The penitential season of Lent is upon us. Catholics customarily observe the season by giving up something. These sacrifices normally involve forgoing habits, foods and drinks as a way of atoning for our sins. It is a very personal commitment that reflects a desire to reform our lives.
However, this year is not normal. We are told that we must accept “a new normal” that disrupts our habits and life patterns. Everything is upside down, including our Lenten observance.
Adding to the confusion, many changes involve disastrous restrictions on our livelihood and our ability to worship God. Other concerns are anti-Christian laws that loom on the horizon. Our Lenten penance seems so detached from modern life. Thus, many people are discouraged because they sense themselves helpless to stop the dangers that have suddenly invaded our lives.
A Need to Broaden Horizons
This Lent, we should broaden our horizons beyond a personal desire for atonement. We need to find a way to assimilate the tragic events around us with our Lenten observance. If we can do this, it will make our penance more effective and our Lent more sublime.
There is a widespread belief that the evils that have come upon us can be blamed only upon liberals. As conservatives, we cannot understand why we find ourselves in the present state of desolation. We have done much to oppose these evils. However, the triple burden of Covid, civil unrest and election chaos weigh heavily upon us, despite our many efforts and prayers.
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Such an outlook is wrong. We can understand this Lent better if we consider our own faults and how they impact the nation. While liberal causes promote obvious evils like procured abortion, sodomy and blasphemy, we also participate in many sins that have brought America to its present state of misery. We need to recognize our role and make reparation.
Atoning for these sins this Lent is something positive we might do in the face of our helplessness to change society for the better. As in times of old, such atonement can move God to act in much more effective ways than our own.
The Object of Penance Is the Hatred of Sin
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines penance as “a supernatural moral virtue whereby the sinner is disposed to hatred of his sin as an offense against God and to a firm purpose of amendment and satisfaction.”
The object of our penance is not sin in general, or even the sins of others but our own. We are accountable for them and should do penance.
Thus, this Lent, we might look at our own sins through the wide-angle lens of what we have done to further the nation’s evils. In this way, we can integrate our penances with what is happening in society. We can then see better the horrors of the world around us and implore God’s aid.
The Sins for Which We Must Atone
Indeed, America is a sinful nation. We must recognize that even if we grieve for the nation and seek justice, all sin before God and contribute to our nation’s iniquity.
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We can sin by participating in matters that offend God. This is especially true in our participation in our hypersexualized culture and fashions. We have a role in facilitating impurity and the culpable acceptance of all kinds of sexual aberrations.
We sin by omission by failing to speak out against the outrages that surround us. Many times, we can be silent, lax or afraid to fight the sinful modern culture that invades family, community and parish.
We can sin by indifference to the blasphemies and offenses against God, His Blessed Mother and the Church, often by those inside ecclesial structures. We must have zeal for defending Church teaching and God’s law in the face of a society that glories in destroying them.
Indeed, we might ask ourselves if we have prayed enough for our decadent nation. We must hate our complicity, weakness or laziness that allows these sins to continue unopposed.
A Balanced Look at Our Iniquities
Thus, such a vision of our participation in the nation’s sins should lead us to observe Lent differently. It allows us to see that the true cause of our present misfortunes is not only liberal agendas but our indifference and iniquities that call down chastisement upon us.
We will then be in the sublime position to call upon God and implore His mercy for the nation. Scripture says: “Be converted, and do penance for all your iniquities: and iniquity shall not be your ruin” (Ezek. 18:30).
It is a balanced position that should not lead us to severe penances that are beyond our strength to fill.
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The principal act of penance is not the giving up or sacrifice. It is our hatred of the sins that offend God and our repentance. This heartfelt sorrow is what leads us to do or suffer something as a way of atoning for our sins.
Thus, we might still observe our usual Lenten sacrifices of forgoing habits and nourishment. However, this perspective allows us to offer these same sacrifices to God as atonement born from the hatred of our sins.
Thus, this Lent, we can do something sublime in the face of the great evils we face. There is no reason to be discouraged if we act in this manner. Indeed, this is a central theme of hope found in the Fatima message. History teaches us that God looks favorably on these acts of atonement from humble and contrite hearts. He will come to our aid, influencing events in unimaginable ways.