Lent. Time to try harder. Being a believing Christian disciple is already hard in a secular world. Now it’s time to fast, avoid meat on Fridays, and give up even more stuff. We are all called to be saints, but sadly you’re still a miserable sinner who keeps falling into the same sins over and over again. Clearly you’re not working hard enough. This Lent, maybe you’ll finally get it all together.

This voice probably sounds familiar. You may have heard these kinds of things from grandparents, priests, or Catholic radio. You may have a part of you that whispers these very things to you. But pause and reflect for a moment — is that really God’s voice?

This is not God’s voice, but rather the voice of the Enemy in a clever disguise. We pick up and repeat this voice inside ourselves and we get it confused with God. How quickly and easily we fall into the trap of, “you’re not good enough, you better work harder.” Lent is not, in fact, about working harder. Lent involves repentance. Repentance is not just turning away from sweets. Repentance is “metanioa”, a change of heart. There are two key “heart changes” that a Catholic needs to make on the journey to holiness.

The first “heart change” is about trust. We need to start trusting that God loves us and he wants us to be happy. We need to start realizing that getting “my way” does not actually lead to happiness. Partly that’s because the universe is not set up in such a way that every little creature can get exactly what it wants all the time. Every other creature then becomes either an accessory to my happiness or an obstacle to me. True human community, which is a huge source of happiness, is not really possible for those who are always trying to get their way. Also, it doesn’t work because I don’t actually know what makes me happy. They say the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are when he buys a boat and when he finally manages to sell it. We promise ourselves that I “have to have” this toy, this experience, this house or car, even this relationship. And most of the time, I wind up disappointed. We have to admit that we don’t actually know what is best for us. The first important shift happens when I start to trust that God knows what will make me truly happy and also has a plan for me to get there.

Sometimes people call this move “surrender” but I like to talk more about giving God permission. God will earn your trust if you let him. I trust God a little with “my” time, talent, and treasure, and find out that things worked better that way. Lent is partly about letting go of the things I “have to have” — sweets or soda pop, fast food, grudges, cigarettes, alcohol, using my cellphone in bed and staying up too late… anything that I stubbornly cling to even though I know it’s not really good for me. I give it up as a way of training myself not to just grab things that look and taste good. What are the things you cling to even though they aren’t really making you happy?

Peace and joy,
Fr. Joel

Image by Lisa Caroselli from Pixabay