As we wage battle in the desert with Our Lord throughout these 40 days of Lent, there is much that Christ will teach us if we let Him. One of the most significant lessons He teaches us through fasting and prayer is how to turn to Him with ever greater trust.
Temptations are a part of the spiritual life. They are an aspect of our human experience after the Fall. Whether temptations are of body or spirit, we daily find ourselves struggling to order ourselves according to the love of the Most Holy Trinity. We all fall short.
Most of us have probably already failed, to some extent, in our Lenten penances. Not only that, but Lent is a more spiritually intense time and we may be coming face-to-face with aspects of ourselves that we haven’t noticed before or ignored. The Seven Deadly Sins can rear their ugly heads even more in this season of spiritual combat.
The Enemy wants to overwhelm us. He wants us to falter and to believe that we cannot overcome the challenges and temptations we experience in our daily lives. This is precisely why Christ combated the temptations we are all prone to. He shows us how to combat the lies of the Enemy. He is the one who combats them for us and is victorious.
The first thing to remember during these 40 days is that God is merciful and loving. We can trust completely in His mercy. He knows that we are weak and that we often falter or fall. This is exactly why He has given us the Sacrament of Penance where we can be healed from the sickness of sin. In our shame, we often avoid this beautiful Sacrament for fear of what the priest might think of us, because we believe ourselves to be unforgivable, or because we allow shame to keep us from God. Christ never keeps us away from this beautiful Sacrament. He calls to us, seeking to extend His endless mercy upon us. Our Lord told St. Faustina:
Daughter, when you go to confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul and ennobles it. Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy. Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrents of grace inundate humble souls.
St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, 1602
We are the ones who refuse the graces that Our Lord wishes to extend us when we keep away from Him in this Sacrament. We must trust that He is the one who is present to us through the priest and that He will forgive any sin we commit if we come to Him with a humble and contrite heart. He seeks to extend His healing gaze of love and mercy to each one of us time-and-time-again.
The second thing that we must remember is to be patient with ourselves and our progress. Oftentimes we live under the illusion that we are in control of our spiritual progress. In reality, it is God who decides how we will progress in virtue and sanctity. He is the one who forms us into the saint we are meant to become. If we try to do it ourselves we will fail. This image is beautifully depicted in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader from the Chronicles of Narnia.
In the scene Eustace has been turned into a dragon and wants to become a boy again. Sin makes us beastly! He is confronted with Aslan the Lion who is the only one who can give him what he wants.
“I knew I’d have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains… there was a garden—trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well… The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first… So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place… But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before… Then the lion said—but I don’t know if it spoke—‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.”
Eustace, like all of us, needs to be cleansed from sin. Later in the scene, Aslan returns him to boyhood through the washing away of what remains in a beautiful image of baptism. All of us battle sins and temptations that we cannot seem to overcome. We fall and we beat ourselves up. Part of growing in holiness is coming to accept that we cannot do it alone. We cannot make ourselves into saints. God is the one who makes us into saints. We must turn in confident hope to Him. Through relinquishing our desire to control everything, we will begin to see progress, but it is always on God’s terms and in His time.
We will fall daily. We will make mistakes and realize that we should have done things differently. There will be times when we will fail in the Lenten penances we set for ourselves. When that happens, we simply begin again. We acknowledge our weaknesses and seek God’s strength to persevere. In those moments when we really fail, we must immediately turn back to God and seek His forgiveness through Confession and ask Him for the strength and grace to do better moving forward. We are to trust in His love and mercy no matter how much we fall. We also need to be patient with ourselves. This patience allows us to give God the room needed to work within us. Like Eustace, we must allow God to cut us deeply and to peel back the layers of sin, weakness, and pain within us.
As we battle in the desert in these coming weeks, turn to Christ with complete trust and hope in Him. It is in these battles that He will help us to progress in holiness. He will heal us and prepare us to celebrate the Paschal Mystery come Holy Week.
image: meunierd / Shutterstock.com