Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Lenten Progress Report

I was distracted from my prayer again this morning, not an unusual event to be sure. Sometimes I wonder why it is even called “our life”, when it seems that others butt in so often that we never have any peace.

That choir practicing and laughing before mass while I try to pray; the children bickering and joking at the dinner table --- that time for “quiet” family sharing; the loud television blaring commercials as I stop at the 7-11 for coffee; and noisy phone conversations in the aisle next to me in the supermarket, or in the cubicle next to me at work --- these are all distractions of our times of quiet, peace, and concentration. They are all distractions to that time we need with or thoughts, and perhaps with our God?

The sudden screaming of the ambulance siren, and I look up from my reverie to see it close behind -- is this another one of my thoughts being disturbed? No, that one is easy to see and understand: Which is more important, my peace or the life of the person who may be dying, delayed by my inattention? With that one, I was reminded that there is a proper priority of things. My instinctive irritation, however, demonstrated that I generally think myself more important than others; my peace is more important than anyone else’s concerns. That’s my priority. This type of instinctive reaction is something which I, which we, need to overcome. In my praying of the Litany of Humility each day this Lent, I am reminded of this.

The litany prayer asks not only that I become less, less desired, less consulted, and less wronged, but also that I desire and do not fear these things happening --- and therefore that I not become irritated when they do. These things, these affronts to my instinctive image of myself as being more important than others, I am praying for that instinctive image to change. That commandment about loving your neighbor means, as hundreds of saints have tried to explain to us, that we put our neighbor first, and when we can do THAT instinctively, then we will truly be loving our neighbor.

It’s a hard thing to do, a difficult habit to form, to make it an instinctive reaction to believe that others, in all the disturbing things they do, should be reacted to with concern and love, not irritation.

Fortunately, after breezing through my prayers this morning (but not really feeling what I was reading, being too distracted with my concerns about me), I picked up my little companion book this Lent, My Other Self. My bookmark sat on the chapter titled: Humility --- my, my, what a coincidence. (That’s very funny, God, very funny.)

Humility does not consist in outward acts; humility is within. It is an interior disposition to know the truth about yourself.
“One has to be content,” said John, “with what has been assigned him by heaven.”
They arrested me, imprisoned me, beat me, mocked me, and spat upon me. How would you respond to such outrages from creatures of yours, whose lives you held in the palm of your hand?

I am your Model.

Pray for humility and I will take you at your word. You will begin to find yourself being misunderstood, passed over, rebuked, perhaps ridiculed. When this happens try to remember to thank me for giving you these precious opportunities to practice meekness, to choke back harsh and indignant words, to refrain from expressing unnecessarily your own opinions or to challenge the opinions others advance.
To be humble will be difficult as you try to control the temptation to be sharp or cross with others.

And suddenly, the pressure will ease. You will find that it has become rather simple to speak little of yourself, to avoid curiosity, to accept correction, not to parade your talents. You will even begin to accept the blame calmly for mishaps of which you are innocent, to take slights smilingly, to be serene in the midst of your clumsiness and blunders. You may be glad when you are ridiculed, rejoicing in your lowliness.
Once you do this, it will be as though a riddle had suddenly solved itself. You will see clearly that humility does not consist in liking humiliations, but only in willing them, in choosing them, perhaps in seeking them, but not at all in liking them. No, my other self, you need not, and you will not, like humiliations. But the more intense your dislike of them, the greater your opportunity to serve me and redeem souls by willing them.

Do not, then, think as you have in the past, “I will be a fool for no one.” Rather say: “Gladly will I be a fool for Christ.”

My praying the Litany of Humility each day during Lent is a good thing, a good reminder, but growth in virtue for any of us cannot be just a scheduled time during the day, but must be a thing lived throughout the day; it needs to become a habit. Our virtues always affect other men, and by ordering our relations with them, we better order our relations with ourselves. And by placing a priority on helping others get to heaven, we help ourselves. It really won’t work the other way, focusing on helping ourselves first --- no matter how much we might wish it so.

(On another matter of Lenten progress, no, I haven't taken down my Christmas tree yet, although my cleaning lady must have spent hours putting away some of my decorations. I guess that's a hint.)

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