LENT AND THE CROSS
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Lent is a special time for some “spring cleaning” of our souls. Many people think of this season in terms of “giving up” something for a few weeks before Easter. Yet Lent can have quite a bit more meaning if we let God more fully into our hearts and souls through increased prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
These days also give us a great opportunity to turn to our Lord in the Sacrament of Penance (Confession), to clear our consciences of remorse from indulging in “guilty pleasures” and serious (mortal) sins.
We are made especially aware of the Cross Jesus carried to redeem us from our sins at Calvary this time of year. The Stations of the Cross are a Lenten staple at parishes as the faithful retrace in prayer Jesus’ tormented, bloodied, excruciatingly painful sojourn to His death in His Passion.
The great Angelic Doctor of the church St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, quoting St. Gregory, that when we meditate on that Passion there is nothing that can’t be borne with equanimity. This statement presents us with quite a challenge! Equanimity? A calm, even temperament? It is often said St. God will never give us more than we can handle. “Oh really?” you might think:“You try dealing with my boss, spouse, kids, co-workers,etc.”
It’s hard enough trying to understand why God permits evil out of respect for our free will and His desire for us to be able to choose to love and serve Him. He strives to bring good out of whatever evils we ourselves create, tolerate and foster from our fallen nature.
Still, in the face of trials and tribulations, many fall prey to the poisonously seductive notion that a good God can’t possibly exist with all the evil in the world!
And if He does exist, how could any God allow Himself to be so brutally and ignominiously slaughtered and crucified like a common criminal between two thieves, yet!
Yes, that’s how much our Lord loves each one of us and how much He hates sin, that He who was without sin would allow Himself to be punished for our sins by giving up His earthly life so that we might one day share His heavenly life.
When I first converted to Catholicism in 1999, I had the privilege of hearing some of the late John Cardinal O’Connor’s homilies at St. Patrick’s Cathedral the year before he passed away. He spoke of the value of offering up our sins and suffering to Jesus on the cross. I couldn’t quite fathom exactly what he meant at first. Uniting our suffering with Jesus on the cross? Hadn’t He already been crucified? What exactly did this mean?
It wasn’t until sometime later that I could properly appreciate St. Paul’s explanation when he wrote of filling up what was missing in Christ’s suffering with his own. As he put it “I rejoice now in the sufferings I bear for your sake; and what is lacking of the sufferings of Christ I fill up in my flesh for his body, which is the Church” (Col 1:24).
It wasn’t that Christ’s sufferings weren’t vital to our salvation. Rather, it was that our sufferings could add “deposits” to humanity’s “atonement bank” while taking them away from its “sin bank”. In that way we could help Jesus redeem sinners! We have two offering prayers here that might help you keep this in mind, the first of which came from Our Lady of Fatima.
Oh my Jesus, I offer this for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Help me to remember in these troubled times
The cross you carried for my sake,
So that I may better carry mine
And to help others do the same,
As I offer up (whatever your concern or problem here) to you
For the conversion of sinners
For the forgiveness of sins
In reparation for sins
And for the salvation of souls. Amen
There is something comforting in knowing that, while God may permit us to experience pain, it is always for some larger supernatural good. Your troubles and tribulations might very well feel like more than you could ever bear.
Yet the more you can offer them up to Christ on the cross, much as He offered His immense undeserved suffering for the forgiveness of sins to His Heavenly Father, the more you can help yourself and others get to heaven, as described here.
And while the pathway to paradise may not always be smooth, with God’s help and grace it can be smoother than it might be otherwise. We receive many prayer requests which we post here from people appealing to God and to our readers to pray for them.
Many of them echo Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion, when he said famously “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but thine be done” (Lk 22:42).
Recently someone asked on our site for prayers for his friend suffering from brain cancer. After reading many of the prayer requests we’ve posted, he admitted that, although he was a long time practicing Catholic, he wondered sometime what God’s plan was; and even at times if He even existed! Yet, much like father of the boy afflicted with an evil spirit in the Gospels (Mk 9:24) he wrote “I believe…help me in my unbelief.”
Indeed, feeling forsaken by God can lead us to question His existence or to cry out like our Lord from the cross: My God My God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matt 27:46)
Yet He never really abandons any of us unless we want Him to, when we get so mired in serious sins, or so embittered by misfortune, that we turn our backs, not our faces, to God (Jer 32:33).
I personally find the notion of a loving God who permits suffering out of respect for our free will with a greater good in mind much more comforting a notion than that of a universe with no God at all.
Such a place would be basically a free-for-all of various molecules banging together in some sort of random order over which we may or may not have control. Humanity’s efforts to establish heaven on earth without God have often turned quite hellish, as we saw so often last century, when millions of people perished under Communism.
Speaking of God and suffering, I have found that I’d much prefer to admire others carrying their crosses rather than having to carry my own. That’s only natural!
Jesus told Sister Josefa Menendez, a Spanish nun in the early 1920’s that “Many are willing to entertain Me when I visit them with consolation. Many receive Me with joy in Holy Communion, but few welcome Me when I visit them with My Cross.”
This is what makes our Lenten self-denials so important. We can train our souls to accept life’s crosses better by detaching ourselves from worldly pleasures and pursuits, even if it’s just in small ways.
In denying ourselves some slight pleasure we might better discover that we don’t really need it as much as we thought we did. Fasting can sharpen our minds and spirits to receive more of God’s graces, and not get bogged down in food comas.
And, better yet, if we can give up some bad or sinful habit, such as bearing grudges or backbiting, we can separate ourselves from that which separates us from God. Self-denial can increase our self-control. That can make us more compassionate to others and help us to tame our concupiscent natures.
Jesus’ words of advice for souls given to Sister Menendez can also inspire us this Lenten season, and beyond. Our Lord said “Let Me delve and dig in your garden…let Me clear the ground of those sinewy roots that obstruct it and which you have not strength to pull up…Maybe I shall ask you to give up certain tastes, or sacrifice something in your character…do some act of charity, or patience, or self-denial…or perhaps prove your love by zeal, obedience or abnegation; all such deeds help to fertilize the soil of your soul, which then will be able to produce the flowers and fruit I look for; your self-conquest will obtain light for a sinner…a reproof accepted patiently and even with joy will obtain for a sinner blinded by pride the grace to let light penetrate his soul and the courage to beg pardon humbly. All this I will do for you if you will give Me freedom. Then will blossoms grow quickly in your soul, and you will be the consolation of My Heart.”
These blossoms can also be the strength you find for having gone through some ordeal and come out stronger. They are God’s graces! As they say in gyms everywhere in the secular world “no pain, no gain”!
Above all, try to approach both the pleasures and pains of your earthly pilgrimage with a loving detachment, which can help give you that sense of equanimity mentioned earlier. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel joy over life’s blessings or grief over life’s curveballs of course! Rather, that in troubled times, you can imitate our Lord at Gethsemane as His passion commenced saying to His Heavenly Father “Thy will be done”.
We here at Our Catholic Prayers wish you all a blessed Lent and Easter to come! Feel free to post any prayer requests you’d like on this page.