No better time than Lent for reconciliation

I’ve heard several people say they gave up watching the news for Lent. That’s like students saying they plan to give up homework. No one takes them seriously. After all, what’s the point in giving up something that you dislike? It contradicts the purpose of Lent, which is to take a serious look at ourselves and resolve to improve areas that keep us from becoming the person God is calling us to be.

In this regard, Lent offers much food for thought, especially when it comes to changing behavior patterns that impede spiritual growth.

In a recent homily, Pope Francis explained that our interior disposition regarding sorrow for our sins and for the sins of others is a lesson in self-discovery. He noted that if reflecting on our sins and the sins of others causes us to feel sorrow, it brings us closer to God, who is saddened by sin.

If, on the other hand, we become angry when we reflect on our sins and the sins of others, it distances us from God because anger is rooted in pride. It’s that simple.

In a recent conversation, a friend noted that watching the news brings out the worst in him. The attacks and counterattacks that are part of the daily news cycle only fuel his anger, so ignoring it seems the best approach. But is it?

I admit that I experience similar sentiments, reminding me of the words of Pope Francis and Jesus’ teaching about anger.

Our Lord said we are to love our enemies, but who exactly are our enemies? Are they people who look different, believe differently or have different political views? Most of us can’t point to people in our immediate circle that want to kill us or do us bodily harm. But we all have detractors, people who judge us without really understanding us or draw a line that separates us from them.

If we are honest with ourselves, we do the same. Why else would we get angry when we watch the news or see injustice in the world? We become outraged because we think we could never be part of such evil, but not according to Jesus.

In teaching about the commandment “You shall not commit murder,” Jesus said, “What I say to you is: everyone who grows angry with this brother shall be liable to judgment; any man who uses abusive language shall be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and if he holds him in contempt he risks the fires of Gehenna” (Mt 5:22).

If that doesn’t cause us to hang our collective Christian heads in shame, I don’t know what would. This is the reason we need Lent.

Honest self-confrontation is a distinct feature of the season. It reminds us that God desires contrite hearts more than sin offerings, which is the reason parishes offer communal penance services.

While many Catholics take advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation, when compared with the number of people who receive Eucharist on any given Sunday, the number is small. The reason for the disconnect is rooted in the sin of pride.

The tendency to deny our sinfulness, rationalize or blame others is as old as Adam and Eve. Ashamed of their sin, our first parents hid, trying to conceal their nakedness. When they were discovered, Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent.

We do the same when we deny, excuse or minimize the sins we commit and the good we fail to do. When we exonerate ourselves for ignoring the plight of the poor, contributing to injustice and abusing the earth’s resources, we echo the words of Cain, who asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The voices of victims cry out to heaven, and one day we will be held accountable. This should give us pause, causing us to run, not walk, to the sacrament of reconciliation. We all need forgiveness, and the good news is that it’s ours for the asking.

Jesus said we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Instead of getting angry, let’s resolve to pray for those who make our blood boil. It’s hard to stay angry with someone when we are praying for them. Loving our enemies requires supernatural strength, which means we also need to pray for ourselves.

Jesuit Father Chuck Gallagher often told couples on Marriage Encounter weekends that if you’re more than 15 minutes away from prayer, you’re in trouble. I used to think he was exaggerating, but that was when I was young and foolish.

Over the years, however, I’ve learned that prayer is not optional; it’s a matter of survival, and there’s no better reminder to pray than the season of Lent.

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