The season of Lent: changing ourselves
MONSIGNOR SYLVESTER CRONIN writes that Lent begins with self-reflection and prayer . . .
For the members of Legatus and other self-identified reformers, St. Ignatius of Loyola offered some words of wisdom: “He who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself or he loses his labor.”
The men and women of Legatus are committed to infusing our Catholic faith into daily life in the family, business and community. Through good works and high ethical standards, these “ambassadors for Christ” have been ultimately able to influence the world marketplace. Yet, as Ignatius reminds us, trying to change the world will not work if we don’t first change ourselves.
So, how do we arm ourselves spiritually for a mission that is often counter-cultural in the society we live in? How do we sustain the courage and conviction necessary to bring the faith into our families and workplaces when the secular media and peer pressure are constantly raising obstacles and offering tempting alternatives?
The Catholic Church, in her wisdom, supplies the answer by giving us the beautiful season of Lent — a time to step back, seek quiet time and look inward. It’s a time to examine our lives and fortify our spiritual “muscle” through the traditional disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving — the Church’s guidelines for the journey into our hearts throughout these 40 days.
The first one, personal prayer, is not always easy. Being still is the hardest part, especially for those of us who are geared for activity, achieving results, and getting the job done. Do you remember the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38? Jesus has gone to Bethany. Mary sits at his feet and listens to him while Martha is “burdened with much serving.” Martha gets angry at Mary’s inactivity.
The conflict between Martha and Mary describes what happens inside many of us when we try to be still and pray. The Martha within us gets restless and says, “That’s enough time wasted; there are jobs to be done,” and tries to pull the Mary in us out of reflection and listening. If we want to be people of serious prayer, we must first learn to be still. Spending time with our Eucharistic Lord during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and meditative reading of scripture can help us to slow down enough to truly hear and respond to the Word of God.
The guideline of fasting may appear at first to be inconsequential or even self-serving. After all, who hasn’t fasted to achieve the desired physical results of losing a few pounds? But when we take a more mature approach to the idea of fasting, we see how it relates to all of our worldly desires and weaknesses. In this sense, fasting can lead us to a thorough examination of conscience and the sacrament of Reconciliation. Not just a check-list of do’s and don’ts, but rather an intelligent assessment of our actions and motivations. Are we simply carrying out the letter of the law or are we experiencing true conversion of heart? The sacrament of Reconciliation is an important step toward a life-giving relationship with Christ.
The third Lenten discipline, almsgiving, is inherent in Legatus membership and its practical application of the teachings of Christ and his Church. Still, the season of Lent offers us an opportunity to reflect on something deeper than sharing our resources. It is the gift of human dignity. Generous giving is made sacred when it includes respect for the human person, particularly for the most vulnerable among us.
Christians are called to be more than sympathetic; we are to be empathetic, to identify with and share the experience of another — to walk in his shoes. Moreover, we are called to attack the root of the problem and help our neighbor lift himself out of the situation causing his struggle. Lent is a suitable time to reflect on the seven themes of Catholic social teaching and incorporate them into our mission.
Integrating the three guidelines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving into Lent’s 40 days can provide a framework for our spiritual journey where we can renew our commitment to living the Gospel message. May this time of personal renewal reignite our passion for bringing Christian values into the marketplace and, in so doing, allow us to reform our world.
MONSIGNOR SYLVESTER J. CRONIN III is the chaplain of Legatus’ Central Jersey Chapter and pastor of St. James Parish in Basking Ridge, N.J. He is also the managing director of Stewardship and Development for the Diocese of Metuchen.