An Examination of Conscience for Lent
When we look at the Suffering Servant, we see someone who spent time allowing God to form him. We see someone who allowed God to search his heart and purify him of all that kept him from fulfilling his calling. Consequently, he came to grasp Gods intention for his life and for his people. He was able to accept his role in Gods plan. He was even able to embrace his sufferings, because he had caught a glimpse of the glorious outcome God had designed!
We find it a challenge to spend time this Lent examining our consciences. There are so many reasons: Were too busy to spend so much time looking inward. We have done it so many times before that now it feels like a rote exercise. Were uncomfortable being under the microscope, trying to uncover all the rules weve broken.
But if we let these reasons stop us from spending time with God, we risk missing out on the greatest fruit of Confession: the freedom to reach the fullness of Gods intention for us! As we spend the time contemplating Gods glory and asking the Holy Spirit to search us and examine us, God will form our character. When we see how passionately God loves us, we wont want to tolerate the sins that keep us from him or his plans for us. Instead, we will find ourselves thinking more like Jesus and choosing to do whatever it takes to follow him.
This Lent, lets say Yes, Lord! to all that God wants to do in our lives. Through the examination of conscience suggested below, lets ask the Holy Spirit to help us clear away any obstacles to living fully the life God has planned for us!
Love of God.
Have I loved God above all else, or have I allowed other things money, popularity, image, successto motivate me and have primary place in my heart?
Are there areas in my life that I am holding back from God? Secret parts I dont want to expose to his light and his love?
Have I been faithful in my commitment to prayer and reading Scripture, to nourish my relationship with God?
Have I been faithful in honoring the Lord on the Sabbath?
Have I shown disrespect for Gods name by misusing it in anger or frustration? By hesitating to mention God in appropriate situations? Have I avoided revealing my faith in certain situations?
Love of Neighbor.
Is there anyone of whom I need to ask forgiveness? Is there anyone I need to forgive?
Have I yielded to anger and spoken hurtful or damaging words? Am I praying for those I consider enemies?
Do I strive for mercy and compassion, or do I hold others to an unreasonably high standard?
Do I envy others lives or material possessions? Have I taken what is not rightfully mine?
Have I cheated or lied? Have I sought to protect my reputation at the expense of others?
Do I gossip? Have I failed to keep a secret that should have been confidential?
Have I engaged in sexual immorality? Have I tried to control my thoughts or given in to fantasies or lust? Have I treated others as objects and not persons valued by God?
Do I love the poor and do what I can to help, even if it means sacrifice on my part?
BY HIS STRIPES, WE ARE HEALED.
From Lent to Easter
No matter what were going through, Jesus is with us.
A philosopher once said, The world is full of suffering, but it is also full of people overcoming it. Suffering is an inescapable part of life. Whether it involves the minor bumps and bruises of daily living or deep traumas like terminal illness, sudden widowhood, or a nasty divorce, suffering touches all of our lives.
We can see the impact that horrible diseases can have on people. We can see how drug and alcohol abuse, compulsive gambling, and other addictions can place crushing burdens on families. We can see how typhoons, floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters can wipe out whole communities of people. Whenever we hear about calamities like these, we are filled with compassion and sadness for what people are going through.
We see another kind of suffering that comes from broken relationships between husbands and wives, between parents and children, and between friends or people at work. These inner wounds can hurt as much as any physical illness. They can even wear on us enough that we begin to feel sick.
Whether our suffering is the result of a physical illness, natural disasters, or inner struggles, one principle remains constant: Jesus sees our suffering. He is filled with compassion for us and is always ready to pour his grace over us. He longs to see us healed and restored.
A Suffering God? While he lived on earth, Jesus was a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity (Isaiah 53:3). But now that he is in heaven, does he still suffer? In a sense, yes. His sorrows no longer concern beatings, thorns, and nails. They are no longer about his inner battles against the devil or temptation. Now, Jesus suffers over us. He suffers over our problems and challenges. He hurts when he sees us hurting. He is always with us, holding us close and even weeping with us when we weep. He is forever offering us the comfort of his presence and strength.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus really has taken up our infirmities and carried our diseases. He really was wounded for our transgressions, and by his bruises, we can be healed (Isaiah 53:3,4). During each day of Lent, the Holy Spirit wants to show us that no infirmityfrom the smallest cough to the body completely ravaged by diseaseand no ini-quityfrom the smallest fib to the gravest of sinis outside of Jesus compassion and concern. No matter what we may face, Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant, wants to come to our aid. What better time than Lent to ask Jesus to come and minister to our sufferings, our wounds, and our sorrows?
