Thursday, April 4, 2013
What Has Lent Taught You?
Many of us started out Lent with some resolutions, things we wished to do during Lent. I commented here that for some of us those resolutions were no more firm than New Year’s Eve resolutions --- quickly forgotten. But Lent is different, in that New Year’s Day is one day, gone and quickly forgotten, while Lent goes on for six weeks --- and we hear reminders of it over and over again, even in the secular media. And if we DID make any resolutions (or felt guilty that we should have), we many have been guilted into at least making some minor effort at keeping them. Hence, the reason for the question in this title: Did you benefit from your resolutions?
I’m no different than any other man; I made resolutions intending to please God. In the front of my mind, I wanted to grow in ways to please Him more (after all, he DID die for me), while in the back of my mind was the ever present: and I hope to gain something for myself. I’m no different than any other man; I want to make myself happy. I tried to do things for God, but I was trying to do things for myself also. And so now that Lent is over, I think it is a fair question for me to ask myself: Just what did I get out of Lent? Did Lent, and my resolutions (kept or not) make any difference in me, my thinking, my actions? Am I happier?
I invite you to ask yourself the same questions.
The effects of our Lenten actions could have been short term or one time, such as I went to mass one morning (or even, good grief, confession!), or maybe I prayed once for a deceased love one. These results would be good --- even a little step toward holiness is a step forward. We can’t beat ourselves up over how fast we are approaching God; you can’t run until you take that first step. And even just thinking about him is a good thing; some day when we really need to have his closeness, we may recall that thought we once had. No effort at growing close to him is a wasted effort. But perhaps Lent brought you some bigger impact in your life, perhaps some more longer-lasting impact.
Okay, me first. I’ll tell you about what changed for me.
Well, I was reasonably honest in keeping my Lenten resolutions. I kept the radio off in the car, and I didn’t read any novels for entertainment (except for that one Catholic novel), and I did find benefits from these actions. I did think more in the car; perhaps some of the blog posts I wrote were a result of thoughts begun while I rode down dark roads. And a totally unexpected result is my resolve to evangelize every day (in a small way): the gold chain and crucifix which has hung around my neck for many years (a gift from a good friend), I now wear outside my shirt, visible to all I pass or all who might glance at me. At least a few conversations have already started because of this small thing, and perhaps God is doing other things I am not aware of. This was a good result of my Lenten resolutions. But I think the greatest result was from some of the books I DID read during Lent.
During Lent, I read and studied the Bible and read various books by Catholic authors, but a strange thing happened as I read: All the book authors seemed to know each other. I mean, it seemed to me, somewhat strangely, that what I read in one book was almost immediately re-enforced by something I read in another. In one book I’d read about A and B, and then I’d pick up a second book and almost immediately I’d read words that said: Do you realize that A plus B equals C? I saw these relations between totally un-related books and authors who wrote their words decades apart. But I saw that they all made sense. And they all seemed to point to a key learning which was impressed in my heart: We are important.
Now I know you are saying: “Big deal --- it took you long enough, stupid,” but I’d ask you to read my words again. I didn’t say I just learned we are important, I said it was impressed in my heart. There are many things my brain knows, but I still lack wisdom about them. I suspect most men are that way, both the very learned and the very stupid. Many may act out of human emotions, but not nearly as many act out of spiritual emotions. We think about many things; we study scientific relations; we find out how material things work. Not nearly as often do we discover why they work as they do, giving them real meaning.
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A car is going down the road, when suddenly it veers to the right, goes off the road and hits a tree, killing the driver, and then it rolls over a couple of times down a hill and lands atop a school bus, killing 50 children. A person gets out of bed one morning and half awake butters some bread and puts it in the toaster and heads to the shower, and a short time later the toast catches fire, causing the curtains to flame, which quickly causes the whole house to burn down, killing three old people in their sleep. A woman to ensure the safety of her baby has some “routine tests” done during her pregnancy, and the doctor tells her that there is a 99% chance her baby will have Down’s Syndrome and encourages an abortion, which she has done. All three of these events are tragedies, but most people look at them differently.
For the deaths from the car and the toaster, there will be investigations. The tragic results will cause investigators to ask: Why? For the car, maybe it was failed brakes; maybe it was faulty steering; maybe it was a combination of mechanical and human failures. For the toaster, maybe it was a lack of instructions on how it should be used; maybe it was set too high; maybe the wiring shorted causing excessive heat; maybe it was a combination of mechanical and human failures. In asking “why” these devices failed one thing will assuredly be in the conclusions: this is not how these things were meant to operate. They were not made to cause damage to others --- or to themselves. And yet they did. That is the result, and it was the result which triggered the investigation.
