However, there also lies hidden in Lent a very serious and dangerous trick of the devil. The temptation presented by the Father of Lies is to “overdo” the Lenten season. As strange as it may sound, temperance must be exercised in a heroic manner during Lent in relation to penance and sacrifice.
Like a runner at the beginning of a race, at the beginning of Lent we are full of energy and excitement. Our heads are filled with numerous ideas for penance and sacrifice like sugar plumb fairies dancing in our heads. Without honest recognition that the path we are walking leads us to Calvary we will quickly be exhausted and give up many of the ideas we held on Ash Wednesday. The devil tempts us into taking on more sacrifices and more penances and more practices of piety than we can ever really hope to fulfill. Usually, after a strong start we find that we really need to drop a few of the practices we began so eagerly. It is here that the devil returns to accuse us of being weak, being unworthy of Christ, of not being able to carry such a simple cross as this. This accusation can often turn to self-pity or self-hate resulting in the former marathon penitent giving up everything all together.
Some key points to remember as you begin and make your way through Lent:
Saint Josemaria Escriva once said, “The world admires only the spectacular sacrifice, because it does not realize the value of the sacrifice that is hidden and silent.” When you consider the practices that you take on this Lent consider Who you are doing these things for. All our mortifications must be geared toward becoming more like Christ.
It is the small sacrifices that are often the most difficult. It is easy to give up chocolate for Lent but not as easy to give up another tasty treat like gossip. The small, hidden sacrifices are the most difficult because they work on the things most ingrained into our being. The world certainly will not admire the small, hidden sacrifice of giving up gossip but the value of that sacrifice, in the eyes of God, is far greater than foregoing soda or something of that nature.
When “giving up” something for Lent be sure to replace that something. Nature abhors a vacuum and that missing space will quickly be filled with something else. It is up to you to make sure that that sacrifice is filled in with something good. If it is time that is sacrificed, like not watching TV, surfing the Internet, etc., then fill that time with prayer or reading. Sin is often crowded out of our lives by good things. We replace vices with virtues.
Finally, on this walk toward Calvary, you and I, like Jesus, will most likely fall. When we do fall, the devil will rush to our side and begin to whisper in our ear. Remember that discouragement, self-hate, and the like are from Satan and never from God. God is our biggest fan and biggest supporter. He wants us to follow Him and at the same time He wants to be our “Simon of Cyrene” and help us carry the cross. If you fall and fail in your Lenten practices seek to imitate Jesus and get back up and carry on. The struggle ends on Calvary and the reward will come on Easter Sunday.