How to finish Lent strong
In the Gospel reading for the fifth Sunday of Lent, we are told the story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus was teaching the crowds near the temple when the scribes and Pharisees brought to him a woman accused of having an affair. The law of Moses demanded that they stone her, and they asked Jesus what he would do to punish this woman.
Jesus took his finger and wrote in the dirt, then stood up to answer them. "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" (Jn 8:7). He bent down again to write, and when he rose, the crowd had dispersed. Alone with the woman, Jesus said to her, "'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' She replied, 'No one, sir.' Then Jesus said, 'Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin anymore.'"
Generally, when we hear this reading, we see ourselves among the crowd, being told not to judge. Perhaps because we haven't committed adultery ourselves, rarely do we hear this Gospel through the ears of the woman herself.
While Jesus does not admonish her for her actions, the woman does not get away scot-free. The Son of God telling her to go and "not sin anymore" is more than a slap on the wrist. It is nothing short of a challenge to convert fully to the will of God.
During Lent and beyond, this is our challenge, too. It is why we are called in a special way over these 40 days to strengthen the pillars of the Christian life: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Knowing this, it is why we often head into Lent with a plan to withhold something from ourselves that gives us pleasure. Among other things, Lent is an opportunity to make us stronger in our ability to master temptation.
But perfection is not attainable this side of heaven. As this editorial board wrote at the beginning of Lent: "Too often, our only criteria for gauging whether Lent has been successful is whether we've eaten that piece of chocolate or checked our Facebook feed. Worse, once we've broken our fast, we act as though we've failed Lent and there is no longer a reason to walk through the desert."
While you might not have achieved what you set out to do, Lent isn't necessarily about succeeding; it's about trying. While you might feel guilty for having broken a particular fast and given into temptation, the fact that you considered whether you were pleasing God is, in and of itself, pleasing to God.
And here's the best part: Lent isn't over. There is still time to prepare ourselves for Holy Week and Easter — to better understand how Christ's ultimate sacrifice on Good Friday has paved the way for our salvation on Easter Sunday. Whether you return to social media or decide to eat that piece of chocolate, it is not too late to make this a productive and spiritually fulfilling Lent. Here are a few ideas to help you finish strong:
— Make time for Stations of the Cross. There is no better way to immerse yourself in the cruel and unimaginable suffering Christ went through than by meditating on the 14 stations of Christ's passion. It puts into perspective the sacrifice Jesus made to save us from sin and death.
— Perform the corporal works of mercy. In meeting the needs of others, we are fulfilling the Gospel call to care for the least of our brothers. Too often in our Lenten journey, we focus solely on our own suffering and ignore the suffering of others.
— Embrace the beautiful liturgies of Holy Week. From the Chrism Mass where the holy oils are blessed, to the feast of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, to the veneration of the cross on Good Friday and, finally, the unbridled celebration of Christ's resurrection at the Easter Vigil Mass, each of these unique and holy liturgies allows us to see the love and mercy Christ has for each of us.
— Dedicate yourself to prayer. Grow closer to God by conversing with him throughout the day, sharing with Him your joys and your struggles. Pray for your friends and family, that they, too, are near God. Pray to Mary and the saints and ask them to bring your intentions to Christ.
There are more ways, of course, to reengage this Lent — to walk closely with Christ. Let us not fall asleep, as the apostles did in the Garden of Gethsemane. Instead, let us prepare ourselves, as best we can, with Easter on the horizon, to go and sin no more.
"How to finish Lent strong," was originally published online March 22 by Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newsweekly based in Huntington, Indiana. It was written by the editorial board.