Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Great Lenten Dilemma

In this time of Lent, in the Year of the faith, we renew our commitment to the process of conversion, to overcoming the tendency to close in on ourselves and instead, to making room for God, looking at our daily reality with His eyes. The alternative between being wrapped up in our egoism and being open to the love of God and others, we could say corresponds to the alternatives to the temptations of Jesus: the alternative, that is, between human power and love of the Cross, between a redemption seen only in material well-being and redemption as the work of God, to whom we give primacy in our lives. Conversion means not closing in on ourselves in the pursuit of success, prestige, position, but making sure that each and every day, in the small things, truth, faith in God and love become most important.

General Audience, February 13, 2013

Reflection – Once again Pope Benedict in a few words lays out a whole program of life, a whole concise and very deep understanding of what we are to do and what it is all about. He truly does have an extraordinary gift for that kind of thing. (Can you tell that I’m really really going to miss him?)

This is the whole business of Lent, though, and we really need to get clear about it. To reduce Lent to ‘giving up chocolates (except on Sunday! And feast days! And… when I’m really desperate!!) is to reduce Lent to something of little if any spiritual value.

It’s not about giving up. We do give up stuff in Lent, but the giving up is only so as to open up, to make room, to get ourselves moving God-ward and out of ourselves.

We make ourselves a bit uncomfortable, a bit hungry, a bit unsatisfied with the fare of life. This is not so we can enjoy some ridiculous triumph of the will (‘40 days without potato chips! I am like unto a god!’), but so that we go looking Elsewhere for life.

Conversion – that is the whole point of Lent. Conversion away from self-centredness, materialism, concern with success or prestige or wealth. Conversion away from gluttony, avarice, sloth, pride, envy, anger, lust—the seven deadlies that all conspire to close us in on ourselves and offer us myriad paths to life which in truth lead nowhere but the graveyard.

In Lent in Madonna House, we pray each day at the end of Lauds the ancient Lenten prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian. At the end of each petition, we prostrate before the Lord, expressing our deep humility and contrition and desire to change. This is the prayer:

O Lord, Master of my life, grant that I may not be infected with the spirit of slothfulness and faintheartedness, with the spirit of ambition and vain talking.

Grant instead to me your servant a spirit of purity and humility, a spirit of patience and love.

O Lord and King, bestow upon me the grace of being aware of my sins, and of not judging my brother. For you are blessed forever and ever. Amen.

There is a reason why this prayer is so prominent in the Christian East. It expresses perfectly what Pope Benedict captures of the true Lenten spirit. And it really does all come down to Jesus in the desert, the voice of the tempter and the response of Love Incarnate, and our entry into that mystery. Do we place God first, or ourselves first? Do we turn to God in humble supplication for everything, or charge along living from our own power and lights? Do we simply make Christ the center of our lives, or our own desires and agendae the center of our lives?
These are the Lenten questions, the great Lenten dilemma, the Lenten choice. Really, the choice of all our days, no matter what the season, but in Lent we are called to confront it all a bit more intensely. Why? So we can welcome the gift of God at Easter more deeply, rejoice with our brothers and sisters being baptized all around the world with greater exutation, and ourselves receive this eternally new life of God more fully, so that we can bear it into the world which needs it so terribly.

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