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Lent invites us to grow in humility, patience, holiness

Archbishop Wenski's column for the February 2021 edition of the Florida Catholic

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“Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

These words were spoken over those of us who were able receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of our Lenten fast. These words, based on the first recorded words of Jesus in the Gospel according to St. Mark, succinctly express the purpose of these 40 days that precede the celebration of Easter and the Lord’s glorious resurrection from the dead.

The Lenten season is an invitation to a sincere review of our life in the light of the Gospel. It is also a call to “Exodus.” As the ancient Hebrews were called out of Egypt to “pass over” into the Promised Land, Lent is a call to come out of ourselves, to leave behind the illusion of self-sufficiency so that we can open ourselves — with trustful abandonment — to the merciful embrace of our loving and merciful Father.

Any illusion of self-sufficiency we might have held should have been dispelled by these past 12 months in which we have faced a global medical crisis, economic hardship, social unrest, and partisan divisiveness. Perhaps, when we emerge on the far side of the pandemic, we would have learned to be a bit humbler — that, despite our technologies, we are not the masters of our destinies as we sometimes pretend to believe.

The events of the past year have caused much suffering for many people. And, suffering does not usually ennoble us. It can embitter us, and we can be tempted to self-pity, complaining, “Woe is me.” The trials and tribulations we encounter as we traverse this “vale of tears” can cause us to turn in on ourselves, becoming self-centered.

A faithful observance of Lent can help us grow in humility — which is not thinking less of ourselves (as some erroneously believe) but thinking of ourselves less. Lent, therefore, is a summons to reach out to others in their need so that we, having experienced mercy from God, might learn how to be ourselves merciful.

And, certainly, this past year has been very disruptive of our lives. We yearn for “normalcy” — whatever the “new” normal might be. And so, while we face the future with humility, we also must embrace the present with a strong dose of patience. Patience is the spiritual vaccine we all need during these days of pandemic, economic stress, social unrest, and political divisiveness. And, therefore, a great virtue for us to work on this Lent of 2021.

If you’re patient, you don’t answer that angry email with an angrier one. You wait and maybe then you don’t say something or write something you can’t take back. Patience helps you de-escalate tense situations. I forget the source right now — but I read once that “patience with others is charity; patience with oneself is hope; and patience with God is faith.” Faith is having patience with God even when it seems he keeps us waiting for answers to our prayers.

Lent calls us to recommit ourselves to that seeking for holiness which should be what our life in Christ means for us as Catholics. If we seek holiness, as St. John Paul II reminded us, then “it would be a contradiction for us to settle for a life of mediocrity marked by a minimalist ethic and a superficial religiosity.”

Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we lead ourselves and our loved ones to a renewed faith in the power of God’s love for us, a love that is stronger than sin, death, and the devil. Through penance and the pardon available to us in the sacrament of reconciliation, we seek to overcome the influence of habitual sin which has wounded our capacity to live in fellowship with others and union with God.

“Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

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