Lent comes every year, and every year, the Church challenges us to consider how we will pray, fast, and give alms during this penitential season. We might be tempted to reduce that challenge to the simpler question, “What will I give up for Lent this year?” While fasting from life’s little pleasures like sweets, coffee, social media, or the snooze button, certainly has its benefits, if those fasts (and our other Lenten commitments) lack the right disposition of heart, we might not grow in all the ways we’re called to, during this season.
Just before Lent began, Dr. Marlon De La Torre joined Teresa Tomeo on Ave Maria Radio for his monthly “No Bystanders!” segment, to share five small steps that we can take to make the most of our Lenten observances.
1. Understand that God loves you
Dr. De La Torre recommends beginning Lent by reflecting on the truth that we are God’s children, that he wants what’s best for us, and that his love for us is infinite. By starting with this in mind, we can make our Lenten sacrifices as a response to that love. Dr. De La Torre suggests that taking this first small step — pausing to meditate on God’s profound and personal love for each of us — will highlight the love we can offer in every sacrifice made for God, and protect us from making sacrifices out of self-punishment.
2. Christ has already walked the journey, and prepared it for you
Stepping confidently into the season of Lent has been made possible by the very fact that Jesus entered the desert, suffered, died, and rose again. We don’t have to depend on ourselves and move forward alone; Jesus walks right beside us through every little sacrifice we make.
Mirroring Archbishop Vigneron’s Ash Wednesday homily message, where he noted that those who receive ashes make the claim, “I have not lived up to my identity; with God’s help, this new beginning will bear much good fruit,” Dr. De La Torre encourages the faithful to recognize that the journey of Lent is one made with the Lord himself, not alone.
3. Seek interior penance
Noting that our interior disposition has a profound impact on our Lenten practices, Dr. De La Torre encourages us to open ourselves up anew to the truth that Jesus can heal the wounds caused by our sin. He reminds us that seeking interior penance isn’t about arbitrarily condemning some actions as good and others as bad, but challenges us to recognize and shed those things that prohibit us from loving God more. When we do this work of interior penance, we begin to proclaim with our lives, “I love Jesus, and desire nothing else” — a fitting response to the first tip provided by Dr. De La Torre: “Understand that God loves you.”
4. Trust in the journey during Lent
Again, hearkening back to Archbishop Vigneron’s Ash Wednesday homily where he noted that, through the Ash Wednesday ritual he and other priests were promising, “through [their] prayer and gesture, that you have the Lord’s strength,” Dr. De La Torre challenges us to surrender with great trust in the Lord, who guides us through our Lenten journey. The fruits of this season might not be seen immediately, or even in the future, yet the Lord invites us into it for a reason. When we trust in him, we can feel a great freedom in entering into Lent more fully.
5. Have a contrite heart
In his fifth and final tip for Lent, Dr. De La Torre recommends that we journey through this season with a contrite heart. He takes care to note that having a contrite heart is not about thinking low of ourselves, or acting from a place of self-deprecation, but rather, comes from recognizing that the God of the Universe offers us mercy, and seeking that mercy, by approaching Him in great humility, aware of our great need.
Lent may have already begun, but re-orienting our hearts, as we live out our Lenten promises may need to happen regularly throughout the season. Keep Dr. De La Torre’s advice in mind and let your heart have the disposition that liberates you to grow in all the ways that God is calling you to, in this holy season.
Listen to Dr. De La Torre on Ave Maria Radio.