“Why do we punish ourselves more than Jesus ever would?” a priest questioned me. “Hmm, pride?” I asked uncertain. “Exactly,” he said.
This challenging question was a well-timed grace. I had resolved that this Lent would be different than any Lent before. I’m going to do better this Lent! Sin less, pray more! But just a few days into Lent I found myself in the confessional murmuring the same tired sins. I had started Lent excited by the challenge of giving things up and growing in my faith.
My error was in over-estimating my abilities to resist sin and under-estimating my need for God’s grace. Put simply, I was depending on my strength rather than God’s. The priest was right: my problem was pride, and the antidote, humility.
St. Augustine, who was no stranger to sin, said that man must be a “beggar before God.” Satan’s favorite sin is pride. He chose pride over obeying God and it’s now his mission to convince us to do the same. If we are standing tall and puffing out our chest surely Satan will see us as easy prey. But what if we got down on our knees this Lent and pleaded with God to help us in the areas we need it the most?
It seems contrary to human nature to do this. When Adam and Eve discovered they were naked they hid in shame. We too want to hide our weaknesses and our brokenness to appear better than we are. Perhaps we think God is waiting for our transgressions, eager to punish us and cut us down to size.
Maybe that’s what Adam and Eve expected. But this is a sad image of God and distorted by a lack of trust. God is a loving Father waiting for us to return to him with his arms wide open. He’s waiting for us to turn to him so he can heal our brokenness and transform us with his light and love.
It is forgiveness and salvation that the Lord offers to us. He took on the punishment of our sins when he chose to cooperate with God’s will and die on the cross. The devil tried to abort Jesus’ mission by tempting him in the desert with the pride of life but Jesus remained faithful.
Every day we are tempted sometimes in small ways, other times bigger ways, to renounce our faith and choose our own will over God’s.
Lent is a beautiful time of testing, encounter and renewal. Like Jesus during his 40 days in the wilderness, we can remain faithful through prayer, fasting and moments of solitude. But without humility, our efforts will be wasted and we will choose our own will again and again.
In the words of St. Augustine, “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”