As Lent 2022 begins, it is no coincidence that the Gospel passage for the Sunday preceding our collective entry into the desert of penance is one of the most challenging in all of Scripture.

In the sixth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus famously calls on His disciples to “love your enemies and do good to them — turn the other cheek — give to everyone who asks of you — do to others as you would have them do to you — forgive and you will be forgiven.” Jesus expresses a beautiful ideal, but is this really possible for the average person? The world is filled with such selfishness, hatred and division that it seems wholly unrealistic, impossible and impractical to pose such a radically different way of life than what seems to be the norm.

And yet, God can not be limited to our notions of what is realistic, possible or practical. God’s ways are not our ways and wants nothing more for us than to enter into his Divine Trinitarian Life by becoming like Him. Would it not be cruel and manipulative if our Lord commanded something that was unattainable for us? In God’s reality, it really is possible to live as we are called. However, if we attempt to trust in our own power to do so, we are doomed to fail. Relying on God’s grace, His free gift of love, is the only way we can live as we are called.

To live as God has called us must start with humility. This is the foundational virtue that makes all other virtues possible. When considering humility, I am reminded of what a former pastor of mine from Chicago used to say: “99.9 percent of what God does in my life is to remind me that He is God and I am not!” That is a pretty good starting point. I am not the center of the universe. God is. I did not make myself. God did. When I think the world revolves around me, or that I can solve any problem on my own, I lack true humility and am doomed to fail. Humility is not self-loathing, it is the source of true confidence that any good I do is because I accept the grace of the almighty Creator of the Universe Who sustains all life and existence. 

With a firm foundation of humility in place, we can begin to live as we are called to live by Christ. The recognition of the role we play within the drama of our families, communities and the Church comes into sharper focus. We are not isolated individuals. We are creatures made for relationships, and the commands of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel are all social in nature. As Christians, we have a special role to play in the healing of our racial, political, ideology and class divisions because we are made for community. God, after all, is a community of persons. As Christians, we simply can’t participate in what has become the common societal practice of condemnation. As followers of Jesus, we must be witnesses of Mercy within our communities. As Jesus says, our very Salvation depends on it!

As we journey through Lent, opportunities for God’s grace abound. And yet this grace is not just for ourselves. It is a gift to be shared by giving without counting the cost, letting go of a grudge, forgiving a slight or reaching out to offer forgiveness from someone who has wronged us. 

Perhaps it is a moment to ask forgiveness as well. Does this seem impossible? With God, nothing is impossible, and this Lent, prayer, fasting and almsgiving are graces that will help us to realize that it truly is possible to live the Christian life that God desires for us. 

Anchor columnist Peter Shaughnessy is president/principal of Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth. He resides in Fairhaven with his wife, Anabela Vasconcelos Shaughnessy (Class of ’94), and their four children: Luke (Class of ’24), Emilia (Class of ’25), Dominic (Class of ’27) and Clare (Class of ’30).