Back on Ash Wednesday I was filled with fervor – ready to accept any penance, and make every sacrifice.
But in the last few days I’ve been adding more and more amendments to my penances; making excuses here or exceptions there.
So if I’m making all these excuses and exceptions, why do I even bother with penance in the first place? What’s the point of giving up dessert or trying to fast if I’m just going to cheat or fail anyway?!
I think we have to remember what Lent is not: it’s not a time to lose weight so we can fit into that pair of pants Aunt Thelma gave us at Christmas, nor is it to have ‘bragging rights' at the Parish Council water cooler.
The point of Lent is to refocus ourselves on God: it’s a time to convert our hearts to Him, to trim the excess fat (so to speak) from our lives. We detach from worldly things to attach ourselves to God.
When you’re at the end of your rope, and are about to throw in the penitential towel, look at a crucifix.
On that crucifix hangs our God. He has given his life for you; he has given his life for me. For us -- sinners that don't deserve his infinite goodness. But he loved us so much that he has allowed himself to be put to death so that we may be saved.
Suddenly my little act of penance doesn’t seem quite as difficult as I initially thought it to be. Suddenly I have a burning desire to make small sacrifices, because He has done so much for me. Suddenly I am no longer looking for ‘exceptions to the rule’ but instead I am helping my Lord to his feet after he falls under the weight of the cross. Suddenly I am gripping the cross even more firmly and dragging it side by side with Christ.
As we enter the second half of Lent, let’s not dwell on any early failures, but let's focus on the time ahead. Be inspired by our Lord, who fell repeatedly while carrying the cross, but still carried on. Let us renew the fervor that we may have had in our hearts three weeks ago and commit ourselves more firmly to our penances and sacrifices. We have started the race, and perhaps stumbled early on, but let’s regain our focus and finish strong.