Monday is here, and so is the dawning of the great season of Lent! For many Catholics (ie. our Ukrainian brothers and sisters) they get a head start on us today by a few days! I think that’s awesome.
This isn’t a season for the weak hearted. This is a season to fast, pray, and give alms as we repent and allow room for God to draw near to us. I urge us all to really challenge ourselves this year. Let me be clear, that success isn’t the goal. It isn’t about 40 days without chocolate. It is about denying ourselves chocolate to learn self-discipline, sacrifice, and give room for God’s spirit to work in our lives. To empty ourselves to be FILLED with God’s spirit. Now that isn’t permission to not try to be successful at whatever we commit ourselves to. It is to have a right perspective on why we’re doing what we are doing this Lent. The fact is if our disposition is to know, love, and serve God through our lives – the success of what we do is completely secondary.
Mother Teresa is right that, “We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful.”
If we keep that in mind, it is more likely we continue our journey after we sneak that first piece of chocolate and usually get down on ourselves and give up. I know I usually get 3 cold showers in before I have the following conversation with God:
“Lord, you know I love you – but we both realize cold showers are no fun! And we both know you’re all about the good times. That good friday was just a bad day. Let’s say I learned my lesson and move on and tell no one, k? Cool. You’re awesome, I really would do anything for you – except the showers, that was crazy talk”
Often we do the same things year in year out for New Year’s, Lent, etc. and our hearts are unchanged. Let’s be more concerned about the reason and way we’re approaching the action, more than our success. Stay rooted in the paschal mystery that we’re preparing to celebrate: the life, death and resurrection of Christ! I have tried to keep myself accountable recently by doing two things.
This is about God, not about me. I try to remember this by doing what I did to start this post – AMDG – short for Ad maiorem Dei gloriam – the motto of St. Ignatius of Loyola for his Jesuit order. It means, “For the greater glory of God”. I went to a Jesuit High School in Montreal called (you guessed it) Loyola High School for only a year before moving. Even still, it was one of the most formative years of my life. Our teachers made us start every page of notes, reports, journals with AMDG inscribed at the top. I have continued that habit off and on for 15 years since. I was really excited to learn Blessed Pope John Paul II used to do the same thing quite often! I find the more I remind myself everything can and should glorify God – the more likely I’m going to follow through with something; as I see the inherent value. That cold shower builds self-control, teaches humility, and puts me in solidarity with those without access to hot showers, let alone clean water. But the other half of the coin is, even though I realize something is worth doing; I often don’t do it. This leads to my second habit recently
Track yourself. Sometimes I say, “sure I read scripture outside mass, all the time!” And really… I don’t. I may read a blog that references a scripture, but how many times do I actually crack the book open? I honestly don’t know, because I don’t keep track. I think that’s a problem. I enjoyed Matthew Kelly’s last book “Off Balance” – in it he talks about how if we can’t measure it; we can’t change it. But sometimes we say, “faith isn’t measurable”, so we don’t try to track our progress. I don’t agree. Faith and works. We need to find that balance. I am not saying we can quantify everything about our relationship with God, and how God works in the mysteries of life – but I think recognizing the amount of silence and time spent reading scripture does tell a story. I think there is a healthy dose of accountability needed in our spiritual life to not get down on ourselves; but give us perspective for growth and hopefully allow us some refection to celebrate it!
I’d love to come here in 50 or so days and tell you this,
“I didn’t get up at 5am every morning to write and pray – but I did 25 times throughout all of Lent. And in those 25 times I read and wrote out the book of proverbs on sticky notes that now cover my entire office wall. I feel a greater desire to sit with God in the silence of the morning sunrise and collect my thoughts for the day. I think I’m a lot more at peace when I do this, and I want to continue to strive to do this year round.”
Perhaps we can get ourselves to see our struggle for faithfulness as our success. But don’t be afraid to fail, because that means you’ve tried.