Psalm 1:1-2, 3, 4, 6
We are in the first four days of Lent. We've just washed the ashes from our foreheads. We have begun a journey that is given shape and direction for us in today's liturgy.
"Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.
Just as this challenge from Moses outlines the basic choice before his people, today his words really helps us confront what we are facing. If Lent is not about choosing life, then it is at risk of being a devotion without fire. How many of us go into Lent wondering if we will get anything out of it, if it will make any difference in our lives, if it will be like so many other Lents in the past? This reading from Deuteronomy shouts to get our attention and remind us that we have a real choice set before us this year.
Every once in a while, when confronted with some unattractive part of ourselves, we sometimes answer with something like, "It's just the way I am." It is as though we are defending the way we are as the way we are condemned to be. It would sound silly if we were to really spell it out and say, "I'm just stuck being a self-centered person," or "I can't help it if I'm impatient and judgmental," or "I'm just the kind of person who indulges in sexual fantasy all the time," or "Thoughtful, tender, caring, compassionate and generous just aren't in my repertoire or set of skills," or even "Being a better person just isn't me."
In reality, we have lots of choice. We make choices every day. Of course, we develop patterns of choices which eventually make up the way we habitually behave. Ways of being and behaving that we adopt all have some real reward for us. Even the self-defeating things we do actually win us something. One of the great graces of conversion comes when I realize what I'm "gaining" or getting out of this or that action. For example, why might I shield myself from interacting with people in an honest and transparent way? Is it because my father didn't? Perhaps. But, isn't it also because it protects me, and I've gotten used to that protection, comfortable with it, and it scares me to think of what it would be like without it? When I choose to find out what it would be like, when I desire to know and experience a freedom I don't now have, that is a real moment of grace.
I think this is what St. Ignatius meant by the challenge to "reform" our desiring. And, I think it is what Jesus means when he says to us at the beginning of Lent:
"If you want to really follow me, you have to make some choices. If you want to be with me, you have to choose to be with me. I know that making that fundamental choice and all the choices that follow, will involve dying. It will involve surrendering all the benefits that come from some of the self-destructive ways you are trying to live now. But, trust me, I know that some of the ways you are choosing to be now are really killing you. And, if you hold onto them, as though they were giving you life, you will only continue to be sad and restless inside. These patterns are keeping you from being a whole person, even a healthy person. They keep you from loving freely, boldly, and unconditionally. I want you to know that I am offering you life. Real life. I want you to know that if you let me show you how to die to some ways of being, I can offer you a new way of life, beyond your imagining. You are probably already experiencing that you can gain all kinds of 'victories,' have all kinds of 'securities,' and still not have what you are really looking for, really desiring. I'm offering you the grace to really find yourself this year, to really find out who you can be. Give me a chance to show you. Choose to live, choose to be with me, choose to begin a new way of life today."
Let's pray for each other on our Lenten journey. May we all
fast from whatever it is we need to fast from. Let's practice greater
acts of generosity. Let's ask for greater and greater freedom in
the powerful season of new life being offered us.
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