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Lent a time to prepare for the trials of Christian life

I can imagine what it was like to be Simon Peter standing by a fire, in a cold courtyard, on a terrifying night. Jesus had been arrested and was being tried in the house of the high priest. I can imagine waiting in the dark, afraid for what would happen next, wondering whether I might be arrested, too. I can imagine the doubt, the uncertainty, the sadness and the anger.

I can imagine the denial of Christ, three times, tumbling from the mouth of Peter, who was suddenly afraid, embarrassed perhaps, and doubting whether Christ was all he claimed to be—fearing more for his own life than for Christ’s.

I can also imagine the sorrow and regret that Peter experienced. The tears shed for the shame at having denied Jesus Christ. Hours before, dining at the Last Supper, Peter promised that he would die before disowning the Lord. At the very first test, he failed.

The great theologian Romano Guardini says that at the last supper, “Peter means what he says. He loves his Master and is ready to die for him. But Jesus looks through this love and sees that it is nothing he can count on.”

When we abandon our Christian commitment in times of difficulty, we demonstrate a need to grow in faith—we demonstrate, perhaps even to ourselves, a greater faith in our own resources than in the plan or providence of God. We cannot express our love for Christ when we do not trust in his providential care for our lives.

No matter how strongly we feel about our Christian faith, or the Church, or Jesus Christ—Peter demonstrated that strong feelings aren’t enough. In the Christian life, we need a faith in God’s plan that influences every decision that we make—no matter how we’re feeling or what difficulties we’re facing. We must place our trust and confidence in the grace our Lord promises.

As Lent begins, all of us should consider whether our love is something Jesus can count on—whether we have faith enough to love him even in fear and doubt, in times of persecution. Lent is a time to consider how our commitment to Christ can be strengthened—how we can find the kind of faith that is reliable even in times of doubt, uncertainty or anger.  During Lent, increased discipline in prayer, sacraments and charity allows God to instill in us an enduring faith in the Father’s providential plan for our lives. Lent, in this Year of Faith, allows us to pray for a deeper faith, asking the Lord to “increase our faith” in Jesus Christ and the Church.

“Lent invites us,” Pope Benedict XVI said last week “…to nourish our faith by careful and extended listening to the word of God and by receiving the sacraments, and at the same time to grow in charity and in love for God and neighbor, not least through the specific practices of fasting, penance and almsgiving.”

When we make our plans for Lent, we should commit to times of prayer—of Mass, adoration, and sacred Scripture. We should plan to pray with our family. We should plan fasts—many of us will fast from television, Facebook, or favorite foods. But we should also plan for real acts of charity. Charity, says the Holy Father, “allows us to open ourselves to God’s love, … allows him to live in us and to bring us to love with him, in him and like him; only then does our faith become truly ‘active through love’ (Gal 5:6); only then does he abide in us.”

We live in a world in which it is ever more difficult to be a Christian. A world in which opportunities to deny Christ are abundant. The trials of Lent are a time to prepare for the real trials of the Christian life. Let us prepare through our commitment to prayer, to sacrifice and to charity. In the discipline of Lent, we abide deeply in Christ no matter how we feel—and he abides deeply, and generously, in us, for he is always faithful to his promises.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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