Fr. Christopher Etheridge, IVE
Venerable Fulton Sheen once wrote, “If you want people to stay as they are, tell them what they want to hear. If you want to improve them, tell them what they should know.”
You should know that Lent always comes to us as a moment of grace. But do we live it as such? Mature Christian men and women should not be satisfied with living Lent the same way they did as children, giving up sweets, not watching TV, or praying a little more each day. These were good penances when, like I said, we were children, but we are no longer children now. We must be coherent in our search for maturity. If we want to be treated and respected as mature adults in all aspects of our lives, then we must also approach our spiritual lives maturely.
Don’t just “give up” things, but rethink the way you live and make sure that we are honest and consistent in giving up the most important thing once and for all: sin.
Lent is much more than just a time for penances. Yes, the Church proposes penance as a means of living out Lent, but there is a tendency to “do penance” superficially, never getting to the root of the problem. The root of the problem is sin.
What is sin? From the Biblical standpoint, a single word is not sufficient to explain it. This simple fact should awaken within us the recognition that we cannot take sin lightly. The Greek translation of the New Testament (Septuagint) uses at least four different concepts to speak about sin. The most frequent is hamartía, which means “an offense against a norm, law, person or divinity”. But there also appears adikía which means to “act unjustly”; parábasis which means “a transgression”; and asébeia which means “impiety”. It all sounds a bit technical, theologically speaking. What does this mean in a blog post seeking to challenge us to take a mature Christian approach to Lent?
These are words of our Lord that we will hear many times throughout Lent. I would hope that many of you heed the Holy Father’s words and rediscover in a more serious way the challenge that they make to all of us this holy season. Don’t just “give up” things, but rethink the way you live and make sure that we are honest and consistent in giving up the most important thing once and for all: sin. The “good news” is that sinless lives are possible in Christ!
Besides the reading and meditation on Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, I would also like to suggest these spiritual practices to help you take Lent seriously and live it maturely.
The first is the practice of making a daily examination of conscience. If you can make it twice daily—once around lunch time and again before retiring to bed—then you will make the most progress in removing sin from your life. Nevertheless, it would be essential to do so before going to bed. We have a good resource here that will help explain and teach you how to make this daily examination.
The second practice would be developing the daily habit of morning prayer. Often times we are not serious about uprooting sin in our lives simply because we are not focused. If today you hear his voice harden not your hearts (Heb 3:15). Starting the day in prayer—even if it means getting up a little earlier during Lent to have the time to pray—will help you acquire this focus. Use the daily Gospel readings from Mass to help give you something to pray with in the presence of the Lord. Your focus should be on drawing spiritual insight and grace from the Lord’s words, but also to ask Him the grace of being faithful in uprooting sin throughout Lent.
A third practice that I will suggest is making the resolution to go to Confession on a weekly basis. In our battle against sin, we need grace more than anything. The mystery of lawlessness within us is not only a personal battle and a work of rightly ordering our freedom, but it is also a spiritual battle. The Sacrament of Confession not only gives us the forgiveness of our sins, but also the particular grace we need to overcome the sins we personally struggle with. The Lord’s gift to us is not only mercy, but also strength. Only those who avail themselves of this sacrament will find the victory and rest that they seek. Come to me all you labor and are burdened, the Lord tells us, and I will give you rest (Mt 11:28).
The Church proposes penance as a means of living out Lent, but there is a tendency to “do penance” superficially, never getting to the root of the problem.
Spiritual Practices to take Lent Seriously
Rest will come at Easter time, if and only if, we use this Lent for the time of grace that it is. Let us be children in humility but not in our Lenten practices. Let us make this time a true time of conversion, turning seriously away from sin and turning back to God.
 Cf. Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 14
 For those who would prefer a physical copy of The Particular Examination, see here.