During Lent this year I plan to give up things that I stubbornly cling to like my pride and work on my humility. A year or two ago my penance after a particular confession was to pray the Litany of Humility for a period of time. I did, but haven’t again in quite some time. So in 2014 I plan to return to it and as part of my Lent will attempt to write each day a short reflection on that day’s reading from Divine Intimacy, a book that I consider to be one of the best spiritual books ever written. This will become difficult as Lent proceeds into our son’s baseball seasons in three weeks but I’m hopeful that I may remain consistent. I did not plan this out ahead of time and this may prove to be a spectacular mess and/or failure. But while debating with myself on whether or not I should do this my heart won out in its desire to share my Lent in this personal way with others. I hope to squeeze in some humor where appropriate and along the way I may let my guard down. As such I also encourage your feedback or thoughts. Perhaps we can get a good conversation going and make this journey together.
At Lauds this morning we pray this Collect: Grant to Your faithful, Lord, a soul generous enough to begin these solemn fasts with proper fervor and to pursue them with steadfast devotion.
I pray for the discipline and ability to write this series in a respectful and interesting way. If that fails I’ll fall back on YouTube videos and internet memes I guess. Lord, help me to avoid that temptation. Like Calvin’s dad, I’m trying to do better.
#94 – Ash Wednesday
“Dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return” (Genesis 3:19). These words, spoken for the first time by God to Adam after he had committed sin, are repeated today by the Church to every Christian, in order to remind him of two fundamental truths—his nothingness and the reality of death.
With this opening paragraph the stereotype of the gloomy Christian during Lent may be reinforced in some minds. It certainly could be seen as such when taken out of context with the overall mindset of the Christian life. Just as God entered our stream of time in the person of His Son and united himself to us, His creation, by submitting to death we as Christians are called to imitate Christ. This includes imitating Him through suffering while keeping in mind that Jesus suffered a most bitter and painful death on the cross. But in submitting to death Jesus “has given all Christians the strength to accept it out of love.”
Today’s meditation encourages us to reflect on death. But not in order to distress ourselves and become gloomy characters to whom no one would want to be around. Instead we are to reflect on our impending death in order to arouse ourselves to do good. It also calls on us to leave our love and desire for things of this world behind. To lessen our dependence on material items we horde and consume and raise our eyes to the eternal. In doing this we are free.
The thought of death places before our eyes the vanity of earthly things, the brevity of life—“All things are passing; God alone remains”—and therefore it urges us to detach ourselves from everything, to scorn every earthly satisfaction, and to seek God alone. The thought of death makes us understand that “all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone” (Imitation of Christ, I:4).
This will be our first of many encounters with the paradox that is Christianity. The world would tell us that death is a terrible thing that should not be talked about, thought about and avoided at all costs. Yet there is a 100% chance that we will die. A Christian believes there is more than what we see here before us. Death is not the end. Death is merely the door.
The opening prayer to today’s entry was:
I place myself in Your presence, O Lord; illumine with Your light the eternal truths, and awaken in my soul a sincere desire for conversion.
Lent is the long, slow slog through the barren and ashen wasteland that is the ascent to Mt. Doom in Mordor. Only instead of climbing to the top in order to destroy the One Ring we climb in order to reach the foot of the cross at Calvary. Along the way we will pass through forty days of penance, mortification, humility, contrition and our ultimate aim: conversion. We will continue into the mystery of Holy Week and ultimately to Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Only we don’t stop there. We know that there’s more than death. We climb to the pinnacle in order to witness the Resurrection of Easter Sunday. Mt. Doom fades and is transformed into the Beatific Vision of Paradise where the eternal truths glow with His light and our souls are awake with a “sincere desire for conversion.”
Each day the meditations end with what’s called a Colloquy (kä-lə-kwē) which is meant to help a person at prayer start a friendly conversation with God. Each day I’ll close with an excerpt as a closing prayer.
O my soul, you will enter into rest when you are absorbed into the sovereign Good, when you know what He knows, love what He loves, and enjoy what He enjoys. Then your will will no longer be inconstant nor subject to change … and you will forever enjoy Him and His love. Amen.