Monday, February 1, 2010

"Rejoice and be glad..."

Today is the first day of February, the month that begins our Great Lent. For Catholics of the Eastern rites and new calendar Orthodox alike, this Sunday, 7 February, marks the last day of meat-eating until we enjoy lamb on Easter. The following Sunday, the one just prior to Ash Wednesday, is the last day for dairy until Easter. Lent is, indeed, a season designed to help us grow in holiness, in Christ-like-ness. In order to be holy, we must want to be holy, which means that we have to cooperate with God by walking our path to destiny, which is nothing other than living each day aware, not only of my destiny, but the destiny of all who I encounter on my pilgrim way.

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are means for growth in holiness. It is important to understand that these practices are means and not ends in themselves. Engaging in these practices does not make me better than others, more spiritual than others. When engaged in properly, precisely because these practices are aids for growing in holiness, I become more humble. "The object of fasting is not simply self-discipline, it is that turning of the soul to God, the re-shaping of the will, that the Greeks call Metanoia (usually translated into English as 'repentance'). If one's health allows one to observe the fast with regard to food, one should feel the need to do the best that one can, but all should fast of the spirit. In the words of St. John Chrysostom the fast is of no advantage to us unless it brings about our spiritual renewal." Fasting is not a discipline that can stand alone, it requires an increase in prayer, in time spent in prayer, all of which leads to acts of charity, acts of agape, of caritas. Do not neglect spiritual reading. I am going to read Origen, a father I have not read for too many years now. The form my reading of Origen is going to take is Hans urs Von Balthasar's thematic anthology: Origen: Spirit and Fire. It was Origen who wrote: "It is the principal duty of 'knowledge' to acknowledge the Trinity."

So, rejoice that today is Monday, the first day of February, the beginning of something new! This newness is strange in every age, but disciples of the Lord Jesus persist in acting strangely, which is why the Lord himself tells us: "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt. 5:11-12). Let us pray the first Psalm-prayer from this morning's prayer: "Lord, send your mercy and your truth to rescue us from the snares of the devil, and, happy to be known as companions of your Son, we will praise you among the peoples and proclaim you to the nations."

In light of everything, the Haitian earthquake, bringing with it our renewed focus on theodicy, which is nothing but a fancy word for our human cri de coeur, our Why!?, which serves to restore our sight by seeing that, like delivering the children of Israel through the Red Sea, God does not so much save us from circumstances, as through them, comes this passage, which is our morning reading for Lauds, from Judith: "we should be grateful to the Lord our God, for putting us to the test, as he did our forefathers. Recall how he dealt with Abraham, and how he tried Isaac, and all that happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia while he was tending the flocks of Laban, his mother's brother. Not for vengeance did the Lord put them in the crucible to try their hearts, nor has he done so with us. It is by way of admonition that he chastises those who are close to him" (8:25-27- underlining emphasis mine). The way I read it, the last two sentences say nothing other than that God uses everything that happens to us to accomplish His purpose for us and through us. Hence, Romans 8:28 is necessary corollary.

If nothing else, during Lent we ask God to "[m]ake us know the shortness of life that we may gain wisdom of heart" (Ps. 90:12). In addition to mortifying sinful habits, Lent is also a time to do positive things. For me, this will mean getting serious work done on my thesis!

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