Lent 01, Year C

With my God I can scale any wall (Ps. 18:29)

According to a letter to a missionary written by St. Vincent in 1655, mistrust of one’s strength should be the foundation of the trust one ought to have in God. So then, one should no longer fix his eyes on what he is but look at our Lord at his side and within him. The Lord is ready to put his hand to the task just a soon as one has recourse to him.

Putting my trust in the Lord, I turn to him now as I embark on the journey of Lent. Through him who empowers me, I have strength for everything (Phil. 4:13). Without him, on the other hand, surely I can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). Without him, I would probably just manage to spoil even such so holy and such highly recommended Lenten practices as fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.

And it does not really take too much to ruin and make sacrilegious said practices, as pointed out by Jesus’ warning in the gospel reading for Ash Wednesday. With just the “I” or the “me” getting in the way, I will surely have the reverse of King Midas’ magic touch. And then I will change the self-denial in fasting into self-affirmation, the dialogue of prayer into a self-congratulatory monologue, and the search for the other’s good intended by almsgiving into self-promotion. By being fixated on oneself, then, one runs the risk of subverting what is good, and as a consequence, of being an open and easy target for the inveterate tempter.

Not a few times has it happened that, because of others looking only to their own interests, the bread meant to sustain life has become the motive to take life. The gnawing and covetous hunger for material things we need in order to live could be fatal in more than one sense of the word.

One, of course, has every right to plan out his life and to take control of things and thus contribute to maintaining order. But this, in the case of one who takes oneself very seriously, could easily turn into an obsession, an uncontrollable desire for power, without knowledge of good and evil, that leads finally to one wholly selling oneself and losing complete control of oneself. The thirst for self-control on the part of one with superiority complex can make one a slave and a worshiper of idols.

And for someone, though still trusting God yet fixes his eyes on himself and on how important he is, it takes but little to turn his hope into presumption. This type puts himself voluntarily in a dangerous situation and then dares God to abandon him. The presumptuous does not see himself in need of grace and salvation; he is convinced he deserves grace and justification. I am reminded here of a Filipino bishop in a story who, while savoring the rich food and choice wine in a banquet, could not help repeat, peering over his eyeglasses (no offense to those from India): “They say there is hunger in India; but God is merciful, God merciful.”

Hunger and thirst cannot be eliminated without paying attention to God. Too much has the Evil One played on my tendency to refer everything to myself to take me away from the endeavor to listen to God. Now that it is Lent, it is time once again to get out of myself, take the posture of the poor who empties himself, and direct my gaze at Christ. It is time that I listen attentively to the one who speaks not only in the Scripture and Tradition but also in the events of real life. As proven by St. Vincent’s life and reiterated recently by Father Bob Maloney, events, in particular the human miseries endured by the pierced poor, tell me something and they can shape me and can change my life dramatically (cf. Jacques Delarue, The Holiness of Vincent de Paul; see also [1]). And, yes, the Lord is ready to put his hand to the Lenten project just as soon as I have recourse to him.