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Preface II of Lent
In the spiritual silence of the desert the rumblings of earthly attachments are louder and easier to hear and diagnose.
Whenever we go to the sacrament of Reconciliation we received a penance as a spiritual way of making amends for what we’ve done. The more serious our faults, the more serious the penance; penance in a way is tailored to whatever made it necessary. However, it would be a mistake to just consider penance as a fine or penalization for something we’ve done. It has a nobler goal: our conversion of heart. You could commit a crime and receive your sentence without having any remorse for what you’d done. With sin we know that if we aren’t sorry for what we’ve done, that sin remains, no matter how many “penances” we perform.
We also know that if it is not from the heart we’ll most likely fall again and again. As the Catechism teaches (n. 1430), “Jesus’ call to conversion and penance … does not aim first at outward works, ‘sackcloth and ashes,’ fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false…”
Lent itself is a form of penance (see Catechism, n.1438), with the goal of a deeper or renewed conversion of heart: “Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace” (n. 1431).
“For you have given your children a sacred time for the renewing and purifying of their hearts, that, freed from disordered affections, they may so deal with the things of this passing world as to hold rather to the things that eternally endure.”
Lent is a time to renew and purify your heart. The world is full of good and noble creatures, creatures that can ruin us if we serve them instead of serving God, just as we can ruin them in the same way. Creatures are not just things; they’re everything created by God, from your family to the soil. If we use our family for selfish ends, we sin; if we love our family that love helps them and us to love God more deeply, because that’s the purpose of family. If we use the soil to raise crops and provide for others we help God in his Providence; if we use it to bury and cover up evidence of an injustice, we sin. If our heart is pure we use creatures to serve God; if it is not, then sin is not long in coming.
Lent is a time in silent prayer to consider our affections (the movements and stirrings of the heart that motivate us) and see whether we’re putting fleeting things and goals over the things and goals that truly endure. Not all affections are in good order, and we do penance to put them aright again. In our weakness they may go out of whack again, but by striving to overcome them and trusting in God’s grace we will one day hold to the things that eternally endure.