Our Lenten penances shouldn’t simply be exercises in self-discipline, but rather a participation in the love of God
By Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori
ON MY WAY to the most recent meeting of the Knights Columbus Board of Directors, my flight was delayed. First it was an hour. Then another. After a five-and-a-half hour delay and a four-and-a-half-hour flight, I finally arrived at my destination at 3 o’clock in the morning.
For some, Lent can feel like a lot like my travel experience: a test of one’s patience and endurance. And so often, we just give up the struggle. Our Lenten resolve weakens. We abandon bodily penance and relax our efforts to overcome our vices. Patience and endurance run out.
But Lent is not a do-it-yourself moral improvement program. Rather, it is about opening the heart anew to God’s love. It is a gift from God, a time rich in grace when he helps his children get rid of all that hinders us from sharing in his life and love. Bodily penances and spiritual exercises are the means the Holy Spirit employs to purify our hearts, enabling us to renew and deepen our relationship with God and neighbor. The more deeply we grow to love God, the more we will be like God and love like him.
God created us in love to reflect his truth, goodness and beauty, and to return freely the love he has showered on us. Yet, from the beginning, sin entered the picture, and humanity has willfully rejected God’s love, refusing to be what God created us to be: living reflections of his glory. Scripture attests that this continual infidelity deeply wounds God’s unchanging, infinite, passionate love.
One of the most beautiful attributes of God is his patient endurance. The Psalms repeatedly praise God because he is “slow to anger and abounding in mercy.” Despite the persistence of sinfulness, God has not given up on us.
In assuming our humanity, the Son of God revealed the Father’s patient and enduring love. He preached a message of repentance. He told us the parable of the Prodigal Son. He healed the sick and raised the dead as a sign of his power over sin and death. But in the end, the Lord of glory was crucified. In his passion and death, the innocent Lamb of God patiently bore on his shoulders the sins of the world.
As Jesus underwent his agony, he revealed the enormity and ugliness of sin. Though sinless, he experienced the darkness and alienation from God produced by sin. His wounds penetrated to his heart and revealed the woundedness of the Father’s loving heart. Jesus endured all of this out of love for his Father and for us. In the end, his patient endurance unleashed the power of God’s changeless love, which alone overcame sin and death. This is the victory that we celebrate as Lent gives way to Holy Week and Easter.
As we receive God’s patient and enduring love and are transformed by it, we become participants in Christ’s redeeming love. We too bear the cross, for the redemption of our own sins and the sins of others.
If our Lenten penances are understood in this light, and undertaken in faith and with openness to God’s grace, they take us to the very heart of God’s love for us, which is revealed in Jesus’ death and resurrection. They help us come to terms with our sinfulness. They open us to the love the crucified and risen Savior continues to lavish on us in the Holy Eucharist and other sacraments. As we receive God’s patient and enduring love and are transformed by it, we become participants in Christ’s redeeming love. We too bear the cross, for the redemption of our own sins and the sins of others. We learn how to forgive.
Patient and enduring love is the hallmark of a true disciple. It is also our hallmark as Knights of Columbus. Experience teaches that unity and fraternity demand charity – not merely the charity to defuse tensions but the patient and enduring charity that comes from God. “Be imitators of God, as beloved children,” Paul wrote, “and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God” (Eph 5:1-2).