that if you eat of the fruit of your desires with no thought to the consequences to others, that you will surely die. That is not true. God just wants you to be unhappy. You will not die.”
That is the same lie he told the woman and it is missing the same word now as it was then. It is missing the word today.
You will not die … today.
Credit: Stephen Driscoll, CNA
Vatican City, May 14, 2013 / 08:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Christians who buy into Satan’s temptation to live selfishly get swindled, while those who live life as a “gift” to others are immersed in love and the Church community, Pope Francis said.
“And, we must say, with Satan the payback is rotten. He always rips us off, always!” the Pope emphasized as he contrasted the kind of selfish living that the devil promotes with the generous way of living Jesus exemplified.
“When a Christian begins to isolate himself, he also insulates his consciousness from the sense of community, from a sense of the Church, and from the love that Jesus gives us,” he explained.
“Instead, the Christian who gives his life, what Jesus calls ‘lost,’ finds it and finds it in its fullness,” the Pope preached May 14 in his homily on John 15.
A group of employees from the Vatican Museums and some students of the Pontifical Portuguese College attended the 7:00 a.m. Mass in the chapel of St. Martha’s residence.
The Pope concelebrated the Mass with the Colombian Archbishop of Medellín, Ricardo Antonio Restrepo Tobón.
The Holy Father explained that wanting to live just for oneself is like Judas, who “in the end loses” his life. (Read more here.)
Does anybody remember that this is the Year of Faith?
It’s certainly been a historic year so far.
Our beloved Benedict, Pope Emeritus, handed the Church forward to his successor, Pope Francis. The Year of Faith has become the Year of Two Living Popes.
It is one faith; one holy and apostolic Catholic faith. For those who will stop to think about it, that is a miracle in itself. Benjamin Disraeli, when asked what proof he could offer of God’s existence, replied, “The Jew, sir, the Jew.” To that I would add that if anyone doubts the divinity of Jesus Christ, I would offer them the Catholic Church and its 2,000 year history of faithful teaching.
The Catholic Church has persisted through the fall and rise of more than one empire. It has survived the venality of some of its own popes. It has come through plagues, famines and times of great wealth. And it has, through all of it, kept the teachings of the Gospels intact and unblemished.
I don’t think there has been an day or an hour in all this great swath of history that the Church has not been under concerted and powerful pressure to re-write the Gospels to suit the passing moral fashions of the time. I think the reason for this is simple: The devil is real. There is a malicious personality out there who wants to destroy us through our own predilections to immorality.
We are not so much engaged in a war as we are the objects of a war. This malicious personality wars against us by aligning itself with our own fallen natures. It attempts to subvert us in our path to our ultimate calling as sons and daughters of the living God. We are the object of war making based in a hatred that is outside time.
But this evil, which seems so powerful and omnipresent to us who are in the soup of this life, is almost nothing in the halls of eternity. It is a vanquished foe whose only hold on us was broken at the cross. All we have to do is turn our faces away from the darkness and walk into the light.
The Catholic Church is the light, shining in the darkness of this world. Despite the undeniable fallenness of the people who govern it, the Church itself does not falter when it comes to providing the sacraments and teaching the teachings that show us the way to heaven.
This Year of Faith and two living popes — one reigning and one emeritus — is historic. But it is also part of the flow of the Church through history. Pope Benedict handed the Church forward and the Cardinals chose Pope Francis to take it up.
People who unwittingly are the mouthpieces for the devil yammer about how the Church must “change” its core teachings about life, love, sexuality and the common good or be found guilty of being “out of step with the world.”
Let’s think for a moment what they are demanding. What does it mean to be “in step” with the world?
“In step” with the world, as they define it, means that people are only human when those who have the power to do so define them to be human. It means that vast numbers of people may be killed at any time, for no reason at all.
Being “in step” with the world means that women and children are commodities to be bought and sold, raped and worked. It means that reducing women and children to objects and then using their rape, torture and murder as entertainment is a “right” that transcends any claims to their human dignity. Being “in step” with the world means that women’s bodies can be harvested for their eggs that are then sold online. It means that women’s wombs can be rented as surrogates.
Being “in step” with the world means “designing” babies that we will find good enough for our celestial selves to raise. It means discarding tens of other babies in this process to get the one perfect one we want.
Being “in step” with the world means destroying marriage, doing away with family as a unit that creates, nurtures and supports young human beings. It means that multinational corporations can pillage and destroy without restraint.
I could go on, but the point is that being “in step” with the world is being “in step” with decay, death and destruction. Being “in step” with the world is the exact opposite of what the Church is called to do.
The Catholic Church is not called to make the world comfortable in its sins. it is called to lead the world to redemption from its sins.
