by Ken Rolheiser
Lent and our check engine lights

“What are you going to give up for Lent, son?” 
"I’ll have to think about it. What are you giving up?"
"I've decided to give up liquor."
Later the dad is having a beer. His son objects, "Hey, I thought you were giving up liquor!"
"Hard liquor, son. I'm giving up hard liquor."
"Well then, I'm giving up hard candy."

The thought of Lent and making sacrifices is hard. We’ve been there and done that, and did it change us? It might be time to try something different this year. A focal question to ask ourselves might be Is my life working?

Saint Mary Magdalene spent the last years of her life in a cave doing penance for her sins. We are not up for that. What about the traditional Lenten activities? The Medieval practice of pouring ashes over our heads and then doing penance for forty days is reminiscent of the Jewish people wandering in the dessert for forty years, the forty days of the flood, or Christ fasting in the dessert for forty days.

Today’s fasting rules are mild compared to earlier practices of forty days of fasting with no meat or dairy products. I’d rather reflect on how my life is working, improving my prayer life, and looking for ways to love my neighbour.

There are two aspects of penance for us to reflect on. The negative, where we give up or take away something. We might take away some spiritual ill like sin or some fault that could be improved on. Doing without some luxury and donating to charity makes a positive. 

The positive aspect might have us adding to our church attendance or prayer life. We might do works of mercy like visiting the sick or lonely. In Covid-19 times this can be a phone call. Family prayer and spiritual reading are great ideas.

The greatest challenge is to look honestly at our relationship with God and to be more open to God’s love. Dynamic Catholic shared a short video on February 19 on unconditional love. A young lady shared a personal experience of the scariest haircut she ever had.

A school project found her and her friends distracted from their task and cutting each others’ hair. The teacher made her report to her parents that night. The parents were surprisingly understanding and forgiving. The girl took a life lesson from this.

We often fear God because of our sins and failings. God loves us so much more perfectly than our earthly parents could. This is a simple truth which can bring us peace and comfort in our spiritual struggles.

Some of us are at the age when the “check engine” light is starting to flash on occasion. Lent is the time to re-read the owner’s manual and to tune our engines once more. Clean the filters and make things right again for the journey.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Hebrews 10:22). 

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Psalm 51:10).

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