I recently heard a Catholic say, “We have enough problems these days – why do we need Lent to suffer even more?” He was serious.
Today, suffering in any form is disdained and seen as unnecessary and unsophisticated. Even in Church circles, there’s the greatest emphasis on mercy, yet scant notice of God’s justice.
Well, not so fast.
St. Ambrose, 4th-century bishop and doctor of the Church who fought early heresies and faith errors, said: “God is displeased not only with the sinner, but also with him who does not punish sin. For if there were more to punish sin, there would be less sin.”
But today it’s fashionable to let things ride, dispense from penalty, even blame the victim instead of the perpetrator.
This is why modernity has become the perfect breeding ground for liberalism, where ‘freedom of choice’ eclipses right and wrong. Liberalism actually denies natural law – which God has inscribed in our hearts. When crime isn’t consistently punished, or parents won’t oppose kids’ sinful choices, or depravity is rewarded … voila! … we get an amoral society without respect for anyone. Especially for God.
Secular liberals exhibit vapid intolerance for any person or scenario which contradicts their credo. Yet their act-outs – like bullying in public those they dislike; demanding the ‘right’ to eliminate preborn or newborn infants; parading unnatural sexual behavior; even intimidating Christians into a sort of public square practical atheism – are lauded as forward-thinking. Many Catholics unwittingly play into this, and recoil at defending God’s law for fear of losing comrades or comfort.
But Christ Himself gave us the key to lasting friendship with Him: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mat 16:24). He asks for our voluntary self-denial in doing His will, in surrendering what we naturally like – our comfort zones – in order to please Him. The very things He requires of us will separate the sheep from the goats. Our own final judgment by Christ won’t be politically correct, but it will be eternally just.
Catholic teaching says that omission of punishment of sin is a participation in its guilt. God forgives sin, but we must redress offenses to Him before we can be admitted to Heaven. Further, our own mortification before Him shows our willingness to surrender our most precious possession – our self-will.
It is for this purpose that we have the gift of Lent. Our sins – those confessed already – must be expiated before God, easier done now. We each owe a personal debt that’s incomplete in satisfaction. In addition, we must re-orient our interior and exterior demeanor to be properly mortified for Heaven.
The late Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. explained it this way.
“Only mortified persons are willing to love God in the patient endurance of whatever crosses He sends them. If we are willing to mortify (“cause death to”) our self-will in this world, we shall gain eternal life in the world to come. On these terms, only mortified people will enter Heaven.”
CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s Editor.