Wednesday 6 March 2024

How’s your Lent going so far?

We are not quite half-way through Lent, the penitential season, and by now it is not unusual to hear the complaint: “I’ve broken every one of my resolutions.” If that is the case, never mind, just pick up where you left off and start off all over again. It’s the intention that counts.

Naturally, we want to do as well as we can, to be as perfect as can be. However, experience shows us that we are a long way off perfection. But will eating a biscuit in Lent really bar us from Heaven? Of course not. But that is not why we make those Lenten sacrifices — or because eating or drinking less may be good for us for health reasons. We do so because we are disciples of Christ and are seeking to learn from his teaching and to imitate his example.

On the First Sunday of Lent, we read, as we do every year, the account of the Temptation of the Lord in the desert. This year, we heard Mark’s somewhat pared back version of the incident, mentioned, it almost seems, as if in passing. But our minds went back, I’m sure, to the fuller stories in Luke and Matthew’s Gospels, which tell us how Jesus was tempted. It’s not necessary to rehearse them here. All that is necessary is to recall that he was tempted. We learn from his example how to deal with those temptations, and to learn that it is essential and indeed possible to say say “No” to ourselves and not simply to give in to our every whim and desire.

If we have an uncontrolled habit of snacking between meals, or spending hours on social media or endlessly checking our mobile phones, or pouring ourselves a drink (just the one?), we may find ourselves enslaved, unable, or so we think, to free ourselves from whatever addiction it is we are subject to. Lent is a good time to seek our freedom again, and to re-evaluate our relationship with our phones, with food and drink, or Ebay and Amazon. It can be a struggle, and present a real test of our love for God and our self-control. God allows us to be tested not because he does not know how strong we are, but because we do not know. We are all of us tested, tried, by the stresses and pains of life, by the burdens others lay on us, by the ceaseless challenge to respond with love to those whom we find difficult to love. When we succeed in overcoming this or that temptation, we are doing so in his strength, not ours. When we suffer some temptation, we must see it as an opportunity to grow, in holiness and in virtue. Only when we are tempted do we have the chance to triumph. When we choose to try to resist temptation, standing firm, having recourse to the grace of the Sacraments, then every temptation becomes an occasion of virtue.

Every temptation is an opportunity — to be faithful or not. The saintly Curé of Ars, John Vianney, told someone who was struggling with some temptation to imagine Our Lord standing beside him, neither judging nor condemning him as he struggled, but saying, “Ah, so you do love me.” There can be no virtue without temptation. “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (I Cor. 10:13) As we continue our Lenten journey, let’s keep in mind that in our weakness, the Lord will show himself to be strong and will hear our prayer “lead us not into temptation.”

The prayer of surrender which many use each day, can be a great help: O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything. A simple enough prayer to make. Worth trying.