Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 22, 1999
Time to respond to God's love
Lent is, at the very least, a reminder that Christianity is a serious business. Serious, however, need not mean dour, depressing or stifling. Indeed, it could even be seen in the light of St. Paul's command: "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4).
There is a certain duality in the history of Christianity. There is the history of "pure Christianity" which we find in our idealized views of the early Church and the lives of the mystics and saints. And then there is the history of compromised Christianity - the stories of Christianity as state religion after Constantine, the Crusades, the pancake breakfasts and parents' efforts to keep their kids from running wild in Church.
There is what mystics called "the wild darkness of God" and then there is the effort to stay sane in the Church parking lot. Always there is the contrast between the sublime and the mundane.
Often there are even efforts to bring the two together. And when Christianity really works, it is because the heroic and the mundane meet with some frequency and openness.
Lent is the time when that interaction can happen with greater intensity. We are called to pray, fast, and give alms for 40 days in preparation for the great feast of the Lord's Passion, Death and Resurrection. If we take it seriously, Lent can give us a little backbone and a reminder that everything is a gift of God and that we should rejoice in it all.
We are destined for much more than the performance of social duty by rote obedience to rules and customs. The life of any Christian should be one of being set aflame by the kindling power of the Holy Spirit. This is a fire fanned by the fervent offering of self to the One to whom we owe everything. Such an offering does not, of course, earn our salvation. Rather it is a sign of transformation which has already occurred and a spur to still deeper transformation.
The Second Vatican Council made as one of its central tenets the universal call to holiness. Baptism imposes on a person a duty to strive to become a saint. This duty is not reserved for priests, nuns and people born with their hands clasped in prayer. It took a Francis of Assisi to embrace a leper, stand stark naked before the bishop and single-handedly rebuild an abandoned old church. But we too have to live with some of that fire.
The lives of the great majority of Christians will be forgotten 200 years from now. But that does not mean they are without lasting significance. Every candle will eventually burn down, but it is given opportunities to pass on the light to others so that the world never turns dark.
Those pancake breakfasts are ultimately of great importance because if the light does not shine there and remains among a spiritual elite, then the fire will go out. In the 10th century, Christianity was the dominant religion from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf. But because it was too other-worldly and not thoroughly integrated into the Persian culture, over time it dwindled into the few scattered Christian communities of today. An opportunity to help shape a society was lost.
The opposite can be true too. If we are too conformed to the culture, too lacking in fire, then we lose our ability to be the light of the world.
Lent is the time to fan the flame, to come alive with the love of God. A vigourous Church which transforms societies is vigourous in the lives of ordinary believers. Its vigour is marked by self-denial for the sake of the kingdom, generosity to those in need and love of God expressed through devoted prayer.
In Lent, God calls us again to a deeper response to his love. If we answer, the fire will burn stronger in our hearts and in the hearts of our nation.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.