Patti Armstrong is an award-winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace series. Her latest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families and Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious. She has a B.A. in social work and an M.A. in public administration and worked in both those fields before staying home to work as a freelance writer. Patti and her husband live in North Dakota, where they are still raising the tail end of their 10 children.
A few weeks into Lent, I did some Lenten reading to renew my enthusiasm. By reading Making a Holy Lent by Fr. William Casey, I got more than I was expecting, however. I realized more clearly that Lent is a time to draw deeper into the life of Christ and what it truly means to love God and love our neighbor. His book is full of all-around good Catholic inspiration, but again and again, he focuses on our responsibility to God and our neighbor.
Lent should be a time of increased prayer but, it’s not about asking for things for ourselves or expecting miracles, according to Father Casey. “One of the most important of the spiritual works of mercy is to pray for your neighbors,” he said. “All of us have a serious obligation before God to pray for others especially those most in need of our prayers—the sick the suffering, those who are walking in darkness, and the innocent victims of war, violence, starvation, poverty, persecution, homelessness and injustice, wherever they might be.”
Father Casey reminds us that Our Lady of Fatima said: “Pray, pray very much. Make sacrifices for sinners. Many souls go to hell, because no one is willing to help them with sacrifice.” It is the reason, he said, that when Jesus taught the “Our Father” he told us to, Give us this day our daily bread—we are praying for others as well as ourselves. In a spiritual sense, Father Casey explained that those prayers become our treasures in heaven because the only things God will allow us to take with us to heaven are the things we have given away: our prayers, our time and good works. “What a terrible thing it would be one day to have to stand before God empty-handed!” he said.
Save People From Hell
“Our Lord warned us throughout the Gospel to be watchful,” he said. “We must be on our guard and that means keeping our souls in the state of grace because we never know the day or hour when He will come.” He reminded us that St. Jacinta Marto of Fatima told us: “If men only knew what eternity was, they would amend their lives.”
That warning is not just for us, however, but for those for whom we pray. Mortal sin separates us from God so that should inspire us to pray and fast all the more for unrepentant sinners during Lent and seek to lead them back to God. “We don’t want to give people the disturbing news that mortal sin separates us from Heaven and that Hell is real,” Father Casey said. “We withhold essential parts of God’s truth from His people. We forget that Jesus said to His disciples: ‘Woe to you, when men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets,’ (Luke 6:26).”
He chastised people who do not speak up. “It is never mercy to affirm people in their sins or to remain silent in the face of wrongdoing. That is the most merciless thing that I can think of. And the greatest love of all is concern for your loved one's eternal salvation.” Father Casey explained that our moral obligations are to God and to others. “The Holy Scripture tells us that if we don’t love others, it is impossible to love God.”
What does it mean to love others? It’s not sentimental, according to Father Casey, and it’s not even natural. It’s supernatural and transcends emotions, he explained. It means forgiveness and wanting what is best for another. In marriage, he said it means recognizing that you do not have the right to stop loving your spouse.
“Love is having the courage to tell someone who is close to you who is living a morally bad life, that he or she is going the wrong way and needs to get right with God,” Father Casey said. “The greatest love of all for your neighbor is concern for his or her eternal salvation. The first of the spiritual works of mercy is to admonish the sinner. It is never mercy to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing. To love the sinner does not mean to love the sin as well. Jesus said, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?’ (Matthew 16:26). This is what Christian love is all about.”
And Christian Love is what holiness and thus Lent is about. It’s not about checking off our list of commitments, but of living more deeply our Catholic life which means loving God and loving our neighbor. It’s not easy for most of us to admonish a sinner. But Father Casey’s words are a reminder that failing to speak up is a lack of love for God and our neighbor. It’s not something I want to do. Thus, I will begin with prayer and ask God to lead the way. He loves our neighbor far more than we do so let us ask him to send the Holy Spirit to open hearts and give us the words to lead people closer to him.