Devotional: Let’s talk about the jewel of Lent

Published 1:02 am Friday, February 10, 2023

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In Padua, Italy, in the late 16th century, university students would sometimes wander the streets after dark, and for entertainment, accost strangers and demand their names. Uncooperative victims would not be harmed, but the hooligans would fire a shot into the sky to lend an air of danger and adventure to their carousings. 

Well, one dark night, a lad fired the warning shot to scare an unaccommodating stranger, but things went awry, and the worst happened: the victim was accidentally killed. Stricken with shock at his own deed, the panicked young man ran through the streets to the only haven nearby, the house of one of his friends. Breathlessly, he confessed to his friend’s mother his awful deed. She swiftly concealed him from the authorities that were sure to follow shortly. Later that night, her son’s body was brought to her house, and when she learned that he had been shot and killed in the streets, the dreadful truth dawned upon her. When the criminal himself learned that he had shot his own friend, in whose house he was concealed, he was horrified. His sole comfort was that the only thing greater than his shame was, astonishingly, the mother’s mercy and forgiveness towards her son’s killer.

The season of Lent is nearly upon us and the day this story was related to me, I realized it fit hand-in-glove with a simple quote I had found that morning: “This is what Lent is for: to work on virtue, especially the virtue of love.”  

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For Christians, Lent is the forty-day period of fasting and sacrificing in preparation for Easter.  In this we follow the example of Jesus’ forty-day fast in the desert and His words, “Unless you do penance, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

Ultimately, any good works we perform during Lent are only helpful insofar as they set us further along the path to love (although usually not in so dramatic a situation as we read of in the story!). Lent is certainly not about doing something to prove to ourselves, others, or God that we are good people. For instance, Catholics are required to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. This abstinence is not so much about the meat itself as about the fact that giving it up is an admission that our own desires are secondary to the desires of God.

Just submitting to that penance opens our hearts a little bit to His love, so that Christ may increase, and we may decrease (John 3:30). The love of the mother who forgave her son’s murderer puts a magnifying glass on the jewel of Lent, which is the love of Christ. In practice, that means putting His will and His love, not our own feelings, at the center of our lives, notwithstanding that “the hardest mystery we are called on to believe, when everything is against it, is that God does love us.”

Brother Max