Lent: intense time to turn toward Love

  • February 23, 2023

The Lenten season is a time of repentance, a time of turning away from our many idolatries and toward the mercy of the Loving Presence. That turning is expressed concretely in the threefold discipline of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, all of which express the deepest fact of our existence: we are but creatures utterly dependent on the Creator in every way.

Our dignity as creatures is revealed in our freedom to choose between right and wrong. Fully oriented toward God, we would always choose good. But freedom allows the option of choosing to turn away from God. Sadly, we often do.

We can be saved from the path of sinfulness not by justice but by mercy. Time cannot be undone nor can our actions. Even our feeble efforts to restore harmony fall short. There is no chart of positive and negative values for each action, a chart which would enable us to recoup points lost through evil deeds by scoring offsetting positive points. Our actions and omissions, both good and bad, define who we are. Without Divine  Mercy, we are lost.

Freely-chosen actions are a great mystery. They emerge from our hearts and have unpredictable consequences which ripple down through the generations. We cannot fully understand our own hearts let alone those of others. The source of our actions remains a mystery to us.

But we can know when we have gone astray. We may not know why we have sinned, but we can know that we have done so. God’s law is available to us through Scripture and from our innate knowledge of what it means to be most fully human. It shouldn’t take direct inspiration from on high to know that murder, adultery, idolatry and untruthfulness are morally wrong. However, it can take reflection and courage for me to admit that what I have done was wrong.

In recent centuries, sexual sins have drawn the most criticism. Jesus did condemn adultery, but He saved His strongest condemnations for the sin of judging the sins of others. We cannot condemn others because we have not walked in their shoes. We do not know the mystery of our own hearts let alone why others’ actions have not met the standard of goodness and right. How dare we judge them without having the knowledge which only God possesses.

Yet, a reluctance to judge others should not lead to a flaccid tolerance for evil. The norms of justice are real. Defacing God’s creation in any number of ways is intrinsically wrong. But we need more. Pope John Paul II in his 1980 encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), wrote, “Justice alone is not enough… It can even lead to the negation and destruction of itself, if that deeper power, which is love, is not allowed to shape human life in its various dimensions.”

The Pope made this comment in relation to the social and political sphere, but it also applies to our personal lives. We can be so full of our own rightness and the evil done by others that we forget the most important thing: love that forgives and which stretches a person beyond what simply meets the moral norm.

Jesus condemned nothing more frequently than the judgmentalism of the supposedly righteous. He showed the better way, the way of the Cross.

The way of the Cross does not mean seeking out ways to suffer. Rather, it calls us to find ways to give, to give in ways which mean sacrificing our idolatries. In Western society, those idolatries may include the yearning for comfort and the absence of aggravations, for financial security, for pleasure, for status, for personal autonomy and for many other goals. Such goals may not be sinful in themselves, but when they prevent us from coming to the aid of those in need, they become sinful.

Idolatry has today grown to such massive proportions that it destroys the dignity of persons and threatens the existence of humanity. All because we refuse to love others as God has loved us. Love can give birth to justice. But justice without love is soulless and fails to come to grips with sin.

Lent is a more intense time of turning. But turning toward the loving God is always our mandate. It is intensified in Lent so that we may always respond to that call. Merely giving up chocolate will not do. We must reflect and find our unique paths to self-giving love. Only love will do.

(Glen Argan writes his online column Epiphany at https://glenargan.substack.com.) 

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