40 Days of Grace and Mercy

COMMENTARY: This Lenten season, try to focus on your daily effort to live for Christ. Make this Lent special by offering up your sacrifices for world peace and the opening of the hardened hearts in our society.

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This year’s Lent is critically important for all Christians. If we look around at our society and our world, an incomprehensible amount of evil is taking place. Years ago, I read an article in which the author said, “The devil is working overtime to devour souls.” Well, if that was the case, he is on double overtime today. 

We are facing many obstacles that reject Christianity. Today, we face extreme terrorism, and ISIS directly affects us as Christians because we are the target. In my state, Alabama, they are now issuing marriage licenses to homosexual unions, even though 75% of the population voted against it. Immorality is seen everywhere, from our television sets to printed publications and the Internet, and even so-called Christians are flocking to view it. The devil has truly entered the hearts and minds of good people. Here’s a rule of thumb to remember: If you wouldn’t view it with Jesus present, then you shouldn’t view it at all.

We as a society have fallen so far from our Christian values that if we don’t start making a change, things will get worse before they get better. As Christians, we can start today, with the start of Lent.

Let us begin by looking at the cross. If we can imagine the scene of the Crucifixion, we see Jesus, the Good Thief and the Bad Thief. In the center is Jesus, the just judge, and on one side of him is goodness, and on the other side is evil. This is symbolic for our world today. 

Which side of the cross are you on?  We must understand that the Good Thief was still a thief, a sinner just like us.  He converted almost instantly, as often happens to people on their deathbeds. When they encounter that tiny open window of grace, and their souls are touched, they realize that hope is not in this world, but in God, through Jesus Christ. They develop a greater understanding of life and death. Whether we are good or bad, we cannot escape the cross, and how we live with our daily cross is what matters most. Luke 9:23 says, “Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my footsteps.”

When we commit sin, we turn our backs on God. If we die with sin for which we do not repent, we forever turn our backs on him, and our souls are lost. You may think that you are not worthy of forgiveness, but look at who he has forgiven. He forgave Peter, who denied him three times, and gave him the keys to the Church. He forgave the woman in Luke 7:36-50, a terrible sinner, and told her to go and sin no more. And he even forgave those who crucified him (Luke 23:34).
As Pope Francis likes to remind us, no one is beyond God’s forgiveness and mercy.

If we abandon sin, we can begin to live in the state of grace. What does grace do for us? It builds up the barrier against sin. How do we obtain this grace? By repenting our sins through the sacrament of confession, striving daily not to sin, and doing penance during the Lenten season. Pope John the XXIII said:

“Doing penance for one’s sins is a first step towards obtaining forgiveness and winning eternal salvation. That is the clear and explicit teaching of Christ, and no one can fail to see how justified and how right the Catholic Church has always been in constantly insisting on this. She is the spokesman for her divine Redeemer. No individual Christian can grow in perfection, nor can Christianity gain in vigor, except it be on the basis of penance.”

The hardness of hearts within our society must change if we are to change society. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta said:

“Lent is the time for greater love; listen to Jesus’ thirst. … Repent and believe, Jesus tells us. What are we to repent? Our indifference, our hardness of hearts. He knows your weakness. He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you.”   

Jesus truly wants us to love him and open up our hearts to him.

This Lenten season, try to focus on your daily effort to live for Christ. Make this Lent special by offering up your sacrifices for world peace and the opening of the hardened hearts in our society. In order to change society, we need to first change ourselves and develop a deeper faith, while obtaining more knowledge, doing penance and making frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament. We must also find ourselves in the confessional more, and participating more often at Mass. If we do this, we continue to build the barrier against sin by obtaining the grace that will sustain us this Lent and beyond, especially in this Year of Mercy. The floodgates of grace have been open to us these next 40 days; let us take good advantage, this Lent, for the betterment of all.

I will end with this quote from Bishop Sheen:

“We can think of Lent as a time to eradicate evil or cultivate virtue, a time to pull up weeds or to plant good seeds. Which is better is clear, for the Christian ideal is always positive rather than negative. A person is great not by the ferocity of his hatred of evil, but by the intensity of his love for God. Asceticism and mortification are not the ends of a Christian life; they are only the means. The end is charity. Penance merely makes an opening in our ego in which the Light of God can pour. As we deflate ourselves, God fills us. And it is God’s arrival that is the important event.”


John Preiss is president of Fatima Family Apostolate International.