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Lent—A Time for True Prayer
Ash Wednesday (Year B)
But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. Matthew 6:6
One of the most important parts of true prayer is that it takes place deep in the inner room of your soul. It is there in the inner depths of your being that you will meet God. Saint Teresa of Ávila, one of the greatest spiritual writers in the history of our Church, describes the soul as a castle in which God dwells. Meeting Him, praying to Him and communing with Him requires that we enter into the deepest and innermost chamber within this castle of our soul. It is there, in the innermost dwelling, that the full glory and beauty of God is discovered.
God is not just a God who is “out there” far away in Heaven. He is a God Who is closer and more intimate than we could ever imagine. Lent is a time, more than any other time of the year, when we must strive to make that journey inward so as to discover the Indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity.
What does God want of you this Lent? It’s easy to begin Lent with more superficial commitments, such as giving up a favorite food or doing an extra good deed. Some choose to use Lent as a time to get in better physical shape, and others decide to dedicate more time to spiritual reading or other holy exercises. All of this is good and useful. But you can be certain that the deepest desire of our Lord for you this Lent is that you pray.
Prayer, of course, is much more than saying prayers. It’s not only saying the rosary, or meditating upon Scripture, or reciting beautifully composed prayers. Prayer is ultimately a relationship with God. It’s an encounter with the Triune God Who dwells within you. True prayer is an act of love between you and your Beloved. It’s an exchange of persons: your life for God’s. Prayer is an act of union and communion by which we become one with God and God becomes one with us.
The great mystics have taught us that there are many levels to prayer. We often begin with the recitation of prayers, such as the beautiful prayer of the rosary. From there we meditate, ponder and reflect deeply upon the mysteries of our Lord and His life. We come to know Him more fully and, little by little, discover that we are no longer just thinking about God, but we are gazing at Him face to face.
As we begin the holy season of Lent, reflect upon your practice of prayer. If the images of prayer presented here intrigue you, then make a commitment to discover more. Commit yourself to the discovery of God in prayer. There is no limit and no end to the depth to which God wants to draw you through prayer. True prayer is never boring. When you discover true prayer, you discover the infinite mystery of God. And this discovery is more glorious than anything you could ever imagine in life.
My divine Lord, I give myself to You this Lent. Draw me in so that I may come to know You more. Reveal to me Your divine presence, dwelling deep within me, calling me to Yourself. May this Lent, dear Lord, be glorious as I strengthen my love and devotion through the discovery of the gift of true prayer. Jesus, I trust in You.
Deep Love Casts Out Fear
Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Jesus said to his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Luke 9:22
Jesus knew He would suffer greatly, be rejected and killed. How would you deal with that knowledge if you somehow knew this about your own future? Most people would be filled with fear and become obsessed with trying to avoid it. But not our Lord. This passage above shows just how intent He was on embracing His Cross with unwavering confidence and courage.
This is just one of several times that Jesus began to break the news to His disciples about His pending fate. And each time He spoke this way, the disciples for the most part remained either silent or in denial. Recall, for example, one such reaction of Saint Peter when he responded to Jesus’ prediction of His Passion by saying, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).
In reading this passage above, the strength, courage and determination of our Lord shine through by the fact that He speaks so clearly and definitively. And what motivates Jesus to speak with such conviction and courage is His love.
Too often, “love” is understood as a strong and good feeling. It’s perceived as an attraction to something or a strong liking of it. But that’s not love in the truest form. True love is a choice to do what is best for another, no matter the cost, no matter how difficult. True love is not a feeling that seeks selfish fulfillment. True love is an unwavering strength that seeks only the good of the person who is loved.
Jesus’ love for humanity was so strong that He was driven toward His pending death with great power. He was unwaveringly determined to sacrifice His life for us all, and there was nothing that would ever deter Him from that mission.
In our own lives, it’s easy to lose sight of what true love actually is. We can easily become caught up in our own selfish desires and think that these desires are love. But they are not.
Reflect, today, upon the unwavering determination of our Lord to sacrificially love us all by suffering greatly, by enduring rejection, and by dying upon the Cross. Nothing could have ever deterred Him from this love. We must show the same sacrificial love.
