Lent: the half-time whistle!
We are at the half-way point in Lent and it is always a good idea to take stock of how we are doing so far.
I think that we are like a team of players at the half-way mark during a soccer game. We go into the dressing room for a review of our first-half performance. The team talk is partially a pep talk as well as a critique of where things have been going wrong – especially if we scored an own goal!
I SUSPECT FOR MANY OF US Lent so far has been a mixture of success and failure. We started off with many ambitions and motivations as well as resolutions to do penance as well as almsgiving and prayer we had a winning formula. Yet somewhere along the way we took our eye off the ball and the opposition, (the world, the flesh, the devil) took possession (as it were) and started running the show again. We are on the run. We are no longer playing the game as the coach told us before the game started. Pride, laziness, complacency, discouragement, and bad habits have not been weeded out and have reared their ugly heads again. Our coach/manager (confessor/spiritual director) has been looking helplessly on from the sidelines as we failed to heed his warnings about things to watch out for on the field (the battleground of virtue vs sin). So much for all the plans I had for Lent this year! How many resolutions broken? How soon did I cave in? I hope I won’t be substituted at half-time, and that I will be given another chance to prove myself in the second-half. Be nice to me, coach!
So I head off to confession at half-time with my head bowed. My coach pulls me aside with a personal word. He has observations and recommendations, motivates me, and he goes easy on me! He talks to the whole team and puts the game plan in focus. The game is far from over. Winning is within reach. ‘With God, all things are possible’. (Luke 1:37); ‘I am the vine, you are the branches, apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5)
At confession therefore this weekend for the First Friday/First Saturday I get some extra help, a booster shot of grace to resume the battle. I have learned a few things about my limitations and weaknesses in my strategy– the game will be different now. I am more clearly focussed on Christ – His Passion, Death and Resurrection, and my position, or role as a member of His Body, the Church. He has chosen me since my baptism, I will not be dropped. I am rested in prayer and recollection; I have quenched my thirst from the side of Christ in the sacraments, and resume my place.
The second half is on. The clock is ticking. Three weeks to the Easter Triduum. Let's go all out to win!
This is a possible pep-talk for this Lent.
We need to put back into focus those for whom we have been asked to pray and do penance.
This Lent too is during the Year for Penance as recommended by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI in his letter to the Catholics of Ireland dated March 19th, 2010. This Year of Penance, which began formally on the First Sunday of Advent 2010 and concludes at the end of November, highlights the need to pray and do penance for the well-publicised notorious sins of some clergy in particular, and others, that did lasting harm to our children, as well as to bring about healing and renewal in Christ’s Body, the Church.
Friday has long been a day of remembrance of the Passion and Death of Our Lord on Good Friday and Christians are not only asked to remember the Good Friday event but to enter into the spirit of its meaning in real and practical ways of participation. Mortification of the body, such as in fasting, is an external sign of interior renewal: ‘‘The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it’ (Pope Benedict XVI, in his Lenten Message 2009, on fasting).
To perform acts of penance in a spirit of love and reparation is one of the great calls and challenges of Fatima. It was a ‘vocation’ as it were, of the three shepherd children, Lucia, Blessed Jacinta and Blessed Francisco to embrace a life of voluntary mortification for the conversion of sinners, for peace in the world, as well as in particular way for the Holy Father.
The apparition of the angel to the children at the well in 1916 includes the appeal of the angel: ‘What are you doing? Pray a great deal and make sacrifices for sinners. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have great designs of mercy for you.’ ‘How are we to make sacrifices?’ Lucia asked. ‘Make everything you can a sacrifice’ was the angel’s reply. ‘Offer everything to the hearts of Jesus and Mary.’
In the May 13th apparition, Our Lady asked the children: ‘are you willing to offer yourselves to God to bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?’ The children imaginatively and heroically responded to the heavenly call.
After months of having endured lengthy interrogations, insults, doubts and temptations as well as private mortifications, the children were consoled when Our Lady smiled and said to them: ‘God is pleased with your sacrifices’ (13th September, 1917). [She also urged them to prudence and temperance in their mortification.] Peace in the world, Our Lady tells us, depends in large part on true repentance for sin as well as prayer and sacrifices performed by a ‘sufficient number who do as I ask’ (13th October, 1917).
The children were also taught by Our Lady to recite this prayer when making a sacrifice: ‘O Jesus this is for love of you, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the offences committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.’
The final part of the Secret of Fatima, in the October 1917 apparition, depicts an angel with a flaming sword, directed at and exhorting the world, if it is to be saved from further punishment, uttering the words: ‘Penance, penance, penance!’
The call to penance is not an end in itself but directs us all, as it directed the ‘tres pastorinhos’, to a greater awareness of our irreplaceable role in God’s Church, the Body of Christ. At Baptism we become members called to intercession, and like St Paul, we are called ‘to fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church’ (Colossians 1:24)
Finally, and most importantly of all, the call to penance, which includes the sacrament of Penance, directs us to the Eucharist, the ‘source and summit of the Christian life.’ (Vatican II). As the children were trained by the angel to pray and do penance, they were, unknown to themselves, being purified and prepared for Holy Communion which they then received in the third appearance of the angel. Their ‘schooling’ in a spirit of prayer, penance and reparation throughout 1916, found its completion in adoration and reception of Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. This prepared them in turn to readily accept the calls of Our Lady in 1917 to them personally to reveal a message destined for the whole world: God’s plan of peace and the means to obtain it.
Their vocation to love, by immersing themselves in praying for the conversion of sinners, is our call too. The Year of Penance - and Lent - is a call to every member of Christ’s Body, the Church, to personal lasting change and renewal.