For though the upright falls seven times, he gets up again; the wicked are the ones who stumble in adversity (Proverbs 24:16, NJB).
How has your Lent been so far? Was it the epic period of spiritual growth you’d planned and hoped for on Ash Wednesday? Did you stick with your chosen fasts and penances, or did you find yourself cheating here and there? Are you like me, and always give yourself too many rigours, and within the first week, realize they were impossible, and instead of simply accepting that fact and dialing it back a little, added feelings of guilt about failing to succeed at something only you thought you possibly could?
If everything about your Lent went swimmingly and without challenge, I’d suggest that you’re doing it wrong. If on the other hand you’re at the other extreme, as I tend to be, I think there’s an important lesson about grace and humility to be learned.
How many times do even the more theologically informed of us—who know that without God’s grace within us, we can work no meritorious work, or increase our sanctity—nevertheless fall into the trap of thinking I’m going to do x, y, and z to be a better Catholic. Without taking the time for proper prayer, reflection, and discernment of what God knows we actually need to grow in holiness, we either set the bar too low, too high, or very often in the wrong place altogether.
As we enter Holy Week, the final stretch of our Lenten journey, we may be tempted to feel like we’ve failed in our forty day fast. But maybe the failing is part of the point. Maybe it helps us recognize that becoming a Saint is impossible on our own terms and in our own strength. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Our human nature can attain natural goods, to a more or less perfect degree depending on our strength and skill. But holiness, sainthood, and the union with God in the beatific vision are supernatural goods which we cannot attain by ourselves. They depend on the gift of God’s grace to enliven our souls: “It is God who, for his own generous purpose, gives you the intention and the powers to act” (Philippians 2:13).
So if your Lent has been lacklustre up until now, take the opportunity today to pray the Stations of the Cross. Notice how completely Jesus identifies with our weaknesses during the three times He falls. Jesus’ third fall was right at the end of the long walk to Calvary, yet He rose up and pressed on. He urges us to finish the last leg of our Lenten journey to Calvary as well, offering us His own strength through the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. And as Jesus was stripped before He was nailed to the Cross, let our recognition of our weaknesses strip us of our pride and vainglory, so that we may join Him in humility at the foot of the Cross.
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