Wednesday, March 5, 2014

O Lord, about these forty days…

Okay, it’s Lent. So what?

Two thoughts and one suggestion.

Lent is all about interior change, not external actions. Any “penance” we do – (what does the word actually mean for you?) – is useless unless it is either a sign of or a help to a change of attitudes, values, and (okay, something external) actions based on these.

The name of the game is metanoia, which, regardless of what it means in Greek, in English means “a complete spiritual makeover.” When Jesus preached, and sent his disciples to preach “Repent!” the word meant “Change!” So look into your heart during Lent and re-arrange the furniture.

Second thought: I’ve been praying the Miserere – Psalm 51. I was surprised to find that what David kept asking for was not just forgiveness. He was asking God to keep his sorrow for sin from having a bad effect on him!

He said, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” That was a given. What David asked was that his sense of guilt – which, after raping Bathsheba and murdering her husband Uriah had to be pretty heavy – would not make him so discouraged he would find no more joy in his relationship with God, and lose his enthusiasm for cultivating it.

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice…
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

It was the aftermath of sin in himself that David was afraid of, not God’s anger. He knew God had forgiven him. What he didn’t know was whether he could accept it. That is what he prayed for.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

The devil’s strategy is discouragement. C.S. Lewis identified it in The Screwtape Letters. Before we sin, the devil makes us think the act is not so bad. Afterwards, he makes us think it is unforgivable. The defense is to…

Look at God, not at ourselves!

A priest who had sinned really badly told us he saw himself like one of those seagulls caught in an oil spill: dirty, sticky and unable to fly. God said to him, “It’s not about you. It’s about me.”

Sin is what we do. Forgiveness is what God does. We can’t measure God’s forgiveness by our sins. We can’t measure anything God does by what we do. So God says, “Forget how bad you are and think about how good I am. That’s all that counts.”

So here’s the suggestion. Yes, look into your heart during Lent. But don’t stop there. Look into Scripture to get a clearer vision of God’s heart.

You want to know the best thing you can do for Lent? Read the Bible every day. Two minutes a day? Five minutes? Ten? Whatever.

Two, four, six, eight,
Read till you appreciate.

Father Bernard Häring said we will find that whenever God calls to repentance in the Scriptures, it is in a context of joy. The call to repentance is always coupled with a promise to give us the Holy Spirit: new light, new love, new strength, new joy in ourselves and in our relationship with him.

“Repent” is the word that introduces the Good News.