Well, here we are back again in Lent. Lent is not just a time of giving up sweets and maybe going to the Stations of the Cross or a weekday Mass. Those are good things, but the deeper meaning of Lent is taking stock of where we are spiritually. Traditionally this is called an “examination of conscience.” Usually that is done in preparation for celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation (a.k.a. “confession”). But I think it helpful just to examine where we are presently in our spiritual journey and spend some time reflecting on where we have been, where we are presently, and where we hope to go as persons with a deep and lasting – indeed eternal – spiritual dimension.
However, in our hectic modern life we often do not give our spiritual dimension sufficient time and attention. This is hardly a new problem. In the 1870’s, Fr. Isaac Hecker, main founder of the Paulist Fathers, the group of priests that have staffed St. Austin since 1908, wrote, “If we look at it closely, two-thirds of our time is taken up with what we shall eat, and how we shall sleep, and wherewithal we shall be clothed. Two-thirds of our life and more is animal – including sleep. We do not despise the animal in man, but we go in for fair play for the soul.” Without even invoking 19th century concepts of fair play, I think we can realize that we do not always give the spiritual aspect of our very selves sufficient attention and time.
Lent is a reminder to re-arrange and improve our priorities.
So I invite you to use this Lent well. It is an opportunity to awaken and strengthen the spiritual aspect of the reality that is you. Often in Lent we put the emphasis on sorrow, contrition, a firm purpose of amendment, and generally trying to live better as disciples of The Lord. Certainly nothing wrong with that. But I wonder if that is really the best place to begin, especially if you are a bit out of shape spiritually, a little rusty in discernment.
I think a better place to start off in Lent is not so much contrition as gratitude. First of all take stock of all the wonderful ways you are blessed. Every breath, every moment is a gift. Most of us need to be more conscious of our blessings. When we begin to feel, perceive, see and realize just how incredibly blessed we are, and especially what a phenomenal blessing Faith in Jesus Christ is, then I think we will naturally progress to the deep realization and understanding that these blessings are for a purpose, that with our blessedness comes an obligation, that our being chosen at Baptism includes a call to live in a certain way and for a certain purpose. Then comes the realization of our shortcomings, and with it true contrition both for what we have done wrong and also for what we have failed to do with all the opportunities and blessings we have received.
This Lent I urge you to pay attention to your spiritual life, and if you are uncertain or confused about just where to begin, start by seeing just how blessed you are. When we come to Easter you will certainly have reason to truly celebrate.