As we enter the back half of Lent, I’m posting a reflection I wrote for our Lumen group on the night before Ash Wednesday. Good time to go back to those resolutions we made then, and re-commit ourselves to finishing strong….
In our busy and hectic lives, it’s often easy to develop bad habits and/or to fall into doing things that as a minimum have a big opportunity cost in terms of improving our relationships with the people that matter most: our family and wives, and God. The Church gives us Lent not to torture us or make us miserable, but rather to make us better. Better in self-control (necessary for fasting); better in speaking to, and listening to, the voice of God (key to prayer); and better in Christian charity (the root of almsgiving.) So rather than pick a Lenten resolution out of thin air, better to pick a resolution in each of the three areas that addresses a particular weakness that we’ve been struggling with. With God’s help, we can all exit Lent and enter Easter a little bit better followers of Christ from the new habits we build on in Lent.
Self mastery is a process, not an end point. Rembrandt’s “Aristotle with the Bust of Homer” depicts Aristotle (or maybe one of us) choosing between virtue and the “good life.” Interestingly, Rembrandt paints his face in such a way that the viewer can’t figure out which choice he’s about to make. As I’ve studied this painting over the years, I’ve come to realize that this is actually Rembrandt’s point. A life of virtue is a struggle. Every day, we are confronted with decisions for virtue, or not. It’s why we need to use Lent to tune up our skills in self-mastery; virtue is not an end point we just get to and are finished, but it’s a lifelong struggle. One we can only hope to win with help from our God and his grace.
Prayer requires silence. The painting of Elijah at the cave spoke to us of the need for silence to hear God’s voice. Too often, we are expecting him to announce himself with a bolt of lightning, or a dramatic event or tragedy where he can show his stuff. Other times, we drown him out because we are so busy talking, telling him what we need and what he should do. To hear God’s voice, we need, like Elijah at the cave, to settle down, find a quiet place, and just listen.
Charity requires digging deep. The painting of the Good Samaritan gave an example of charity that resonates. The Good Samaritan helped the roadside traveler to a degree that was well beyond a minor inconvenience; it took great personal risk, a lot of physical and emotional strain, a good deal of time, and yes, a blank check in terms of money. This was not a simple quick and easy check-off of the “charitable box” for the day; this was a total giving of self. That’s the kind of love we need to practice this lent.
Resolution: Each of us will develop our own resolutions for Lent that will help us address some of the weaknesses or bad habits that we need to get better in. As a group, we all agreed to listen more in prayer, and specifically, to spend 5 minutes each day completely silent, listening for the voice of God. A good way to get better at this is to read a Scripture reading for the day and then silently listen for what God is telling us in that reading for the next 5 minutes.
March 1, 2022