Thursday, March 02, 2006

keeping a holy lent -- part ii: practice

Lent is for the purpose of our growth in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 3.18). Always keep this in mind. Lent isn’t about the disciplines. The disciplines serve the end of intimacy and communion with the Lord. The discipline is about driving the detritus of sin and distraction out of your heart and thereby making room for grace. So don’t forget that the whole point of Lent is growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord.

There are traditionally five Lenten tools for growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord:

1) Retirement
2) Prayer
3) Fasting
4) Repentance
5) Almsgiving

Retirement serves prayer. Go into your closet and shut the door and pray in secret (Matthew 6.6). It may seem silly even to mention, but nevertheless: it is a great help actually to remember to set aside time every day, preferably in the morning and in the evening, to be by yourself with God. This means going into your bedroom, or some place where you can be undisturbed and alone, closing the door, and praying.

Fasting, again, serves the end of growth in knowledge and love of the Lord. Let’s be honest: one aspect of life in time and space, an aspect, in other words, of being a human in the world, is that we are surrounded by all kinds of other created things. And those things are not bad. We don’t need to go far in the world, though, before we run into trouble. We are after growing in knowledge of the Lord. But we humans get easily overwhelmed by STUFF. And knowledge of STUFF can (and does) distract us from knowledge of the Creator of Stuff. Because our intellects are finite, we cannot hold everything there at once. And the danger is that we forget God by constantly remembering this and that. This is what St. Paul was talking about when he said of those whose minds became darkened that they changed the truth about God into a lie and served the creature rather than the creator (Romans 1.25). The great danger is that we become so attached to the STUFF around us that it becomes our master and our god. Then we are no better than pagan idolaters.

The provenance of idolatry is not pagan antiquity. It is life in space and time. Idolatry is just as much a danger to the 21st century Christian. And this is the point of fasting. We force STUFF out of our lives (whether it be food or television or whatever), and thereby create a space in our consciousness for the grace of God. Let’s face it: while you are gratifying your appetite (whether it be by eating another donut or by watching MTV), you are not praying. That’s a fact.

Repentance is our acknowledgement before God of the above facts: that we HAVE forgotten him, over and over and over again. And one of the chief avenues of our forgetfulness of him is the gratifying of our sinful appetites. We serve the creature rather than the creator, and we do it over and over again, every day, year in, year out. And the fact that our very existence in this world is geared toward this forgetfulness, that the deck is stacked against us because we are surrounded by so many tantalizing distractions, and in some cases we are even genetically predisposed to acquiesce to them (think of alcoholism) -- this fact is original sin: those things about the world which, through no fault of our own, nevertheless seek to trap us and mire us down in sin. This is the fallenness of the world, and we sin without even realizing it. So once we have fasted, forced some particular attachment out of our lives and out of our consciousness, and once we have gone into our room and shut the door, and once we have spoken to God in prayer, it is time to acknowledge our situation to him. This is repentance. To come to God on his own terms, to acknowledge what he knows too well: quia peccavi, that I have sinned.

Almsgiving is about our being not merely a repository of God’s grace, but also its conduit. Think in this regard of the Blessed Virgin. She was indeed “full of grace” (Luke 1.28). But though the grace of God most certainly flowed into Mary it did not merely pool up inside of her. It was not just for her benefit. It was given to her and stayed with her in an intimate and exclusive way for nine months, but then (O then!) it issued forth from her. Then it was given to the world in the most ecstatic and total way. The grace of God flowed through Mary; and some thirty-three years after flowing through her, it was poured out utterly for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2.2).

So once you have made a space in your heart for God’s grace, through retirement, prayer, fasting, and repentance, do something for others. Share something of what God has given you -- and he has given you everything you have -- with your fellow creatures, that they might come to grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord as you have -- and you have.

1 comment:

mmbx said...