A Lenten Meditation by Fr. Carter Griffin: Cross/Self-Discipline

A Message on Cross/Self-Discipline
By Fr. Carter Griffin, Director of Priest Formation and Rector of St. John Paul II Seminary
Monday, March 29, 2021

Several years ago I took some seminarians to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. After the visit we chatted with one of the off-duty soldiers whose infantry regiment “walks the mat”, day in and day out, guarding the tomb in weather fair and foul, through blistering heat, ice storms, and hurricanes. A seminarian asked what weather he liked best. “It might surprise you,” the soldier said, “but I think every guard here hopes for inclement weather. It gives us a greater opportunity to give of ourselves.” As far as we could tell, the young man was not particularly religious. Committed to honoring the Unknown Soldier, though, he intuitively and deeply understood the notion of sacrifice. He knew that it is more than self-discipline. It is about giving ourselves in love.

You and I have chosen to make some sacrifices this Lent. Perhaps we are struggling to be faithful to them. That’s okay; pleasant sacrifices aren’t very sacrificial. But if we find ourselves inwardly (or outwardly) grousing about our mortifications, then maybe we can learn a lesson from the young soldier. He looked forward to walking the mat in rough weather because it became, for him, an opportunity to honor the Unknown Soldier. 

So perhaps it’s time to reframe our Lenten practices. If we are doing our prayer, penance, and almsgiving as mere acts of self-discipline, they have probably long grown stale. If we consciously do them in order to express our love for God, however, then they can soon be transformed. They are no longer measures of willpower; they become heartfelt expressions of love. “Sacrifice is difficult,” the old proverb goes, “but love makes it possible and perfect love makes it a joy.” 

So before you make that next Lenten sacrifice, remember to give it a reason. And the best reason is love.
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