Sunday, February 22, 2009
Everyone is writing about Lent, which begins this coming Wednesday, so perhaps I should also jump on this bandwagon. After all, it's been in my thoughts and prayers, too.
As a child, I hated Lent, because Mom always made us give up candy. We never had a choice. She'd let us "think" about it, but really, she just made the decision. The ironic thing; we never really had that much candy, anyway. So it was that we really didn't "get" the lesson Mom intended to give us...that of penitential discipline, for love of God, for conversion.
Canon Law requires that children 14 and older fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstain from meat on all lenten Fridays, but Mom induced that fast when we were 12 (out of her error...she felt really bad about that when she later learned it was 14, not 12.) But it didn't harm us, and really, we DID learn from that in ways we could not articulate.
Even when I had fallen away from the Church, I found that during Lent, somehow, I couldn't eat meat on Fridays. I often gave myself a "dispensation", (invalid!) but whenever I actually considered God, this mysterious abhorrence to meat would overcome me on those days.
So it was that somehow, I marginally practiced my Catholic faith even as the rest of my life was in a shambles. Somehow, God was there, reminding me of Him, especially during this very holy time of year.
All of us are in need of conversion. I LOVE conversion stories, and wrote my own back in 2005, which I recently took down. It needs a massive re-write, and massive editing, but also, I have to address ongoing conversion. Conversion isn't a moment in time; it's forever. Conversion is the process that brings us ever-closer to Our Lord, and I'm constantly on that path - too often going backwards.
Lent helps us reset our compasses, to redirect ourselves towards what is really important. The penitential disciplines aren't about following rules and just "doing stuff"; they have a point. They are supposed to direct us to our true poverty, that being spiritual. We have to understand hunger and in that hunger, know that what we're really missing is God. What we really need is Our Lord.
Each year, I give things up, cut down on things, both sinful excesses and legitimate goods. and each year, I fail, time and time again.
What I've learned most recently is that this constant state of failure reminds me that I can do nothing of myself; it points me toward God's grace. It makes me understand that Jesus HAD to make His Sacrifice because I can't get to Heaven without it. He leads by example, and my pitiful attempts are, in the long run, helping me to grow stronger. Yet I'll never be strong enough to do it on my own.
Today I went over some recent posts, just looking for ideas, and I observed a few patterns. In one post, I looked through the eyes of the Rosary (not expressly stated) at the sacrifice of Christ, how He saw me, how everything He did was personal. Because this is something I struggle to accept, and yet, is so NECESSARY in my relationship with Him, I'm thinking I may take this Lent and pray the Rosary in a new way.
Jesus knew who He was from conception; Jesus always WAS a Divine Person, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is called "pre-existence Christology". I'm not going to write about that right now, however, we need to understand that in His life on earth, Jesus was fully human AND fully Divine. He had the Beatific Vision before him from His very conception, and part of that included us: He saw each and every ONE of us, individually, and died for each and every one of us...personally.
I'm working on my own version of rosary meditations for each Mystery, trying to see myself through Our Lord's eyes in His motivations, recognizing all that He did, all that He said...for me, personally. It's not written, and may never be, but rather, part of a spiritual inventory, part of an ongoing conversation with the lover of my soul, the One who created me...the one who DIED on my behalf.
On the surface, this may seem like a self-centered practice, however, it is not; please allow me to explain:
It goes back to conversion; conversion IS personal, and none of us can convert by judging others and looking for what THEY need. We need to understand what WE need to do to come closer to God. We need to understand that Lent is the time for intense navel-gazing, not for the purpose of Pride...but in order to grow in Humility. The greatest source to inspire humility is the Sacrifice of Christ on our behalf...because we can't save ourselves from our sins, our spiritual impoverishment. If we can come to embrace the reality that Christ suffered and died for us PERSONALLY...we grow in humility. Knowing someone has paid the ultimate price for us NEVER results in Pride...it ALWAYS results in a sense of unworthiness.
And we ARE unworthy.
One of the great fruits of the virtue of Humility is that it ultimately makes us look ONLY to God, it makes us consider what He did for us. And when we can finally see that, we can more easily see Christ in others. In humility, we can decrease so He can increase, and we can learn to see others through the eyes of Our Lord as well.
The Great Commandment, upon which the entire Law is hung, is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself."
We have to love ourselves as Christ loved us, which means following His example - and dying to ourselves. But we can't do that if we don't understand what He did, and that it was personal. That understanding frees us, conforms us to Him, and allows us to act as His hands on this earth.
I've written often of the personal sacrifice of Christ, but I know I'm still in need of conversion, and so it seems I haven't fully internalized the understanding of what He did on Good Friday. This Lent, I hope and pray that He will reveal Himself to me through my own weaknesses, so that I can be better conformed to Him, and through self-knowledge, be finally able to die to myself so that He can live in me and through me...forever.