In one of my previous CCD (Catholic Christian Doctrine) classes for middle school kids, I instructed them to write down things they would “give up” for God during the season of Lent. Majority of the boys and girls promised the more traditional things such as giving up their ice cream and chocolate cravings, leaving their video games (provided that it would be during school days only for the 40-day period) and doing good things for their school/play mates and for their parents and siblings, among others. But what particularly struck me about was the one-liner meaningful response of one girl: “ I promise to be a good child like Jesus”.
While it was a simple and innocent declaration from a young student, it hit me hard and I wish I could utter the same words, the same Lenten promise as hers, at that point in time. I am not sure if the girl had an inkling of the gravity of what she said and if she had previous knowledge about Jesus teachings on perfection, that is, Christians are called to holiness: “ Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. But what I can say is that the girl had the most meaningful Lenten promise I have encountered in my life. She wants to live a good life, perform good works and follow God’s teachings .
In today’s high-tech and worldy-minded environment, there is a tendency for us to be skeptical on whether or not one can achieve perfection in all things, particularly in the midst of an imperfect and chaotic world. We often reason out the weaknesses of the world we live in and the limitations of our respective beings as the rationale for our failure to achieve perfection or holiness. However it may seem unfeasible, we chanced upon people who are considered “la crème de la creme”, “cream of the crop”, or the “best of the best” in their respective fields who have intense desire and using the best of their abilities to achieve the best at everything.
Given the above premise that if one can aim high and hit the mark in one instance, how can another not be able to strive and achieve in another instance, say, for holiness? One would ask: Is it really possible for us to live a holy life in the midst of the world? God’s command to us is simple: to love Him and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. What makes it complex is the surroundings and how we view and prioritize things. I believe that if there is a strong intent and conscious effort to re-frame one’s life, the road to holiness would not be remote. As one saying goes, there is nothing impossible with God. If we pray to Him and we put more focus on his teachings, the probability of being able to reach the goal of holiness may be high. It may take not only a grain of mustard seed to do it though but a courageous soul to fight the numerous temptations and challenges in this world.
The seasons of Lent remind us about the passion and death of Jesus Christ for mankind. It is during these times that we are enjoined to offer more sacrifices, penance, prayers and good works, which basically lead us to a holy and dignified life. The earlier Lenten promise of my CCD student provides the perspective that from a child’s point of view, emulating the works of Jesus may be easy after all! Come to think of it! If we faithfully try turning away from sins, if we are more selfless and aware of the needs of others particularly those in dire need, perhaps it would be a joyful and stress-free environment, both spiritually and emotionally.
God would not mind if our journey to striving holiness is still in a work-in- progress. He is aware of our frailties and infirmities, as such, He would be always there to forgive and lift us up whenever we fall. The Holy Spirit should be our guide in our quest for the right path if and when we decide to transform our lives. He serves as the fortress in pulling down our enemy strongholds and the comforter in bad times. The holy men and women who are now in Heaven used to have their own “scars” in their early years on earth. But when they decided to be holy, there were no “ifs” and “buts”, no turning around. All it takes was a firm conviction on their part to accept God’s invitation to do good.
During this time of Lent, let us strive to at least take the “baby step” towards living a holy life. By doing small things, little by little, and if done with sincerity and a heart filled with love, that is tantamount to doing great things in the eyes of God. Pope Francis stated that during Lent, God does not need the chocolate, candy, and other trivial things we give up (maybe for kids it could be the start). Rather, he needs us to look deep within ourselves and reflect on what truly matters in life. The Holy Father in one of his new documents (“Evangelii Gaudium”), encourages us to live holy lives in the wake of our conversions and to radiate the joy, love and peace in our hearts to others. That is precisely what the Saints did when they were on earth. It may not be easy though but as Christians, we have the capacity of doing this too!
As the 40 days of Lent is on our way, I hope and pray that we may have a meaningful Lenten promise, a promise that would challenge us to reach our spiritual common core where we will be allowed to live with God forever in Heaven!