The world may and does excoriate the Church for “being out of step” with its many killing machines. It may and does excoriate Catholics for following their Church. It may and does try to force us out of public life and silence our witness.
But the world will not prevail.
Jesus said, “On this rock, I will build my Church. And the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
This is the Year of Faith. It is also the year of two living popes.
But this year is, as all years are, the year of the One and only Jesus, Who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.
Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”
What would the world look like today if Jesus had said yes to Satan?
What if, when Satan offered Our Lord all the kingdoms of the earth, Jesus had said yes?
What if, like the Saturday Night Live skit, dJesus, Our Savior had used his powers to force people to bend their knee to Him?
These questions strike to the heart of other questions. Why does God allow people to rape, torture and murder innocent children? Why would He allow cancer? Why doesn’t He stop us from harming one another so viciously?
Why, in short, does He tolerate a creation that rejects Him and what He has taught us to do and so often goes in the opposite and entirely cruel and destructive direction?
If He is God, why does He allow so much suffering?
I have heard people say things like this when they were in the extremities of pain and loss. Their question was not so much an accusation as it was a kind of prayer, a cry from the depths.
On the other hand, it has become fashionable in certain circles for privileged people to ask questions like these as a method of self-justification or simply as a way to attack faith. This nonsense of blaming God for our sins is becoming an increasingly accepted way to brush aside personal responsibility for our actions. Instead of acknowledging what we have done wrong, we point out that someone else is doing just as bad or worse.
Who better to blame for all the sins of humanity than a God who has the power to stop us from harming one another and will not do it? So, the fashion of the day is misplaced blame. We hold God accountable for human depravity.
But what would happen if God stopped us from sinning? What would have happened if Jesus had been the kind of conquering messiah the Jewish people wanted? What, in short, would happen if God was more like us?
I am the first to admit that if I was God every rapist and child batterer on this planet would be a pile of ash. Poof! And they would be on their slimy way to hell.
But God doesn’t operate that way, even when we wish He would.
He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.
Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Jesus said “No” to Satan’s offer of worldly power. He turned His back on the temptation to use His power for Himself, even for something as simple as turning stone to bread to eat when He was hungry. He said no to all of it, and by doing that took the first steps to the cross.
Our eternal salvation began with that series of “nos” to the prince of darkness and his tempting offers to make right with might.
The truth is that even when God directs us, he always leaves us the choice of saying no to Him. He sets before us life and death, and then He lets us chose. He gives us a radical type of freedom that allows us to literally do our worst, including mocking, criticizing and attacking Him.
When Jesus said no to the control of earthly kingdoms, He was also saying no to the use of force to convert us.
God’s Kingdom is made of free people who freely chose to follow Him. The narrow way is narrow precisely because so many people would rather go the way of power and license, of selfishness and greed rather than give themselves to a Lord Who chose suffering and death over all earthly power.
Why the cross? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die on the cross; beaten, tortured, mocked, naked and humiliated? Why was this necessary to save us? Why didn’t He just reach out and save us with a magical touch?
From the beginnings of Christianity to now the cross has been a scandal. It is the subject of mockery from today’s evangelical atheists just as it was the subject of mockery by the Romans. The Romans saw the cross as ignoble. It was shameful, a disgrace, to die in such a manner; proof that the person who suffered it was from the scum classes of society and essentially worthless. The idea that Christians claimed such a victim as their god was, to them, ludicrous.
Today’s atheists are not so class conscious. They hang their critiques on a distaste for the whole affair. They sneer at the bloodshed and suffering and rebuke Christians for what they claim is a morbid worship of death.
But in truth the cross was the greatest gift of love ever given to humankind. The cross was not the only way God could have saved us. But it was the only way He could have done it and left us free.
Frank Weathers, who blogs at Why I Am Catholic, published an interesting post a few days ago. He commented on the Saturday Night Live skit, DJesus, that mocked our Lord by casting him as a violent, vengeful killer who wreaked havoc on everyone who ever crossed Him. Frank raised the question, “What would things be like if Jesus had been this vengeful god the skit portrayed?”
I think another way to ask that question is, What would things be like if Jesus had said yes to Satan in the wilderness?
The answer is probably along the lines of Jesus as He is portrayed in the SNL skit, only much worse than anything we can imagine. People of the first century were accustomed to gods who hungered for power — over each other, and over human beings. Humanity had long worshiped various deities who craved death and demanded that their followers slaughter their children, captives and other helpless ones as sacrifices to them.
How is that so different from our current culture of abortion, euthanasia and meaningless wars? St Augustine said these early gods were in fact demons. If he was right, then it appears these same demons are working through people today. They have not changed their tactics. They have only changed their names and their arguments.
God doesn’t allow suffering. He allows us our freedom and we cause the suffering. God doesn’t rape and torture. He doesn’t send drones, tell lies and ignore the elderly, sick, poor and helpless in our midst. We do that.
