Ash Wednesday has come and gone, and five days later we are headlong into Lent 2017. This is a time were souls are tested. Catholics and other Christians gird their spirits and seek to restrain the passions of the heart, which is the seat of all sins, for Christ taught us that it is not what goes into a man that defiles him but what comes out (Matthew 15:11). With this simple but profound truth in mind, we bound ourselves to sacrifice for forty days the goods of this world. Though most probably look at this annual tradition with some amount of dread, other more pious souls sense a season of holy opportunity.
Most of us have made (and possibly have broken) our promises already. We have said bye to cookies, candies, and other sweet delights. We have sent packing our cases of beloved carbonated nectars. We have bid adieu to YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and the host of other social medias.And we have sacrificed our favor of meat for flesh of the aquatic variety. While though there is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying these earthly goods, we nevertheless seek to obtain even greater spiritual goods by the giving up of temporal ones. Furthermore, if we are in the right mindset for Lent, we have given up these things and more in order to obtain the corresponding virtues pertaining to the abuses of overindulging in any created good, such as temperance, self-control, and perseverance in temptations. As a priest put it in his homily during the Ash Wednesday Mass I attended last week, Lent is the time where we are resisting good things in order than we might “flex our spiritual muscles” and gain the strength we need to overcome the temptations to do evil in our daily lives.
In addition, we also take on the practice of adding devotions and charitable actions in order to build up in us both already present virtues and the missing virtues we need. We pick up our rosaries and spend some decades with Our Mother whom we owe a little bit more time with. We make the extra visit to Our Lord during the week that we wouldn’t otherwise find time for. And we give more of our time and treasure to the “least of these” lest we forget how intimately Jesus resides in the midst of the poor. While though we may already do at least some of these things, we nevertheless seek to give an extra effort and press for another spiritual mile. Furthermore, if we are in the right mindset for Lent, we have taken on these additional things and more in order to increase the virtues we know we should have more of. Notice how the goals I am mentioning are conditional upon a central aspect that I have twice repeated:
“If we are in the right mindset for Lent . . .”
Before we enter the Lenten season of the Church we must first have the correct internal disposition in order that we might truly receive worthily and sufficiently the super-abundance of grace God is about to give for our preparation for two great events. And we most definitely need this preparation for what is about to come at the end of the forty days of Lent. We will be hit with the earth-shaking shock to the system that is the Crucifixion of the Son of God and later encounter the all-glorious renewing force that is His Resurrection from the dead. Preparation is key because by God leading the Church to Jesus’s death, we are to die with Him, and by leading us to the same Christ’s Resurrection we are to rise with Him becoming new men and new women, adopted sons and daughter of God Himself. If we are never properly prepared in time, even for a day, and just merely allow Easter to come upon us, then we will miss out bitterly.
Questions should arise in mind of the believer. How can we become prepared? How can we be ready to die and to rise again? We become prepared by developing within us the right mindset as we accompany Jesus to His death (and ours) at Calvary. What is this correct disposition? Jesus clued us in 2000 years ago for precisely this moment.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” ~ Matt. 6:33
And no, my friend, I haven’t overlooked the obvious. “But Justin, Lent is already here. I’ve already given up my cookies and fast food. How can I still become prepared?” Don’t worry; there is still hope and room for readying ourselves (with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, of course)for the things that are to come.
This time of the liturgical year is one of deep reflection. What is at the heart of our Lenten observances? What do we seek to gain by them? Let’s be honest, we American Latin-rite Catholics kind of have it easy when it comes to Lent, especially compared to our Eastern-rite brethren. The Roman Church in America currently only requires two days of fasting (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) and abstinence from meat on the two aforementioned fasting days along with all other Fridays of the season. Nevertheless, most of us still chose to add things to the list. No doubt, we are seeking to gain something substantial, but nevertheless there is certainly the temptation to do our observances for reasons that are more top-heavy on the temporal than the spiritual (which is way more important),such as a general sense to go with what Catholics everywhere are doing around this time, a second chance a tour new years resolutions, a chance to work on becoming a “good person” (whatever that means), and other self-serving motives. We must avoid this temptation. Lent is a procession to Jesus’s Calvary and so, while there may not be much wrong with our observances, they too must be configured to leading us to where Jesus is going also, not just to our own goals. When we get to Calvary we will meet a King. And though this King was slain, He nevertheless succeeded in establishing His Kingdom, one of righteousness, love, and complete and holy union with the will of the Father. This Kingdom of God mentioned in the above quotation of Matthew 6:33 is one where, for those who seek it, “all these things will be added unto you.” Jesus sought this very same Kingdom and found it at the Cross. How true was the promise of Matthew 6:33 for Him! For, He said, “if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to Myself (John 12:32).” He received all things given from the Father, specifically the redemption of every precious soul at one timeless moment. Thus, all our Lenten promises, whether big or small in their natures, must be ordered ultimately to helping us seek after the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then we will receive the summation of all good things added unto us, namely God Himself. For, through Jesus God received us so that we might receive Him. Therefore, the Kingdom must be our mindset.
Even though we have entered Lent and have begun our Lenten promises, it is not too late for us to configure our minds and hearts to seeking after the Kingdom. When it comes to the most merciful God who always desires to bestow upon us His grace even at the moment of death, the following regarded this season is certainly true. That even if we only had one more day of Lent left, there would still be plenty of time to first order ourselves to God and His Kingdom and then complete the journey to Calvary. God in all His Fullness dwells most splendidly in His Kingdom,thus, when we seek it during Lent we desire to get closer to Him through our sacrifices and penances. For, it is only by stripping ourselves down and dis-attaching from all earthly things together with the remission of our sins that we can approach Our Lord in all His Awesomeness and Glory.Again, anything we do for Lent must be done out of the desire to get closer to God by increasing our sanctity. The more holy we become the better we live out Christian lives for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. We must ask ourselves if what we are doing for Lent is going to help accomplish this mission within our souls in time for Our Lord’s Resurrection, so that we might truly announce the good news to the world that He has been raised from the grave. Therefore, whether we give up food that we might hunger for God more, or take up increased prayer that we might hear the voice of God better, or open our wallets and hearts a little wider for the poor that we might minister to Jesus in them, whatever we do, may we first seek the Kingdom of God in all things so that all things might be added unto us. Only then can our Lent be a fruitful one.
Justin Farr +JMJ+