As a result of the investigations, it is hoped that perhaps the devices can be treated better in the future so that they that they function as they were meant to function. Perhaps new warnings need to be given on their operation. Perhaps new training of the people who use them should begin. And perhaps the investigative results will enable fewer accidents and deaths to happen in the future --- and enable fewer cars and toasters to have to be repaired or be replaced.
The reasons the above investigations were because one thing, not operating as it was designed to do, caused damage to itself ---- and even more damage to others. It was the extensive damage to others which caused to investigation to proceed with all seriousness, and the results to matter --- they were widely published and resulted in changes to reduce such damages in the future. The example of the woman having an abortion has all the tragic results of the car or toaster accidents, but we don’t see it, and so we don’t investigate it, and so the people doing the damage --- and the resulting damage to many others --- are not investigated. And so the damages continue to go on. And our society is heavily damaged, and many are dying needless deaths and incurring needless suffering.
This Lent, that last example was impressed in my heart, from a knowledge about abortion, a knowledge about Christian morality, a knowledge about the sufferings of post-abortive women, a knowledge about how our society is in moral decline --- from all these things, I proceeded from a knowledge to a deep knowing in my being, about the value of being, about the value of man.
I said I learned that we are important. That may have not sounded like such an earth-shattering statement. We all have knowledge of that, and when it comes to ourselves, we have a strong passion about that: I AM IMPORTANT!! That’s all well and good, my friends, for truly each of us is. But what we know is only “knowledge” until we can answer the question: WHY? I, you, we, can’t answer any questions about abortion or any other moral failing, about why “my truth about that matter is any more real than your truth” until we can arrive at a basis for discussion of any questions about man: Just what is man, and, like the car or the toaster, how was he MADE to function? How can we discuss what is going wrong with a man --- if indeed something is going wrong --- unless we know how he was designed to work. For example, until we understand the design and the intent of the designer, we are only assuming that all cars are not meant to veer to the right and crash into trees, and that all toasters are not meant to catch fire. It may be “my truth” that they are meant to do that ---- it happens too often would be my evidence --- and until we can agree on what they were designed to do, what is the essence of their being, we may not be able to agree if they are functioning properly.
That is what I was led to consider and take into my heart this Lent. At the heart of all my readings, from the Bible to works of saints or would-be-saints, I saw the common thread which linked them in my heart. Everything they were saying that man should do or say, was pointing --- and sometimes overtly saying --- to a “why” it should be so. All men have a tendency to love themselves, but WHY love others is a key question. What in man makes that so essential? It almost doesn’t seem natural. I can even construct Christian-sounding arguments about the importance of me getting ME to heaven --- it can sound like I should make ME number one in everything. But --- why should I love you? Why should I think you are so important? Why should I stifle those whispers urging me to think of myself first? Why?
The thing which impressed in my heart this Lent was that I and you are equal in the eyes of God. And, made in his image, we should be equal in the eyes of each other. And we should love each other even as he loves each of us. And that is so hard. All my human inclinations and knowledge say some of you are not as intelligent as I am, not as caring about God and his ways as I am, not as important as I am. And yet I also know that some of who I would judge this way can look at me and say: he is not as wise in the ways of the world and loving his neighbor as I am, and he does not see God in the begger --- like me --- as I do, and he is only self-important because he has so much and doesn’t have to think about himself and his needs, as I do.
It is so easy to look at ourselves first. Everyone does. It is easy to say this is a fault --- in others --- to point at some of our political leaders and so clearly see that their actions are only done for votes, only done to gain a “surrogate love,” only done as from a narcissistic personality which only cares about themselves, but we are not so far from the same. This Lent, I saw so many actions, words, examples of the message: “I do this for love”. I do this TO love. I do this because that is the way I was made to be, the way I was meant to do.
And finally I got it.
I know what I wrote here won’t make any difference to most people. I know that what I “received” during Lent was a gift, and perhaps it is not given to many. Certainly I know that it cannot be taught; it is not a message I can convey to you. Perhaps even I will look back on these words some day, and my heart will have gone cold, will have forgotten the depth of the meaning I now feel. Someone once wrote that if you are not progressing in holiness, you are regressing. I’ve certainly seen that to be true in my life.
But for now, I have a certain peace in my heart. I don’t think I’ve described it here worth a darn, but that doesn’t mean it is not present. How can you describe the essence of a being, what it was created to be? That is only for God to know.
But I am at peace with him.
This is what Lent has taught me. What has it taught you?
Peace be to you. Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? (Mt 24: 36:38)