My loving Lord, I thank You for Your unwavering commitment to sacrifice Yourself for us all. I thank You for this unfathomable depth of true love. Give me the grace I need, dear Lord, to turn away from all forms of selfish love so as to imitate and participate in Your most perfect sacrificial love. I do love You, dear Lord. Help me to love You and others with all my heart. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Transforming Power of Fasting
Friday after Ash Wednesday
“The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Matthew 9:15
Our appetites and fleshly desires can easily cloud our thinking and keep us from desiring only God and His holy will. Therefore, in order to curb one’s disordered appetites, it is useful to mortify them by acts of self-denial, such as fasting. But during Jesus’ public ministry, when He was daily with His disciples, it appears that self-denial was unnecessary for His disciples. One can only speculate that this was because Jesus was so intimately present to them every day that His divine presence sufficed to curb any and every disordered affection.
But the day did come when Jesus was taken away from them—first by His death, and then shortly after by His Ascension into Heaven. After the Ascension and Pentecost, Jesus’ relationship with His disciples changed. It was no longer a tangible and physical presence. It was no longer a daily dose of authoritative teaching and inspiring miracles that they saw. Instead, their relationship with our Lord began to take on a new dimension of conformity to Jesus’ Passion. The disciples were now being called to imitate our Lord by turning their eyes of faith to Him interiorly, and exteriorly acting as His instrument of sacrificial love. And for that reason, the disciples needed their passions and fleshly appetites under control. Hence, after Jesus’ Ascension and with the beginning of the disciples’ public ministry, they greatly benefitted from fasting and all other forms of mortification.
Each one of us is called to be not only a follower of Christ (a disciple) but also an instrument of Christ (an apostle). And if we are to fulfill these roles well, our disordered fleshly appetites cannot get in the way. We need to allow the Spirit of God to consume us and lead us in all that we do. Fasting and all other forms of mortification help us to stay focused upon the Spirit rather than upon our weaknesses and fleshly temptations.
Reflect, today, upon the importance of fasting and mortification of the flesh. These penitential acts are not usually desirable at first. But that’s the key. By doing that which our flesh does not “desire,” we strengthen our spirit to take greater control, which enables our Lord to use us and direct our actions more effectively. Commit yourself to this holy practice and you will be amazed at how transforming it will be.
My dear Lord, I thank You for choosing to use me as Your instrument. I thank You that I may be sent by You to share Your love with the world. Give me the grace to conform myself more fully to You by mortifying my disordered appetites and desires so that You and You alone can take complete control of my life. May I be open to the gift of fasting and may this penitential act help to transform my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Make the Radical Choice, Today
Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him. Luke 5:27–28
Levi had a good life. He made good money and had steady employment as a tax collector. But in an instant, he gave that all up to follow Jesus, and his life immediately changed for the good.
This short story of the call of Levi is one that we should take note of. Though you most likely have already made the choice to follow Christ, that choice needs to be deepened each and every day. And the witness of Levi is one that should inspire you to do so.
Oftentimes, when we sense God calling us deeper and closer to Him, when we sense that He wants us to follow Him more completely, we might pause and hesitate. It’s common for people to want to think through such a decision and weigh the “pros and cons” before stepping out in faith. But don’t do that. The witness of Levi’s immediate choice to leave all else behind and follow Christ is given to us so as to invite us to do the same.
How is Jesus inviting you, today, to imitate the radicalness of Levi? What is He calling you to walk away from so as to more fully serve Him with love and totality? If you do not know the answer to that question, say “Yes” to our Lord anyway. Tell Him that you want to imitate Levi and that you want to wholeheartedly commit yourself to a complete and radical following of His holy will.
It’s also interesting to note that as soon as Levi made the choice to follow Jesus, he held a dinner at his house for Jesus and other tax collectors. Levi was not afraid to let others know of his choice, and he wanted to offer his friends the opportunity to do the same.
Reflect, today, upon the person and call of Levi. And as you begin this Lenten season, use Levi’s call and response as an opportunity to hear Jesus calling you. You may not be called to “leave everything behind” literally, but express your willingness to do so anyway. Put no conditions on your choice to follow our Lord, and you will be eternally grateful you did.
My precious Lord, You call all of your children to follow You without reserve. You call us to be ready and willing to abandon all that this life has to offer so as to obtain so much more. Give me the grace I need to trust You enough to say “Yes” to You today, tomorrow and all days. My life is Yours, dear Lord. Do with me as You will. Jesus, I trust in You.