What God does is allow us to choose who we will serve. Jesus was born in a stable and died on a cross to open a path to salvation and eternal life for us. He suffered all this because by suffering it He could both redeem us and leave us free to reject the redemption He offered.
God lets us chose. He sets before us life and death and then He lets us chose. That is the way things are because on that day so long ago, Jesus made His own choice. He said “no” to satan and turned His face to the path that led Him to the cross.
And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth …
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust …
I am going to die.
You are going to die.
Public Catholic has enough regular readers that it is a statistical certainty that at least one of us, perhaps more, will die this year.
Our souls, as the Scriptures say, will be required of us.
We have unbelievers who post on this board who tell us that nothing awaits us when we close our eyes on this world, that we will simply drift into the nothingness of non-existence, go back to the dust from which we came, and cease.
Our ending, according to them, will be our end.
But this, quite simply, is not true. I doubt very much that the nonbelievers who say it actually believe it. They use it as a ruse to hide behind when dealing with the existential miseries that their bankrupt philosophy imposes on them. It is an odd and sad outlook on life that finds its comfort in a studied hope for annihilation.
The truth is, there is no death for us. We are immortal beings who will live on past our bodies. Most of us sense this in a deep and incontrovertible way that can either comfort or torment us, depending on what we do with this innate knowledge of our own natures.
God is real. I have felt and known Him. I experienced His Presence in my life as an inpouring of love that I neither expected or sought.
But — and this is something that so frightens unbelievers that they invariably become angry when you say it — the devil and his evil are also real. It is not fashionable to say that. I’ve had members of the clergy chide me and tease me for believing it. But I do not doubt the reality of a malicious personality that hates the light and craves annihilation. I have felt his presence, too.
“If you eat of the fruit, you will not die” he told the woman, and like all really effective lies, this one was partial truth. You will not die … today. That was the truth of it. Turn your back on God. Defy Him. Do your own thing. And you will not die … today.
God lies, Satan told the woman, just as he tells us today. God lies to you when He says “Thou shalt not kill, lie, steal, commit adultery or covet.” He doesn’t mean it when He says “Put no other gods before Me.”
He lies. Because he doesn’t want you to have the pretty things of this world, to be able to enjoy the sexual pleasures He created for you, to live as you choose with your own free and preeminent will. He lies, and you are a fool for listening to Him.
Because you are not dust. You are the Lord of creation, the master of your fate, the god of your own life. There is nothing to fear because there is nothing that matters. At the end of our days, there is nothing but nothing. We stop. And we rot. We are carrion meat that walks for a time. So we should, again as the Scriptures say, eat, drink and be merry.
Like all effective lies, this one contains a bit of truth mixed in with the untruth. “Eat and you will not die … today.”
“Ignore God now and there will be no reckoning … today.”
Because you are dust, and you will die, regardless of how you live. You can run ten miles a day and your heart will still stop at some unknown time in your future. You can eat spinach and beans and forego fast food and steak, but your arteries will still cease to pump blood on some day you don’t know yet.
You can break every moral precept in the Scriptures, and you will not die … today. You will live for a time and you may even appear to triumph over those who do not indulge their darker natures as you do. There will be no reckoning … today.
But God is real. He gives us every opportunity to turn to Him and live life His way. He lets us choose. He sets before us every day life and death, and He lets us freely choose which of these we want.
That is what Lent is about. It isn’t a matter of giving up candy or foregoing wine for forty days. It is not about wearing ashes on our foreheads like religious jewelry or meatless Fridays.
Lent is about conversion. It is about renewal by means of awareness that we need to be renewed. The penances of Lent are signposts to guide us to a knowledge that we are but dust and we have sinned, but that we are also immortal beings who will one day stand before the God Who made us.
Lent is a time of turning again to the roots of our being. It is going back to the garden and acknowledging that we too “are naked and ashamed” before God. We, too are, to paraphrase St Peter, “sinful men and women.” But instead of crying out as Peter did, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” We can say, “come close to me Lord, for I am your broken child.”
The difference is the cross. The difference between despair and trust is the certain knowledge that we are bought at a terrible price and we do not have to be masters of our own fate. We do not have to feel our way blindly through life with no idea of what is right and wrong. We do not have to die an eternal death. We can have life, and have it abundantly. Because of the cross.
Lent is a time of penance and reflection in which we take an honest look at ourselves and our tawdry righteousness. Lent is for turning back to the One who can save us from ourselves. We are preparing to go to the cross where we will stand in solidarity with the rest of humanity, united in our sinfulness and our great need of Him and His redemption.
Lent is not about giving up candy and meatless Fridays. It is rather our gentle foretaste of Gethsemane.