This weekend marks the first Sunday of Lent.
Much has been written over the years regarding the sacrificial practices that have traditionally been associated with the season of Lent. But it is important for us to remember that, above all else, the real purpose of Lent is to provide the faithful with a period of time during which we have an opportunity to prepare ourselves to more fully participate in the celebration of the death and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus. Above all else, that is the purpose of Lent.
But just how do we prepare ourselves to celebrate the victory of a loving and all powerful Redeemer, when we have to face the fact that we are all imperfect sinners, living in a world that is filled with sin and evil.
Although the evils in our world are undeniable, that evil comes to us in various forms. For example, there is moral evil, which is demonstrated when people do bad things to one another. Natural disasters, such as tornados, earthquakes and floods, can also be considered to be evil, because they too cause pain and suffering. And the psychological and emotional pain that many of us experience can obviously be considered to be evil as well.
It is interesting to note that all of humanity, regardless of culture, has a fundamental understanding of what can be considered to be either right or wrong, good or evil. Whether one professes to be a monotheist or an atheist, everyone will agree that there is an underlying standard. This moral code, the knowledge of which is common to all of humanity, is commonly referred to as the Natural Law. In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said that when one uses the term “Natural Law”, what they are really referring to is the Law of Human Nature. The concept of Natural Law can philosophically be defined as an ethical belief, or a system of beliefs, that is inherent in human nature itself; and it is discoverable by reason alone, rather than by revelation.
“Saint Augustine defined evil not as a thing in and of itself, but as a parasite on good. Something that is lacking is not a thing in itself. For instance, if you have a hole in your jacket, the hole is not something, but rather is something that is lacking. Similarly, Augustine considered evil something that is missing. Indeed, it requires good to exist because it is a parasite. In this sense, Augustine defined evil as a privation – a lack of something – rather than a thing or substance.” (Robert Velarde writing for Focus on the Family 2009)
The obvious question that arises, after having said all of that, is why would an all knowing, all loving, God permit sin and evil to exist. My point today is not to enter into a discussion on this question, so I will just simply state the obvious. All of humanity has an inborn knowledge of the Natural Law. And all of humanity was created with a free will. Sin and evil came into the world as a result of the selfish choices made by mankind. God is love. And our Heavenly Father deeply desires that all of His children freely love Him in return. But genuine love cannot exist unless freely given and mankind has the power to either accept or reject God’s love, to either abide by or violate the Natural Law. And God’s code of conduct is known to each and every one of His children, simply as a result of their birth.
The point that I do want to make is that we are not alone in our struggles. Our God came to earth and became one of us in order to show us that He not only understands the human condition; He freely chose to endure all of the trials and tribulations that we all know so well. So when we are experiencing some of life’s trials, we need to think of Jesus and call out to Him, because He knows and He understands. Remember, He told us that, “In the world you have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
- So if you have sore feet, remember Jesus’ feet were nailed to the cross.
- And if you have trouble with your knees, keep in mind the fact that Jesus fell to His knees under the heavy weight of the cross.
- If you are experiencing discomfort in your wrists, recall that Jesus was fastened to the wood by having nails driven through His wrists.
- If you suffer with sore shoulders, know that Jesus carried the weight of those heavy wooden beams on His shoulder.
- If you are burdened with severe headaches, look at a crucifix and see the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head.
- If you are plagued with abdominal pains or pains in your side, think of the Roman spear that was plunged into Jesus’ side.
- If you are racked with pains in your back, realize that Jesus had His back beaten and lacerated when He was being scourged with a cruel Roman instrument specifically designed to torture its victims.
- If you are afflicted with emotional or psychological issues, meditate on the agony that Jesus experienced in the garden. For Scripture tells us that the fear and anxiety that Jesus experienced was so intense that “His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)
Jesus knows and He understands. And He showed us the way that leads to that eternal life that He promised. And that pathway is open to all who simply accept His love and forgiveness.
As we prepare ourselves to celebrate Christ’s victory over suffering and death, may we be aware of the fact that we actually share in His sufferings through our own trials, because He is no stranger to our pains. He knows and understands. He’s been there.
Yes, we are all sinners. Yes, we have all made mistakes and have had failures. But we are free to accept His love and forgiveness. And we can demonstrate that fact by our actions during this special time of the year. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that, “These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing, or charitable and missionary works.” (CCC 1438)
Each of our situations in life is different, so the way in which we choose to participate in this Lenten observance will vary. We can participate in our Lenten observances through acts of omission, or self-denial, if we so choose; but we can also prepare ourselves through inclusion, that is through action. What is it that I can do to promote the Love of God in the world around me? Whichever you choose, omission or inclusion, may you experience God’s peace and blessings during this season of Lent.