Why It’s OK to Fail at Lent

We’re less than a week into the Lenten season – and do you already feel like you’re failing at it? Maybe you gave up social media, but you couldn’t resist sneaking a peek a few times. Maybe you gave up sweets, but those donuts in the break room were calling your name. Or maybe you’ve stuck to your Lenten penance, but it’s made you grumpy and exhausted rather than holy and free.

If you feel like you’re already failing at Lent, there’s good news! That might not be a bad thing after all. Fr. John Gordon, a regular Morning Air® contributor recently said, “I think it’s more than okay to fail at Lent. I think it’s actually designed that we fail at Lent.”

To explain what he means by that, Fr. Gordon said, “If we listen to the daily Mass readings in which the church is teaching us, there is this relentless call to conversion, to holiness, to perfection. Quite frankly, it’s exhausting. It’s like running a spiritual marathon and consistently hitting that wall, as runners speak about. How can I turn the other cheek yet again? How can I go the extra mile yet again? How can I forgive this person who’s hurt me yet again? How can I devote more time to the Lord yet again? It is ongoing and ongoing and ongoing.”

Hearing this call to perfection can seem daunting, especially if we find ourselves failing to keep even the relatively small penances we took up during Lent.

Fr. Gordon pointed to the Gospel message of recent weeks, and the theme which has been, “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. The temple that you are is holy. Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. I look at those and I think, ‘Wow, that’s a whole lot more than just giving up chocolate or saying the Rosary.'”

If you’re nodding your head at this and thinking it’s confirmation that you are failing at Lent, and at holiness in general, take heart! Fr. Gordon pointed out that failure is the perfect starting point for a more fruitful Lent and a deeper relationship with Our Lord.

“About halfway through Lent, the liturgy will change,” he said. “In the daily Mass readings the Gospel always come from John. And now it’s presenting the person of Jesus as healer, as savior, as one who walks on water, multiplies the food, raises the dead, and casts out demons. Now you realize that the solution to this failure, this sense of exhaustion, is Jesus Himself, not what we can do, not our devotions or penances. If I could get through Lent with my devotions and penances alone, who needs a Savior? I’m pretty good at this myself.”

“I think I’m supposed to fail at Lent,” Fr. Gordon emphasized. “That is, to recognize the claim that’s being made on me is impossible. It’s exhausting at best. And it just can’t be done. I’m tempted to just give up, and that’s what many people do. But the truth of the matter is, God shows up and says, ‘No, I’m always with you.'”

Listen to the full conversation with Fr. John Gordon below:

Morning Air can be heard weekdays from 6:00 – 9:00 a.m. Eastern/3:00 – 6:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.

Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.