During the first days of Lent when we are still filled with the fervor of the season and still firm in our resolve to continue the discipline of Lent, it is only natural that we should feel somewhat pleased with the sacrifices we are making. We might even fill the description of Little Jack Horner who concludes "what a good boy am I" in the nursery rhyme which carries his name.
The second reading for the Office of Readings prescribed for today might shock us into realizing that we can make no such claim. Pseudo-Chrysostom speaks of prayer and makes this assertion: . . . If God gives to someone the gift of such prayer. . ." When I pondered those words this morning, it reminded me that the desire to pray, the desire to fast and the desire to give alms, all part of our Lenten discipline, are gifts which come from God. They do not originate in my heart without the grace of God.
Indeed, repentance, that desire to shed the guilt and weight of our sins, is a gift from God.
Acts of charity done for another likewise are the product of God's grace acting in my heart.
The desire of our spirit to seek God and to contemplate God's beauty is also the product of grace.
Indeed, all of the gifts we would offer God have been first given to us. We can either make the choice to cooperate with those gifts or to ignore them. If we choose to cooperate we are simply availing ourselves of God's goodness, not proving our own.
When we realize this truth about our Lenten practices, we will find ourselves exactly where Lenten discipline is meant to lead us; namely, to the virtue of humility. Indeed, we are capable of nothing good or virtuous without the help of God. We are totally dependent upon God for all that is of any worth in our lives.
This reading today reminded me of a Lent so many years ago. My mother used to give us a little treat before bed. On Sundays it was usually popcorn, but on the other days of the week it took many different forms. I had decided one year that I was going to give those treats up as my Lenten practice. Persevere I did; I made it all the way to Easter without having a single before-bed treat. When Easter rolled around, I was so proud of myself. Many years later I realized that, while such sentiments were only natural for a child still in elementary school, they were not what Lenten discipline is supposed to engender in us. Fasting and prayer should lead us to the conclusion that we are totally dependent upon God and that without God's grace we would be lost.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator