First of all, what we do should be done in humility. Jesus instructed us to pray in secret and to not be like the Pharisees who wanted to be seen praying on the street corners (Matt 6:5), and who “widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels” (Matt 23:5) in order to appear holier than they actually were. The only public witness we need to give to what we are doing is our actions of kindness, compassion and mercy which will speak for themselves.
And that is the beauty of Lent: it is not about what we do, it is about who we do it with. We do our practices to grow in generosity and kindness. This helps us to cleanse from sin, but it also helps us to focus away from ourselves and toward those around us. We go to Reconciliation to take away all that which comes between us and God, and so we may obtain the graces we need in order to be better able to love. We do not go to Reconciliation because we fear punishment. We go so that we might love better. We do not give up meat (or whatever is equivalent for those who regularly forgo meat) simply to be healthier, to aid the environment, or to follow a 'silly rule,’ for that matter. Instead we do it to make a sacrifice which reminds us of who we are, of our desire and attempt to grow in holiness, and to refocus our priorities. Giving up meat is something we have to be intentional about and so it helps to focus our attention on our other Lenten practices, too. It is not the meat deprivation that is significant; rather, it is the process of growing in holiness as part of a community, the Body of Christ, which is deeply important.
Let us allow God to walk with us through our Lenten observance. Let us allow Him to put His heart within us, replacing our stony hearts with ‘natural hearts.’ A natural heart is the heart He originally intended for us. It is a heart that allows itself to be opened up to seeing our own flaws, not feeling guilty, but desiring for His sake to be better. It is a heart that yearns to love as He loves. It is a heart which recognizes just how much we have been given, is filled with gratitude, and in gratitude desires to share that love through good works. The good news is that we do not have to work at our observances alone. Our natural heart is a work in progress, given by God, who wants us to have the joy of knowing the depth of His love for us. Therefore Let us persevere in our Lenten practices, knowing that we do not go it alone.
©Michele L. Catanese
The first photo is mine. It was taken in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I chose it because of the sense of solitude that I experienced at that spot. It was a spot that felt like it was "in secret" as a place of quiet prayer and reflection.
Next is a photo I took of a photo of St. Thérèse of Lisieux: it was part of a permanent display at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.
The third photo is of Fr. William Hart McNichols as he took part in Las Posadas at Nuestra Señora de San Juan de Los Lagos Capilla in Talpa, NM. While it is an Advent photo, I chose it because of the gentle leadership and relationship which is apparent between Fr. Bill and the young 'St. Joseph' seen walking with him. They are leading each other; that is, they are part of the community, together in prayer.
Next is an icon written by Fr. Bill McNichols, mentioned above. It is called San Jose en el Rio Grande. I am aware that St. Joseph's feast is next week, but I feel that one can never say enough about this wonderful saint. He is the humblest of all saints, (in my opinion), because he had the task of being the guide to manhood for Jesus, though in reality not really His father, but a type of foster father. As in the above photo of Fr. Bill and the young boy seeming to guide each other, so too are St. Joseph and Jesus guiding each other. Should you want to purchase a copy of it, the icon can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/san-jose-en-el-rio-grande-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The last photo is one of mine, taken in North Dakota. It is a sunset over the Badlands.