I don’t know how it happened, but here we are at the beginning of Lent in the year . Those who don’t understand eternal truth might have expected that with the turn of the century and of the millennium, the Church might have changed her doctrines, her moral code, or her sacramental system. But no; those things will last as long as the Church does, and that will be as long as the world shall last.
So, today we begin the penitential season of Lent. Why penitential? Because we are sinners and need to do penance. Our awareness of our own sins is basic to our religious posture before God. Jesus taught us to say, in the Our Father, “forgive us our trespasses.” The Church instructs us to say to Our Blessed Mother all our lives, “pray for us sinners. . .” And our eastern brothers and sisters, both the uniates and the orthodox, have as their favorite prayer the so-called “Jesus prayer”: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Some of our liberal neighbors make fun of the “Catholic guilt,” as they call it, and accuse the Church of making us feel guilty all the time. To begin with, that is not really true. But it is far better to acknowledge oneself as a sinner and do one’s best to atone for our sins than to think of oneself as perfectly okay and not be concerned about our relationship with God.
Our Divine Lord himself began his public life by submitting to the baptism of repentance being administered by Saint John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Certainly Jesus is innocence and virtue itself, and Saint John knew that, and yet Our Lord insisted on John’s baptizing him. And then he went off into the desert to fast for forty days — another penitential activity that was totally unnecessary for Christ to do, and yet he did both those things to give a good example to us. He had become a member of a sinful race, so he wished to give an example of penance that all of us should follow.
So here is Lent: the penitential time of the year when the Church asks us to do three things in particular by way of penance and atonement: to pray, to deny ourselves some legitimate pleasures, and to be kind and helpful to others. Those three are traditionally called prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. They are particularly appropriate in Lent. Please don’t let the holy season begin without deciding what you will do in each of those three categories, and then DO THEM daily between now and Easter. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.