Some thoughts on Lent (revised from last year)
As Christians, Lent gives us a wonderful opportunity to examine who we are as a person, to examine what motivates us as a person and to examine our deepest desires and those actions that we do which lead us away from God and away from our neighbour. Lent is about waking up and smelling the coffee as the American’s would say. Lent is about being honest with ourselves, it is about examining what our predominant fault or faults are.
If you don’t yet know what your predominant fault is, ask your best friend and if they won’t tell you for fear of being impolite or of offending you, well the friendship is not as deep as you thought. Good honest friends will be open and honest and they won’t mind politely telling you what your predominant fault is. The other way to find out what your predominant faults are is to look at the people you hang around with most of the time. When I taught in London I would always say to students and to parents for that matter, if you want to know who you are, or what your son or daughter is like, well look at the people you or they are hanging around with!
We are all sinners, we all have a predominant fault and none of us is perfect. Lent is a time to look at all of these things to inspire a change, an awareness and even conversion, so that at the end of this journey of 40 days and 40 nights we are somehow changed, just as Jesus was changed when he came out of the tomb on Easter Day!
So some things to ponder over:
Do you spend too much time of your free time on your smart phone or social media platforms? Imagine what your Spiritual life would be like if you spent the same time in prayer each day. Give up social media for Lent and pray more! Or as Thomas Merton would say: “Christians should have quiet homes, throw out the television, if necessary – not everybody –but those who take that sort of thing seriously.” Thomas Merton would certainly have extended this to smart phones and ipads if they had existed in his lifetime.
Do you moan all the time or join in with those who moan all the time and become a toxic clique as a result? If you moan all the time you lack charity and you put people off wanting to be with you, that’s why moaners always form a clique as no one else wants to be with them. Stop moaning! Or as Cardinal Robert Sarah would say: “It is difficult to find a pious person, who at the same time, talks a lot.”
Are you a ‘can-do’ or a ‘can’t do’ Catholic? Is your automatic response when asked to volunteer for something in the church a resounding ‘No I can’t do that’ when really it should be ‘Yes I can help with that.’ Or as Pope Benedict Emeritus would say: “Through volunteering we become visible instruments of his love in a world that still profoundly yearns for that love amid the poverty, loneliness, marginalization and ignorance we see all around us.”
Do you gossip too much and do you hang around with gossips? Catholic communities can be gossip hotbeds and it drives people away from the church. If you are prone to gossip why not practice the ministry of the bitten tongue this Lent or stop hanging around with other gossips. Don’t gossip! Or as St Dorotheus would say: “Beware of gossip because it causes pious thoughts and meditation on God to flee.”
Are you someone who is always complaining about others, or always writing to complain whilst failing to remove the plank in your own eye? Do you think you are somehow perfect and above everyone? Jesus says: “let anyone among you who is without sin throw the first stone…’ can you honestly be the first person to throw that stone? Stop complaining! Or as St Ephrem says: “Speak much with God but little with men.”
Do you think you are too good and holy to go to confession or are you afraid to go to confessions? The Church recommends you go once a year, so when did you last go and when did you last make a thorough examination of your conscience or do you think you are above all that? Make a good and Holy confession this Lent and be free from your sin! Or as Pope Francis would say: “Do not be afraid of Confession! One who is in line to confess himself feels all these things - even shame - but then, when he finishes confessing, he leaves free, great, beautiful, forgiven, happy. And this is the beauty of Confession... Jesus is there...and He receives you with so much love.”
Do you have a particular vice – of which there are many but they have as their root what we call the seven deadly sins – pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. What can you do to stop? Or as St Ephrem of Syria would say: “Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises us to heaven.”
I could go on and on, but it gives you an idea of what Lent is about. It is a time to repent, to say sorry to God and to our neighbour and it is a time of real conversion and change, change for the better, a chance for us to come closer to God and closer to holiness, by taking the plank out of our own eye and to see clearly who we are as a person and how God may well see us when the time comes for us to be judged. Yes, God is a loving God, but he is also going to judge us at the end of time or at the moment of our death, whichever comes sooner!
So shine the light of faith on those dark areas of your life where the Devil is trying to tempt you away from God and away from the promised land of Christ’s redemption on the cross. Don’t let your selfish desires, temptations or the devil lead you off the Christian path to salvation and to God. Repent and believe in the Gospel! The Good News that Jesus came to save us and redeem us!
A Happy Lent to you all, Fr Ross