“Let us pray for confidence in the love of God and the strength to overcome all our weakness. Father, you have taught us to overcome our sins by prayer, fasting, and works of mercy. When we are discouraged by our weakness, give us confidence in your love.”
This is the opening prayer of this weekend's Mass. How appropriate for this time of Lent when we will be led, by the scriptures, to face the fact that all of us, yes, all of us, are sinners. We have sinned and will in the future sin, again and again. We are in constant need of conversion, and renewal. That is why we have this season of Lent, every year. In Arizona, we have that rite of Spring-Spring Training. Is it because the players have forgotten how to play the game? Of course not. This is the opportunity to get back to basics and practice them again, again, and again, until they become automatic. Then in the heat of a pressure game, they do not have to think of what to do, it comes automatically. That triple play is practiced over and over. We, in the spiritual life, have a triple play as well, it is called prayer, fasting, and alms giving. This triple play is given to us so when we will face the triple threat of "the toxic trinity" (guilt, fear, and shame), we will not have to think, we will have the inner strength, to respond in a spiritually healthy way. In prayer, we will be led, by grace, to an ever-deepening belief that we are the beloved. Nothing that we can or will do, can change that reality. This is a gift that is offered to us, let us pray for the acceptance of that gift. It is in this acceptance our lives have changed by God’s grace not by us.
Lent leads us beyond the guilt, fear, and shame of our sins. We will be led from discouragement to the confidence in the prodigal, extravagant, reckless love our gracious God has for you and I. That is a choice we have to make, not each and every day, no, that choice is made each and every MOMENT. Yes, each and every, NOW moment we are going to be life-givers to ourselves, and a consequence to others. We can also, by our now decisions, be death-dealers to ourselves, and others. We will always see others through the lens of our reality, just as others do not see or cannot see us, except through their reality.
That is very freeing. This brings to the Question, through what lens does God see us? I go back to this prayer of Thomas Merton again, and again;
“Oh great God, Father of all, Whose infinite light is darkness to me, Whose immensity is to me as the void, You have called me forth out of Yourself because you love me in Yourself, and I am a transient expression of Your inexhaustible and eternal reality. If I could not know You, I would be lost in this darkness, I would fall away from You into this void and if You did not hold me to Yourself in the Heart Your only begotten son. Father I love You whom I do not know, and I embrace You whom I do not see, and I abandon myself to You…because Your love in me Your only begotten son. You see Him in me, You embrace Him in me, because He has willed to identify Himself completely with me by that love which has brought Him to death, for me, on the cross…You have willed to see me only in Him, but in willing this You have willed to see me more really as I am for the sinful self is not my real self, it is not the self You have wanted for me, only the self that I have wanted for myself. And, I no longer want this false self. But now Father, I come to You in your Son’s self for it is in His Sacred Heart that He has taken possession of me and destroyed my sins and it is He who presents me to you. And where? In the sanctuary of His own Heart.?”
That prayer is, for me, a great source of hope and encouragement as I face those tough, confronting words of,1JOHN:8,10,
" If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us...If we say we have not sinned, we make HIM a liar, and His Word is not in us.”
In Lent, we also pray this prayer, “We are to master our sinfulness and conquer our pride". Easier said than done. During our Lenten journey, we have to face the facts that we are selfish and self-centered. We are caught up in what the "I" wants, rather than what God wants for us, and from us. Sin is saying "NO" to God's love and yes to the love of self, which is opposed, and in conflict with God's love for us. We get caught up in control, comparison, and competition, and lose sight of the fact that which is essential, is FREE. This is the "S" of DESERT. It is a real encounter with our powerlessness to do anything that is good. We ALWAYS need grace, and apart from grace nothing of any spiritual value can be accomplished by us. The ONLY thing we have to offer to God, which is all of our own doing is, our sins. This is hard to accept. Acceptance is essential for spiritual growth.
Peter van Breemen writes the following,
"A life without acceptance is a life in which the most basic human need goes unfulfilled. Acceptance means that though there is need for growth I am not forced. I do not have to be the person I am not. Acceptance liberates everything that is in me. Only when I am loved in that deep sense of complete acceptance can I really be myself."
For myself, I do not find acceptance very easy. For me, acceptance can be summed up in my accepting of the fact that I am not accepting, and, that will be on a good day! I have to grow in the acceptance of the unconditioned, unrestricted, unlimited love I am loved with as the beloved. Why? Because NO ONE PERSON in this life, no matter how they wish or how they try cannot make that happen. I will through grace, that mysterious love, of our LOVER GOD can become a deeper reality in our hearts, souls, minds. Henri Nouwen reminds us of what Christ is telling us;
"You have a home....I am your home..claim me as your home....I am where you are..in your innermost being...in your heart."
This then must be or Lenten focus. Not on our faults and failings, but on God's faithful love for us. Acceptance of this love will allow us to be at home. At home in our reality, so when the Lord comes and knocks, we are going to open the door of our soul to the Good Shepherd who has come to claim one of His lost sheep.
“The Lord IS my shepherd, I shall not want, I shall not fear, I will be lead to green pastures, where I will find rest.”
A peaceful rest which comes to me to me when I stop the struggling for power, property, and prestige and surrender to all that is offered, without cost, in that sacred place we call the, "right now'.