Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 19, 2007
Unlock Lent's gift with the key of prayer
Two blessings are available on Ash Wednesday for the minister as he smudges the ashes onto the foreheads of the faithful. The second one, the older one, is "Remember that you are dust and to dust that you will return." The first one, more commonly used today, is "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."
The older blessing is the one that God spoke to Adam after he had sinned. It reminds us of our nothingness and the reality of death. It is a challenge to our pride and arrogance, the root of sin into which we all are so prone to fall. This blessing calls us to reflect on our death, not to cause ourselves distress, but to bring ourselves to love God more than we love ourselves and to detach ourselves from earthly things and desires.
We need to know that the only "possessions" of ours that will survive death are our love for God and the deeds that we do to express that love.
It is so easy to take the Ash Wednesday liturgy as a cultural event – to get our ashes and then plunge back into daily life with the same worldly spirit we had before. In such a case, the ashes have left our hearts even before they are brushed from our foreheads.
If the ashes are to retain their power, we must make these 40 days a time of deep conversion. We must, as the newer blessing proclaims, "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel." Immediately, this blessing should force us to face our loss of the sense of sin. We need to find – through meditation or intense self-examination – how it is that we offend God and the order of his creation.
Today, on cold days, many turn on their vehicles from the warmth of their homes and let them run until they are warm, spewing C02 into the atmosphere. Is this sin? Or, is it simply placing my own comfort above the need of future generations for a habitable planet? Or is there a difference between the two?
Our culture places the highest premium on personal comfort. Maybe ours is no different than others and that's why the Church has long made fasting part of our Lenten discipline. We need, first, to feel the lack of some supposedly essential comfort so we realize that the love of God is all that is essential.
We need, secondly, to give from our substance so that others may have the substance of a decent life. We need to give concrete expression to what Pope John Paul II called "the universal destination of all goods" – the fact that God created the earth so that all might share equitably in its fruits.
Third, if we are to be faithful to the Gospel, we need to make the life of Jesus flow through our veins. We need to pray. But prayer must be more than quickly repeating the words of prayers we have known since childhood. We need to take small pieces of the Gospel, sit with them for a time so that they seep into our being. And then we need to decide how our sitting with Scripture is going to be transformed into our walking with Scripture – how contemplation and action will kiss each other.
If we seek humility through this Lenten "method" of fasting, almsgiving and prayer, we will be on the way to deep conversion. We will begin to step out of the madness of non-stop unreflective action – the bane of our era. We will move from spiritual emptiness to spiritual fullness.
Action is a good thing. But a good thing blown out of proportion becomes distortion, becomes sin. Despite all the intelligent action in our culture, our problems are deep and intractable. What our society lacks is prayer and contemplation. Deep prayer gives us a share in the eternal perspective and allows us to act at the point where time and timelessness intersect.
Lent should draw us deeper into humility, deeper into solidarity with the weak, deeper into conversion. Love is the answer. Prayer is the key.
- Glen Argan
Letter to the Editor - 03/05/07
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