We should not be surprized that the Church’s Lenten call to penance and self-denial seems so out of step with the aspirations of the secular world. How could it be otherwise? The kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of Christ are not co-extensive. They have vastly different territories, different values, different laws.
In Lent we follow Christ into the desert, into a retreat of deeper prayer and more generous penance. But that solitude is also the place where evil lurks and temptation whispers. In that wilderness we shall experience emptiness and loneliness. We shall feel the cold dry winds of apathy which desiccate our piety and chill our fervour.
We shall hear the enticing blandishments of sweet reason, urging us to embrace polite moderation, not to take life so seriously, not to be so intense. We shall hear the Devil whispering to us: Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t be so extreme. Take it easy. Give yourself a break. After all, it’s meant to be all about joy…
We are free to choose our Lenten penances as we think best. If you are not sure what to do, one might suggest the following.
The situation in the Vineyard is now so serious that it might perhaps be sufficient penance simply to accept, in the spirit of Gethsemane, the persecutions which the Master is currently permitting us to endure.
It certainly is a penance to try and accept without anger the fact that the Lord could permit the present mess to have come about. However, to admit with sober honesty the plain fact of the chaos must surely strengthen our resolve to pray all the more fervently for its healing. Libera nos, Domine.