Cry Out to the Lord! When Jesus walked the earth, he heard blind men call out, and he had compassion on them (Matthew 20:31). When lepers called out to him, Jesus healed them (Luke 17:1-14). When the father of a demon-possessed boy called out, Jesus had compassion and delivered him (Mark 9:24-27). All these people believed in the power of petition. They asked Jesus for healing because they believed that he had the power to make them whole.
We too must follow this path. Parents need to pray that their children be protected from sin. Husbands and wives need to pray that the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage will protect them so that their love for each other will always supercede whatever family problems or personal challenges they may be facing. Parishioners need to pray that God will bring back those who have left the church. Prayer like this works. We should all feel free to turn to the Lord and ask, seek, and knockno matter what our need (Matthew 7:8). We should all believe that God our Father will not give us a stone when we ask for bread or a snake when we ask for fish (7:9).
All Things Means All Things. Yet just as much as Scripture tells us to pray and intercede, it also encourages us to find joy and contentment whether we are healthy or ill, whether our lives are carefree or marked by struggles. For instance, St. Paul told the Thessalonians: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). James told his readers, Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy (James 1:2).
Does it really mean all situations? Even if I have cancer? Yes, all situations. What about if a hurricane demolishes our home? Yes, all situations. Even if my husband or wife decides to leave me? Yes, all situations. What about when a grievous sin is involved? Yes, all situations. As demandingand even illogicalas this may sound, this is Gods vision and his desire for his people. Why? Because he wants us all to be convinced, just as the Suffering Servant was, that God has a perfect plan. He wants us to be convinced that all things, even sickness and sin, work together for good for those who love him.
So during this time of Lent, lets try to learn how God wants us to live with this paradox of praying for the Lords healing power and at the same time rejoicing in all things. Lets ask the Spirit to teach us how to expect God to heal us, even as we know that suffering and healing, strength and weakness, are all mysteries that only God fully understands.
For some, the demands of this paradox are simply too great. The physical suffering or the emotional pain is just too burdensome. If thats the way it is for you, just do the best you can. Jesus knows better than any of us that the ideal is not always possible. He knows your heart. He knows that deep inside, you want to be able to live out the ideal, but you just cant do it right now. He knows that in many cases you are doing the best you can simply by trying to let the ideal be a guiding light for you, even if you feel far from obtaining it.
In the final analysis, we dont always know why some people are healed and others are not. We dont always know why some families stay together while others divide. We dont always know why some are repeatedly inflicted with illness and others seem to coast through their lives. We simply dont have all the answers. What we do know is this: In all things God will work for the good (Romans 8:28). He is powerful enough to bring the greatest of goods out of the most painful of evils.
A Silver Lining.In our previous article, we focused on the fourth song of the Suffering Servant. We saw a servant of God who endured intense suffering. We also looked at Jesus and saw the same thing: a marred body, an innocent victim, and a grave injustice. But these verses dont have to apply only to the Suffering Servant and to Jesus. They can describe many people who are suffering today. How many times have you or someone you love gone through a time of difficulty and had thoughts like, Why me? or I shouldnt have to endure this or It hurts so much, I wish I were dead?
But there is a silver lining for those who follow Jesus. If you are trying your best to cope with your situation by praying for healing and at the same time trying to rejoice in the Lord, know that you will be exalted and raised up to glory. This approach to suffering always leads to humility; and humility always leads to holiness and intimacy with Jesus. Just as Jesus passion gave way to the glory of Easter, your suffering will lead to exaltation as well, both in this life and in the life to come.
Come and Drink. Jesus invites those who are suffering, and all of us, to Come. . . . Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift (Revelation 22:17). Come to me, Jesus cries out, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).
Jesus can say these things because he was the perfect Suffering Servant. Having passed through the fires of his own suffering, he has redeemed suffering forever. Having triumphed over sin and having borne the burden of our infirmities, he now reigns in heaven, eager to shower his victory upon any who will follow him.
Yes, we may be called to suffer for our faith. Yes, we may suffer greatly from the pains of life in this world. And yes, we may even suffer because of our own sinfulness. But in each of these situations, we can follow the words of the prophet. We can set our faces like flint, knowing that God is with us and that our cause is in his hands (Isaiah 49:4; 50:7). Every Lent ends with Easter, every death ends in a resurrection, and every challenge has its own triumph. May God bless you this Lent.