Newsletter n°69 (14 February 2018)
Today is the beginning of Lent. This is the time to decide which efforts we’re going to make over the next 40 days. Newsletters n°64 and n°65 reminded us that the first sacrifices to make are those which we do not choose. But the last newsletter also reminded us that the little seers added voluntary penances to everyday sacrifices. If we want to imitate them, we can’t avoid doing as they did. And Lent is the appropriate time for this.
But why is it useful for us to do voluntary penances? Is not the offering of everyday sacrifices enough, because that is what Our Lord asked for? We mustn’t forget that our nature was wounded by original sin and that this weakened our will. Therefore, we have to exercise our will to make it stronger. Because accepting everyday sacrifices, those we do not choose, sometimes demands unfailing willpower. For example, which one of us has never found it difficult to put up, patiently, with someone annoying, whether it be a friend, a relative, a manager or a subordinate? So, we have to exercise our willpower to cope with ordeals like these. This is why we have to train like an athlete; if we don’t, then when faced with an ordeal, we’ll give in.
These voluntary penances can worry us, because we often think of severe mortifications. This is a mistake. Sister Lucia wrote to Mgr. Ferreira on the 28th of February 1943: “Lots of people apply the idea of great austerity to the word “penance”, and as they neither feel the strength nor the generosity for this, they are discouraged and succumb to a life of tepidity and sin.” And in fact, Our Lady told the little seers that God did not want them to wear their cords during the night. (See previous newsletter.)
We should therefore remain humble in the choice of our penances and avoid choosing something beyond our capabilities, but at the same time not being content to do the minimum. There is a happy medium! To be sure of being in this happy medium, we suggest asking your usual confessor or spiritual advisor for his advice. Whatever it is, we should try to make our choice correspond to what God expects from us.
Which penance should we choose? It’s not necessarily depriving oneself of food, or corporal mortification. Such penances are altogether possible, especially during Lent, but perhaps it is better for our sanctification to choose a sacrifice which counteracts our faults. For example, someone who is often in a bad mood or who easily loses his temper, could resolve to happily put up with an annoyance at least once a day. Another person who is too selfish or too self-absorbed could make himself devote some time to someone in his entourage, etc. We can also limit the amount of time we spend in front of the television or our computers and devote this time to praying a little more. Neither is there anything to stop us from making several little sacrifices rather than one big penance that we have trouble doing.
We should remain humble and not try to make a performance out of it: this is the example given to us by the little seers at Fatima. They don’t necessarily ask us to give our dinner to a poor person, to not drink anything during the day, or to flog ourselves with nettles, but they do ask us to imitate them by adding a little extra effort in offering the sacrifices which we inevitably come across during the accomplishment of our daily duties and in respecting divine law.
Certain people will object that there is no point in imposing penances on oneself if this is not done in a spirit of charity. This is perfectly correct. But it is just as true for the sacrifices we don’t choose. However, penance chosen voluntarily allows us to more clearly engage our willpower and has, for this reason, a particular value. Let’s look at an example which illustrates this point.
The first thing that parents expect from their children is that they obey the instructions given to them for their own good. If a child, as well as being docile and obedient, offers his parents a little gift from time to time, they are profoundly touched. But it wouldn’t be the same if the gift came from a child which was always disobedient and rebellious. It’s much the same for sacrifices. God asks us first of all to respect his laws and to accomplish our daily duties, but He will be touched if, as well as what he asks, we add, by our own free will, a few small, additional efforts. It is because of this that Our Lady, speaking about the cord which they wore around their waists, said to the little seers: “God is pleased with your sacrifices.”
Charity, in all of this, should of course remain the driving force behind our penances. If Sister Lucia received many revelations on the importance of sacrifices, notably those we should offer for the conversion of sinners, there is another holy religious, a contemporary of Sister Lucia, to whom it pleased Heaven to reveal the spirit in which we should make our sacrifices. On the 30th of November 1922 (at the time, Lucia had been a boarder at Asilo de Vilar for a year), at the Convent of the Feuillants at Poitiers, Our Lord confided to Sister Josefa Menendez:
The soul which makes of its life a constant union with my own, glorifies Me and greatly works for the benefit of souls. So, does it do a job which, in itself, has not much value? …. if it bathes this work in my Blood or unites it to the work I did Myself during my mortal life, what fruits there will be for souls! … even greater, perhaps, than if it had preached to the whole world! … And that, whatever it studies, says or writes … whether it sows, sweeps or rests … as long as, firstly, this activity is governed by obedience or duty, and not by whim; secondly, that it is undertaken in intimate union with Myself, covered in my Blood and in a profound intention of purity.
I want so much that souls understand this. It is not the activity, in itself, that has some value, but the intention with which it is performed. When I swept and worked in the workshop at Nazareth, I gave as much glory to my Father as when I preached during my public life.
There are lots of souls who, in the eyes of the world, have a heavy load, and obtain great glory for my Heart, this is true; but I have many hidden souls who, in their humble work, are very useful workers at my Vine, for it is love which moves them, and they know, in bathing their smallest deeds in my Blood, they cover them with supernatural gold.
My love goes so far that, from nothing, my Souls can derive great treasures. When, from morning, uniting with Me, they offer their whole day with the ardent desire that my Heart is in the service of souls … when with love, they do all their duties, hour after hour and minute by minute, what treasures they amass in a day!
And two days later, on the 2nd of December, He added:
I want them [souls] to know ( … ) that perfection consists in doing their common and ordinary activities in intimate union with Me. If they understand that, they can divinize their lives and all their activities by this strong union with my Heart.
It is most extraordinary to see how the two teachings confided to Sister Lucia and to Sister Josefa complement each other. This shows the importance that Heaven attaches to our sacrifices, on condition that we make them with love.
So then, make the most of Lent, which has just begun, to better understand the meaning of the sacrifices asked for, make the efforts that God expects from us, do them for the conversion of sinners and in reparation for the offenses against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and above all, do them in union with Our Lord who asks for this with so much insistence.
In union of prayer in the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Yves de Lassus
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