Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lent: Our Journey to the Heart of it All

For once, I might have started well. Or at very least started in the right direction. This time I truly sought the Lord to help me and did not, wait until I realized I, “needed His help,” or at the point at which I was beyond help.  Most of the time I do not approach these matters in the proper order...thanks God! I need to keep the following verse ever in front of me.

John 15:5 (RSVCE)5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Lent has often been a somewhat difficult time for me because I begin really really wanting to “fully embrace” this time but end up finding myself less than satisfied with the ways I’ve chosen to celebrate this glorious penitential season. Like many, in the past I have chosen to rely on certain, “don’ts” instead of adding meaningful “do’s.” I’ve actually come to the point in recent years where I make a conscious effort to try and “add the right things” as opposed to simply, “not doing the wrong things.”  This year Our Lord has truly given me greater clarity than ever before (because I asked and He is faithful) and I’d like to share some ideas with you. I’ll think you’ll find my suggestions simple; uncomplicated. Yet I believe they will at very least aid you in drawing nearer to Our Lord.  There would be no other reason to keep reading.

First Things First

Consider viewing this Lenten journey through the TELOScope.  The Greek word, “Telos” means: “ultimate goal, ultimate end, purpose, aim”  Therefore, begin with the end in mind.  Consider this very Lent in terms of your ultimate goal in life.  And, though there are many ways to break down how our ultimate end can be expressed~ consider the following verse as a sort of “ultimate” according to Jesus Christ:

Mark 12:28-34 (RSVCE)28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; 33 and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any question.

Our telos is to love Our Lord above all things and to love our neighbor as our ourselves.  This is the ultimate aim of this life.  So consider putting on the above passage as your “lens” through which to view any practices you might choose to take on and certain “not good” things you’d like to be rid of. (Side note: It is important to recognize here that a person can’t really rid themselves of a “bad habit” until they have something greater to replace it with.)  These considerations follow a pattern presented by Jesus Christ, “All your heart, soul, mind and strength.”

Consideration #1: All Your Heart

To the Ancients, “Heart” was not considered primarily in physical terms as an organ which aides in pushing blood through the human body.  Their understanding centered on the heart being the center of the person. The thing that would move the rest of the body. Baker’s Theological Dictionary defines heart as: “a person's center for both physical and emotional-intellectual-moral activities.” We could, in a sense, stop here and not go on to even consider the following, “soul, mind and body/strength” as the word “heart” covers most everything having to do with a person.

This Lent consider how you might better receive the Lord’s Heart more fully into your own. Prayer is the beginning of this pursuit. Here I would encourage what is often called, “Mental Prayer: Click to Learn More” If you do pray already, consider praying more this Lent that you typically do.  If you have no “typical” consider setting aside a particular time (or amount of time) during the day.  Consider this time to be a matter of life and death...something you wouldn’t miss for anything.  Of course, with the understanding that you may need to relinquish your desires...AND it is important to stay open to the “other plans” Our Lord might have for you. In other words, don’t be militant about this time...but almost.  And, let the primary focus be, for all of the Lent, “Lord, give me Your heart...for my own life and for the lives of others...that I many know You Lord still more...that I may love You Lord still more.”  Nobody has ever gone wrong with this approach.  In fact, it is really a time-tested approach to prayer to desire to pray and to enter prayer desiring Our Lord to “take it from there.”  Distractions will come and go but the important thing is that you’ve made yourself available and you understand the Lord has called you to Himself.

1 Samuel 16:7 (RSVCE)7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Consideration #2: All Your Soul (Here we can also say “Spirit”)

Think here of, “life-breath, Spirit, feelings, desires, affections”  A strong distinction need not be made between soul/spirit and heart in most cases. But for our purposes here, though we see a person as a “whole” in general, it might be useful to consider your own breath...your own breathing.  I’m not advocating Hinduism or Zen practices here...these have very different “ends” which are certainly not compatible with Christian practice. Apply your own breathing with lungs and air and place yourself before the Lord and say, “with every breath I will praise Our Lord.”  What might this look like on a practical level?  We’ve mentioned prayer and it’s absolute necessity.  Consider here, how you might more actively praise Our Lord.  Praise is a tremendously powerful action as it can stir us toward acts of love and good deeds.  In a sense, through praise, we are filled with God Himself.  “Clothed with power from on high.” We can become, “people of praise.”  Here I’m also thinking about:

Psalm 150:6 (RSVCE)Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Consider as you walk, move, run, dance that, as Bryan Adams once “said” “(Everything I do) I Do it for You: Listen to the Song” This song was intended as a mere, “Love song” and yet it has deep connotations of God’s love for us “search your your soul...when you find me there you’ll search no more…” Naturally all romantic love (and other categories of love) are from God.  So consider the song (and even the images from the video) as a way of understanding how our “everything” should be Our Lord and we can search Him and find Him in, “everything we do.” Of course, Our Lord loves us even more than Kevin Costner loved his co-star...but you get the point...maybe like a flaming arrow point.

