All from the admirable Dom Prosper Gueranger's work, The Liturgical Year (Volume V—Lent). "Let, then, the children of the Church courageously practice the lenten practices of penance."
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The observance of Lent is the very badge of Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of the cross of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should mankind grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God's glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe. [Pope Benedict XIV, 1741]
The word of God is unmistakable: unless we do penance, we shall perish. But if our ease-loving and sensual generation were to return, like the Ninivites, to the long-neglected way of penance and expiation, who knows but that the arm of God, which is already raised to strike us, may give us blessing and not chastisement?
Where there is little or no fear of having to penance ourselves for sin, there is so much less the restraint to keep us from committing it.
Let us, therefore, look beyond the little world which surrounds us, and see how the whole Christian universe is, at this very time, offering this forty days' penance as a sacrifice of propitiation to the offended Majesty of God; and let us hope that, as in the case of the Ninivites, He will mercifully accept this year's offering of our atonement, and pardon us our sins.
[L]et us now learn, from the liturgy, in what light the Church views her children during these forty days. She considers them as an immense army, fighting day and night against their spiritual enemies. We remember how, on Ash Wednesday, she calls Lent a Christian warfare. In order that we may have that newness of life, which will make us worthy to sing once more our Alleluia, we must conquer our three enemies: the devil, the flesh, and the world. We are fellow combatants with our Jesus, for He too submits to the triple temptation, suggested to Him by Satan in person. Therefore, we must have on our armour, and watch unceasingly.
As we read these sublime passages of the Scripture, we shall naturally think upon our own sins, and on what easy terms they were pardoned us; whereas, had we lived in other times, we should have probably been put through the ordeal of a public and severe penance. This will excite us to fervor, for we shall remember that, whatever changes the indulgence of the Church may lead her to make in her discipline, the justice of our God is ever the same. We shall find in all this an additional motive for offering to His divine Majesty the sacrifice of a contrite heart, and we shall go through our penances with that cheerful eagerness, which the conviction of our deserving much severer ones always brings with it.
During these forty days of penance, which seem so long to our poor nature, we shall not be deprived of the company of our Jesus... He loves us with a brother's love; and seeing that the season for doing penance has begun, He comes to cheer us on by His presence and His own example. We are going to spend forty days in fasting and abstinence: Jesus, who is innocence itself, goes through the same penance... We are going to think over our past sins, and bewail them in bitter grief: Jesus suffers for them and weeps over them in the silence of the desert, as though He Himself had committed them.
Thus does our Savior go before us on the holy path of Lent. He has borne all its fatigues and hardships, that so we, when called upon to tread the narrow way of our lenten penance, might have His example to silence the excuses, and sophisms, and repugnances, of self-love and pride. The lesson is here too plainly given not to be understood; the law of doing penance for sin is here too clearly shown, and we cannot plead ignorance... Let us not harden our hearts to this invitation [to penance], lest there be fulfilled in us the terrible threat contained in those other words of our Redeemer: 'Unless you do penance, you shall perish.'
[I]t is the soul which gives reality to penance... The soul then, must be resolved to give up every sin; she must heartily grieve over those she has committed; she must hate sin; she must shun the occasion of sin... The Christian should, therefore, during Lent, study to excite himself to this repentance of heart, and look upon it as the essential foundation of all his lenten exercises. Nevertheless, he must remember that this spiritual penance would be a mere delusion, were he not to practice mortification of the body. Let him study the example given him by his Savior, who grieves indeed, and weeps over our sins; but He also expiates them by His bodily sufferings... the repentance of our heart will not be accepted by God, unless it be accompanied by fasting and abstinence.
Is it not sad to hear people giving such a reason as this for their not fasting or abstaining—because they feel them? Surely, they forget that the very aim of fasting and abstinence is to make these bodies of sin suffer and feel.
[T]he observance of Lent is an essential mark of Catholicity...
If a slight inconvenience deter us from doing this penance, how shall we ever make expiation for our sins? for expiation is essentially painful to nature.
Let, then, the children of the Church courageously practice the lenten practices of penance. Peace of conscience is essential to Christian life; and yet it is promised to none but truly penitent souls.
Let them remember the solemn warning given them by the Holy Ghost in the sacred Scriptures: 'Be not without fear about sin forgiven'! Our confidence of our having been forgiven should be in proportion to the change or conversion of our heart; the greater our present detestation of our past sins and the more earnest our desire to do penance for them for the rest of our lives, the better founded is our confidence that they have been pardoned. 'Man knoweth not,' as the same holy Volume assures us, 'whether he be worthy of love or of hatred'; but he that keeps up within him the spirit of penance, has every reason to hope that God loves him.