Lent and the Penance that God Seeks and Requires

By Barb Ernster

“Does the Lord so delight in holocausts and sacrifices as in obedience to the command of the Lord? Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission than the fat of rams (1 Sam 15:22).

Samuel was not disapproving of sacrifices in general, but of merely external sacrifices offered in defiance of God’s commandment and without heartfelt obedience. Lent is a good reminder to us that giving up meat on Friday does not mean that we can make our way to Red Lobster and feel good about eating shrimp instead of steak.

It requires discipline to go deeper into the meaning of sacrifice and the call to draw closer to the Lord. Sometimes this does not happen unless we face our sufferings with trust that God wants our obedience despite adversity and that He has a bigger plan for us.

Job is a great example for us. After enduring a sudden and complete reversal of fortune—losing his property and children, suffering a loathsome disease and experiencing oppressive sorrow in his soul—while questioning the cause of his sufferings, he does not complain against God but instead demands an answer. God does answer. He does so not by justifying his action, but refers to his own omniscience and almighty power.

Job’s response is one of humility and deep trust in the Lord that He has his back no matter what: “I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know. I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you. Therefore, I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3-5).

Obedient love in all things great and small

2015-11-06 10.38.59The message of Fatima calls us to this deep mystery of trusting in the Lord in all things, even when our sufferings seem too much to bear. Our Lady asked little Lucia, “Are you suffering a lot? Do not worry. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.” Our Lady did not promise to take away her sufferings, but to walk with her along the way, on a sure path to God, nonetheless! Lucia went on to embrace all of her sufferings every day, repeating so often the words Our Lady taught her, “O my Jesus, it is for love of you, for the conversion of sinners and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart.”

Francisco and Jacinto desired sacrifices and sought them as much as possible—simple things like rejecting something they really liked, a handful of grapes, and eating or drinking something that nauseated them instead, milk in Jacinta’s case. How many conversions happened by these small acts done with great obedience to what the Lord wanted.

In the Spring of 1943, Our Lord appeared to Sister Lucia and expressed his great joy that Pope Pius XII had made a consecration of the world, with special reference to Russia, to the Immaculate Heart, and promised to bring an end to World War II. What an incredible payoff for this act of obedience, even though the Pope was not able to fulfill the full collegial consecration requested by Our Lady that would bring about Russia’s conversion.

During this apparition, the Lord defined specifically the nature of penance and reparation as demanded at Fatima: “The sacrifice demanded of everyone is the fulfillment of his duties in life and the observance of My law. This is the penance that I now seek and require.”

Our Lord also complained bitterly to her about the small number of souls in His grace who would make whatever sacrifices the observance of His law demanded of them.

2015-11-06 11.02.58It requires discipline to pray and seek the Lord first every day, to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, or  more if possible, to go the extra mile in fasting, to reign in our human emotions and allow the Lord to purify us of impatience, uncharitableness, distrust, or anger. But we can embrace everything we do as an act of obedient love.

May Lent be a time of disciplining ourselves to be one of those small number of souls pleasing to the Lord.

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