Christians around the world are embarking on the solemn season of Lent. This is a period for reflection, prayer, fasting, and repentance. For Catholics it is part of the liturgical year, the cycle of feasts and celebrations, much like the cycle of feasts God instructed the Israelites to observe after He brought them out of Egypt. The liturgical year takes the faithful on a journey from the incarnation of Christ, God made man, the incarnate Word, through his life of preaching the kingdom of God with healing and parables, through His passion and the Cross and other key aspects of God’s revelation to His creation.
Living a meaningful Lent has become more difficult in recent times. The devil is clearly at work in the world. The devil’s whole existence is centered on separating us from God. Satan, in his pride and wanting to equate himself with God split from God, rejecting God’s love. Christians are assaulted at every turn. The secular world has become evil. Not only does it fight against God, it tries to make everyone (except perhaps Muslims) bow down to its altar of self and its sacraments of abortion, transgenderism, gay pride, and gay marriage, all contrary to God’s will and His love for us.
In the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses) God shows His power and His love for His creation. He reveals Himself to the Israelites, noting however that they are a stiff-necked people and so He provides a series of rules and guidelines for their lives and worship, including the Ten Commandments. Additionally, God cautions them against acting the way people act in the lands in which they are living, especially in opposition to God’s laws. Jesus is even more explicit, telling us that we are called out of this world and made for heaven. St. Paul’s reminder, so appropriate for this part of our faith year, tells us in no uncertain words, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
So, what should we be reflecting on? Too many people have convinced themselves that they aren’t bad people – they haven’t killed anyone, they contribute to charities, they greet their neighbors, etc. But what about the things they don’t do? The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it.” Think about all of the things that are destructive to society that we just go along with because we don’t want to make waves, or be singled out, or especially in today’s world, be cancelled. Things like abortion, transgenderism, euthanasia, gay marriage, etc., all go against the laws of nature and God and tear at the fabric of humanity, the family, and society. These assaults on life are a greater existential threat than anything the climate activists claim.
As Bishop Sheen said, “We allow the good but tolerate the evil that undermines it and call it ‘broad-mindedness.’” All of these things undermine the good things that God wishes for us. Some may try to say that they are expressions of love, but they use the good things that God has given us in ways that are contrary to their purpose. Loving one’s neighbor does not mean we condone their sins, especially when their sins go against the natural order of things. We think they don’t hurt us, but they end up undermining our own sense of right and wrong, dulling our consciences, so that eventually we feel the futility of standing up for what is right. We get lulled into thinking that if it’s legal or everyone is doing it then it must be okay. We tell ourselves we wouldn’t do it but allow it to pervade society. To quote Bishop Sheen again, “Moral principles do not depend on a majority vote. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong. Right is right, even if nobody is right.”
Many don’t believe in God or in good and evil. I think that deep down they probably do, but they try to deny it because God expects us to take responsibility for our actions. A recent rerun of a Bishop Sheen episode about psychiatrists noted that all of these psychiatrists determined that people need and look for a sense of purpose in their lives. “In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.” (Gaudium et Spes, 16)
I read an article that mentioned a prominent atheist who said that he had contemplated suicide when he was 15 because he didn’t see any meaning in life. The only thing that kept him from it was that he found mathematics so fascinating. We see too many people committing suicide these days because of despair.
Organizations like Pew Research repeatedly report that those who believe in God, pray regularly, and try to follow God’s laws are happier, more stable, and have less despair. With this information available to all, I find it difficult to understand why people continue to immerse themselves in depression and resist turning to God. Part of it is because we humans think we are self-sufficient, that we can do everything ourselves. But we can’t. We can do nothing without God. This is what it means to surrender to God, to acknowledge that without him we are dust. “Return to the Most High and turn away from iniquity. Know the justice and the judgments of God, … in prayer to God, the Almighty.” (Sir 17:26)
So, when you see your neighbors who are Catholics walking around with ashes on their foreheads, recall that this is a time for you to think about yourselves and your smallness before God. Turn away from the ways of this evil world. Fight for what is good. Part of loving your neighbor is to encourage him to do what is right and good. Warning the sinner is an act of mercy. Christians want everyone to get to heaven and so we encourage them to turn away from sin. Trying to deny that things like abortion and transgenderism are sins doesn’t alter the fact that they are. Stand up and fight.
It is a time to look inward at our relationship with ourselves, with God and with our neighbors. We do this by renewing our efforts to increase the virtues of faith, hope, and charity in ourselves and our daily lives. It is characterized by Jesus’s words in the Gospel of Mark, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mk 1:14-15
NOTE: An abbreviated version was published in The Catholic Virginian March 20, 2023 (p. 9)