Every car or truck carries in the glove compartment a maintenance schedule. Having your oil changed, your tires rotated and balanced, and the rest of the engine checked keeps your vehicle in excellent shape.
This Wednesday, we begin one of the most practical times of the Catholic liturgical year. Lent provides us an opportunity to open our personal maintenance schedule and take a close look at ourselves as we journey towards eternal life.
The spiritual life is not an easy endeavor because of our wounded human nature. True, Baptism washes away original sin, but we do not have complete control over ourselves. St. Paul brilliantly describes this continual battle. He portrays this conflict as an inward struggle (Romans 7: 14-25), a treasure in a vessel of clay (2 Corinthians 4: 7-18), and a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10).
Because of original sin, an inner force will always move us in the wrong direction. Continual effort is necessary to control the inner movement of our ego, and allow the presence of grace to take control of our thoughts, desires and actions. The battle of the spiritual life is like walking in a river against the current. If we do not continue to walk or grab on to a rock, the current will carry us in the opposite direction. Lent provides us with an excellent opportunity to strengthen ourselves so that we can keep walking against the current.
A successful Lent requires us to develop a serious plan of action. Our program should consist of both the general practices that the Catholic Church requires of everyone, and our own particular Lenten program.
As a general practice for all Catholics, the Church requires that we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We are also asked to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent.
Aside from what the Church law of fast and abstinence requires of us, we should come up with a personal program for spiritual growth. This is our personal maintenance program. I have always recommended that we come up with something negative and something positive.
By something negative, I mean that each person should commit themselves to giving up something or a number of things. This sacrifice should be serious and demanding. The self-control that we exercise in giving up a legitimate pleasure strengthens our will and curbs the inclinations of our passions.
By something positive, I mean that each one should also do some kind of act that we would not normally do on a regular basis. Attending daily Mass, visiting the sick, volunteering time at the parish or praying a Sunday evening Rosary with the entire family are positive acts of virtue that have helped many people progress in their relationship with God.
Lenten practices of penance have great benefits for our spiritual lives. A serious Lent will be like a spring cleaning which will purify the clutter that has accumulated in our souls. A serious commitment to penance will also help us to conquer addictions, obsessions and compulsive behavior. A serious Lent will purify our soul and allow us to experience a deeper interior freedom.
As we approach the beginning of another Lent, we should carefully examine our lives. Usually we focus on carefully examining our sins, but do we ever consider the sins of omission? Do we honestly consider what we are not doing?
One way to break the cycle of apathy is to bring into your Lent an apostolic dimension. This can be done by making two firm commitments: pray the Rosary at your local abortion clinic and target one person that does not have a church home. Invite that person to your parish.
Moreover, it would be very powerful if we would offer up our fast, abstinence, Lenten sacrifices and our weekly Stations of the Cross to the Lord as of way of ending abortion and bringing souls back to the Church.
Do not wait until Ash Wednesday to come up with your Lenten program. Decide today what you are going to do. Parents should sit down with their children and make sure that they too have come up with a serious plan of action. Have a family meeting tonight and decide together to make this Lent the best Lent ever. Meet as a family every Sunday during Lent and review your program. Be accountable to each other. If you make this a great Lent you will notice the difference on Easter Sunday.