Consideration #3 All Your Mind

Again, I do not want to create unnecessary distinctions between, “Heart, Soul and Mind” but for our purposes here I’m considering, “Mind” as that which is your conscious awareness, patterns of thought which can lead us toward right action. Consider the following verses in this light:

Philippians 4:6-9 (RSVCE)
6 Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.

Very simply, seek to saturate your mind with things that raise the mind (and also the heart) toward, “things above.” Here I think of the importance of “Praying through the Scriptures” and not simply reading them but taking the time to let them penetrate our hearts, souls and minds. A specific way of entering in to this kind of “reading-prayer” is called, “Lectio Divina” or in English, “Divine Reading.” Lectio Divina Explained Many people have taken this approach already and not really even noticed.  Yet to pursue this kind of reading of Holy Scripture (or even some other good, solid Spiritual book...if you want suggestions just contact me.) This kind of “soaking our minds in the Word of God is a way of, “putting on Christ.”  It is a way for us to be “washed in the water of the Word” and to have our outlook~the way we view things~our vision of life~ completely changed for the better. The saying, “You are what you eat” certainly has physical truth behind it.  Even more does it have Spiritual ramifications!  What you “put in” is what will “come out.” St. Paul encouraged us:

Colossians 3:1-3 (RSVCE)
3 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

Consideration #4 All Your Strength/Body

“For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” This certainly rings true again regarding, “Strength” and “Body.” From the biblical view strength and body are almost synonymous...almost.  We could say, in a way, these two are different sides of the same coin.  When you see “Strength and Body” you can think, “Wealth and Self.”  What you are able to physically do, perform and how you act in your body (physical self) produces that which is there to take proper care or your self and that is…wealth.  Here, “wealthy” does not apply in terms of abundant riches/money.  What is meant is that each person has a certain “wealth” meaning what you possess in yourself and in your belongings.  Each person also has a certain bodily “health” which is a form of wealth.  So before this gets more confusing that it already has the main point is: We have been baptized and our lives are no longer our own but are to be given fully and completely for Our Lord.  This means that nice house you, “earned” is only on loan...just as your current (or possibly former) degree of bodily health is on loan from God.  Again, here, we want to be able to say, “Everything I do...I do it for YOU!”  We are accountable for everything.  Again, St. Paul’s attitude is a perfect of what it means to love the Lord with all our strength:

Philippians 1:19-26
19 Yes, and I shall rejoice. For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Considering this in “Lenten Fashion” with our Telos in mind we can conclude that fasting, abstinence and giving alms are good and certainly reasonable.  In our pursuit of Christ it IS NOT true that, “It’s the thought that counts.”  No!  Jesus Christ did not call us to follow Him only with our minds but also with our paychecks!  With our hands, feet and everything else between our heads and our toes.  Everything. (again cue Bryan Adams...thanks, quite by accident, Mr. Adams!)  Yes, kind thoughts and words are worth a great deal.  But consider the following from the epistle of St. James:

James 1:19-27
19 Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, 20 for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.26 If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Here I want to recall the words of Pope Francis who was recently asked to give an answer as to what people should, “give up for Lent?”  He answered: “Indifference! (Click to read more).” A short quote from his teaching, “God is not indifferent to our world; he so loves it that he gave his Son for our salvation.”  He gave Himself, entirely, in body...pouring out all the divine riches at His disposal.

Philippians 2:2-11 (RSVCE)
2 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

By fulfilling the above, by the grace of God, we are certainly more oriented toward the command, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is true.  By seeking the Lord in Prayer, Praise, Spiritual Reading and Action (Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength/Body) we would truly experience “Lent’s Intent.”  Many programs and formulas exist and many are good.  But to take Lent as an opportunity to truly “hit the reset button on life” can have lasting, even eternal, consequences.  Really, for Catholics, the ultimate place to find Our Lord is in The Holy Eucharist and we should seek to receive Him often in this way during Lent.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:  

#1324 The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life." "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself."

Spend some time before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Ask Him to lead you home to His heart. Amen.

St. Therese of Liseux, Pray for us!

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