March 31, 2006

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Building up fortitude in Lent

The fifth Sunday of Lent is coming up. We’ve been journeying through this holy season for several weeks now. And yet, we still have a couple of weeks to go.

This is the time when our Lenten observance might feel like drudgery.

We may have started Lent with bright hopes for self-improvement, for growing in love for God and for our neighbor. But they may have faded a bit before the ever-present temptation toward selfishness.

I say that this might be the case with some of you because I at least know that it is true for me.

So now we’re at the point where we can look back with regret over what might have been and yet find little consolation in the days to come, knowing that Easter is still a couple of weeks away.

Where can grace be found in the midst of unfulfilled promises?

For those of us who have struggled with our Lenten observances this year, an open acknowledgement of our failures might inspire us to ask God to help build up within us the virtue of fortitude.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that fortitude “strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life” (#1808).

Jesus showed perfect fortitude when in his 40 days of fasting in the desert he successfully faced temptations put before him by Satan himself. Surely if we ask him for the gift of fortitude in our own 40 days of Lent, he’ll answer our prayer.

But are we willing to receive what we’ve asked for? Do we really want to resist temptation with the fortitude that grace can build up in us?

I know it is hard for me at times to answer those questions with a straight face.

Lent, then, can be a challenge for us. Do we give in to temptation? Or do we accept God’s grace that will build up perseverance within us?

This challenge of Lent can grow in importance for us when we view it as an image of the life we share with our family.

Parents face many temptations each day. For me, they start as early as my young boys wake up. I like to wake up early and have time to pray or read by myself before my home starts buzzing.

When I’m eating my breakfast and reading a book, I’ll sometimes hear Raphael start to cry or hear the scampering of Michael’s feet coming down the hall. When that happens, I’m faced with a choice.

Do I put my own plans aside and tend to them, letting my wife sleep a little longer? Or will I be selfish and seek her help so I can return to my book?

Thankfully, I can say I often (if not always) rise to the challenge with the help of God’s grace. I show at least a little fortitude in resisting the temptation to fulfill my own desires, however good they might be.

However, there is still room for growth because, while I may give some of my quiet time to my sons, I’m sometimes not a cheerful giver. My grumbling can mean that temptation is still right around the corner.

While having fortitude, even at a minimal level, is a good thing, Lent is a time when we’re given opportunities to live a virtuous life more to the fullness that Jesus has willed for us.

This is where the virtue of faith comes in. Whether it is in our Lenten practices or our life with our family, we are challenged to trust that resisting temptation with fortitude will lead to greater happiness than taking the seemingly easy path of selfishness.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter for The Criterion.) †


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