Frequently during Lent I ask myself, What’s the point of this? If you are indeed doing anything significant this holy season, that question must come to you as well sometime. If you are not doing some good works which cost you, that is, which constitute a personal sacrifice, you are to be pitied because you’re missing out on an immense benefit to yourself. I read that Saint Teresa of Avila wrote that once in heaven she knew she would no longer be able to merit anything for a greater share in the riches of heaven (this is a certainty: namely, that the time of merit ends at our death). She added, however, an important thought. There, in heaven, in the state of shared glory with God, she will wish that she could return to earth once again if only by doing so she might say one more Hail Mary for an increase of heavenly riches.
That “one Hail Mary” captivated my mind. How many innumerable moments are lost in this life to idleness, futile industry, frivolities–if not outright sin–when we could make profitable use of our time for a spiritual gain whose possession would be everlasting. To think that way is to have a supernatural perspective on life. To act according to that way would be to live the life of a saint. But then, we are so busy with everything else–much of it being necessary–that we have not a thought about God throughout our very active day. God knows this. There is, however, a way so to live as to get everything done that needs be done and yet make it all count for eternity. This is the way of offering up even our most ordinary acts of the day as a sacrifice to God. This means that even our eating, sleeping and daily working can be done for the glory of God, which is not so say that we may set aside doing particular spiritual works of the day, ‘praying as we go,’ would be all sufficient. No. The sacred time of Lent ought to weigh on our minds the obliging duty to do spiritual good works.
To get back to my initial question–What’s the point?–not only does our determined course of leading the devout life have as its goal the increase of merit, but even more importantly is its final end the greater possession of Christ, even here and now. I think of Saint Paul’s “I want to know Christ.” Imagine that he who had seen the Lord in the glory of heaven, yet could say that there was more to know of Christ.
A priest must carry about within him not only the burden of his own weaknesses and sins but also those of his people whose spiritual condition and needs are known to him. My fear is not only that you have sins which impede entirely, or else retard, your spiritual life, but that you may be doing little or nothing to help yourselves. For the love of your own souls, you need to do something for Lent! You simply must cut away at those things that are holding you back from the possession of Jesus. Yes, it’s really all that urgent and that simple. I can ask, exhort, suggest, and urge you to quit your sinful attachments, to begin again to live for God, and to make acts of penance. All such petitioning from me, or anyone else interceding for you, can go only so far. The rest must come from your own wills. As the saying goes, God redeemed you without your help but He will not save you without it.
It seems to me at times as if the enterprise of leading the devout life is in a way a selfish pursuit. It is, after all, for the salvation of my own soul. That only grasps the matter partially, however. The final reason of why we should be doing Lent, denying ourselves not only of sins but even of some good things and by doing penances, is for the glory of God. For His sake should we want to be saints. This is God’s will: our sanctification. “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:22).
Please keep doing, or begin seriously to do, something truly beneficial for Lent, even at this late hour. Do it for God, if not for the love of your own souls. It is surely a grief to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that there are many–may you not be among them!–who have no regard for the salvation of their own souls.