If you are hoping to have an impactful Lent, the best place to start is in the heart.
Lent is a beautiful season in the Church, but it can be tempting to only do external things, such as fasting, without looking at our own heart to see where we need to grow. While we shouldn’t neglect such praiseworthy actions, anything we do during Lent should be informed by a contrite heart.
As the Psalmist writes, “My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn” (Psalm 51:19).
St. Claude de la Colombière similarly exhorted his followers in a series of homilies to begin Lent by looking inside ourselves.
Let us then take advantage of this Lent to reflect upon our sins. In addition to the motives for sorrow that Jesus had, we have the very sorrow and sufferings of Jesus Christ, and surely these ought to inspire us with compunction.
It’s important to think regularly about our sins and failures. This helps us keep a proper perspective on life as well as to work zealously in our efforts to practice virtue instead of vice.
Colombière reflects, “’My sin is always before me.’ What right have I to expect that men should honor me, I who dishonor God, I who have disgraced myself? It is just to give to every one that which is due to him; have I observed this rule with regard to God?”
At the same time, we shouldn’t let our sins cripple us into scrupulosity. We need to strike a healthy balance between self-knowledge and a firm belief in God’s mercy. He can wipe away all our sins and help us start again. This is done most powerfully through the sacrament of confession.
One effective way to remind ourselves of our sins and to encourage us to repent of them, is to reflect daily on the sufferings of Jesus Christ. He took upon the cross for our sakes and bore the weight of our sins. His love for us should be motivation enough to change our ways and follow him.
As a final exhortation, Colombière urges us on in our efforts of interior renewal.
Come then, my soul, let us endeavour this Lent to excite in ourselves the true sentiments of penitence. Let us continually keep before our eyes what Jesus suffered for our sins, and the sins for which He suffered.