Atonement or chocolate?


Lent is about to begin and many of us are thinking about what we want to give up. Here is the irony of it all. Some people give up chocolate. In fact, chocolate is the most common Lenten sacrifice, followed by dessert.
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Let’s take this in baby steps. The whole idea of Lent is that it is a time of atonement. Now let’s get this straight. We sin against purity, honesty, loyalty, charity, faith, justice, detachment and many other things and virtues. Then we try to atone for all of this by giving up Hershey’s Kisses or ice-cream and apple pie? Sometimes we have to ask ourselves whether our Lenten sacrifices are somewhat presumptuous. We hope to atone for a multitude of sins with a few candy bars and some dessert; if we remember, we abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent.

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“My merit is God’s mercy.” -St. Bernard

Fortunately for us, God’s mercy far exceeds our foolishness. We often forget that Lent is a time of penance. Penance means atonement and conversion of manners.

We can never atone for our sins on our own. For this reason Lent culminates in Passion week, when Christ enters Jerusalem to be executed for our sins. Only the perfect man can offer the perfect act of atonement.

Our Lenten sacrifices must be offered with the ultimate sacrifice that Christ offered. During Lent we must be able to answer several questions with honesty.

1. Whether I am giving up chocolate or something else that I like, am I aware that I must also give up a specific sin? The external sacrifice is only a reminder of what we have to change. It does little good to give up a goody that we like while continuing to fall into the same sin.

2. If I add extra prayer or an extra mass to my weekly schedule do I take the time to meditate on the sin that I am trying to atone? Or do I offer the mass and prayers without much thought to what I have to change? The purpose of the extra mass and prayers is to bring us closer to God and draw us farther away from sin.

3. Finally, do I remember that Lent is to the Church what novitiate is to religious formation? During Lent I take a closer look at what needs improvement in my life and I work toward a conversion of manners. That is, a change in how I live my life with God and neighbor.

One cannot enter Lent with heart and soul without acknowledging one’s sins and the Passion of Christ, which restored to man the necessary graces to change and become like Adam before the Fall. If we ignore sin and the fact that we are sinners, Lent becomes just another tradition that leads nowhere. If we recognize sin, the Cross, and our need for a conversion of manners, Lent becomes a season of extraordinary grace.

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The Perfect Joy of Saint Francis

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