There is one means more whereby we are to secure ourselves the great graces of Lent; it is the spirit of retirement and separation from the world. Our ordinary life, such as it is during the rest of the year, should all be made to pay tribute to the holy season of penance; otherwise, the salutary impression produced on us by the holy ceremony of Ash Wednesday will soon be effaced.
The Christian ought, therefore, to forbid himself, during Lent, all the vain amusements,
entertainments, and parties, of the world he lives in. As regards theatres and balls, which are the world in the very height of its power to do harm, no one that calls himself a disciple of Christ should ever be present at them, unless necessity, or the position he holds in society, oblige him to it: but if, from his own free choice, he throws himself amidst such dangers during the present holy season of penance and recollection, he offers an insult to his character, and must needs cease to believe that he has sins to atone for, and a God to propitiate.
The world (we mean that part of it which is Christian) has thrown off all those external indications of mourning and penance, which we read of as being so religiously observed in the ages of faith; let that pass; but there is one thing which can never change: God’s justice, and man’s obligation to appease that justice.
The world may rebel as much as it will against the sentence, but the sentence is irrevocable. ‘Unless you do penance, you shall all perish.’ (Luke 13:3) It is God’s own word. Say, if you will, that few nowadays give ear to it; but for that very reason many are lost.
Those, too, who hear this word, must not forget the warnings given them by our divine Saviour Himself in the Gospel read to us on Sexagesima Sunday. He told us how some of the seed is trodden down by the passers-by, or eaten by the fowls of the air; how some falls on rocky soil, and is parched; and how, again, some is choked by thorns.
Let us be wise, and spare no pains to become that good ground, which not only receives the divine seed, but brings forth a hundredfold for the Easter harvest which is at hand.
An unavoidable feeling will arise in the minds of some of our readers, as they peruse these pages, in which we have endeavoured to embody the spirit of the Church, such as it is expressed, not only in the liturgy, but also in the decrees of Councils and in the writings of the holy fathers. The feeling we allude to is one of regret at not finding, during this period of the liturgical year, the touching and exquisite poetry, which gave such a charm to the forty days of our Christmas solemnity.
First came Septuagesima, throwing its gloomy shade over those enchanting visions of the mystery of Bethlehem; and now we have come into a desert land, with thorns at every step, and no springs of water to refresh us. Let us not complain, however; holy Church knows our true wants, and is intent on supplying them.
Neither must we be surprised at her insisting on a severer preparation for Easter, than for Christmas. At Christmas, we were to approach our Jesus as an Infant; all she put us through then were the Advent exercises, for the mysteries of our Redemption were but beginning.
And of those who went to Jesus’ crib, there were many who, like the poor shepherds of Bethlehem, might be called simple, at least in this sense, that they did not sufficiently realize
either the holiness of their Incarnate God or the misery and guilt of their own conscience.
But now that this Son of the eternal God has entered the path of penance; now that we are about to see Him a victim to every humiliation, and suffering even a death upon a cross, the Church does not spare us; she rouses us from our ignorance and our self-satisfaction.
She bids us strike our breasts, have compunction in our souls, mortify our bodies, because we are sinners. Our whole life ought to be one of penance; fervent souls are ever doing penance: could anything be more just or necessary, than that we should do some penance during these days, when our Jesus is fasting in the desert, and is to die on Calvary?
There is a sentence of our Redeemer, which He spoke to the daughters of Jerusalem on the day of His Passion; let us apply it to ourselves: ‘If in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry? (Luke 23:31)
Oh, what a revelation is here! And yet, by the mercy of Jesus who speaks it, the dry wood may become the green, and so not be burned.
The Church hopes, nay, she is labouring with her whole energy, that this may be; therefore, she bids us bear the yoke; she gives us a Lent.
Let us only courageously tread the way of penance, and the light will gradually beam upon us. If we are now far off from our God by the sins that are upon us, this holy season will be to us what the saints call the purgative life, and will give us that purity which will enable us to see our Lord in the glory of His victory over death.
If, on the contrary, we are already living the illuminative life; if, during the three weeks of Septuagesima, we have bravely sounded the depth of our miseries, our Lent will give us a clearer view of Him who is our light; and if we acknowledged Him as our God when we saw Him as the Babe of Bethlehem, our soul’s eye will not fail to recognize Him in the divine Penitent of the desert, or in the bleeding Victim of Calvary.