Friday, February 10, 2012

Lenten Friendship: Let Us Be Concerned for Each Other

The lists have definitely begun.  They are written on the back of envelopes, on sheets of notebook paper, and on my computer.  Some lists are divided up by days of the week.  Other lists are divided up by particular virtues that need growth in me.  Other lists are done by the traditional categories of "Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving."  All of the lists have the same title, "Lent."  It's coming.  And I need to get ready.

Experience has taught me that I need an exact plan.  If I want to take other things on as well, that's fine.  But, I need to have the "minimum" list as well.  These are the things that I'm going to do no matter what.  And, I need to balance it out.  It has to involve a challenge.  But, it can't be so unrealistic that I spend the whole of Lent failing.  I even do a few practice runs before Lent just to make sure that certain things are going to work out.

This coming week, I wrote a little blurb about wanting my parishioners to live Lent together this year; to be in it together.  No sooner had the bulletin gone to print than Pope Benedict XVI released his Message for Lent with the theme, "Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works."  I always like when the Holy Father agrees with me!  His whole letter may be found here

Lent is a beautiful opportunity for us to deepen our Christian friendship with one another by giving each other the space and encouragement necessary to grow in holiness and virtue.  Christ gives us our friendship with one another in order to aid us in our path toward perfection.  But, sometimes we hinder one another. We become afraid to change for the better in front of those whom we love for a variety of reasons.  What are some examples?

Firstly, we could be afraid of failure.  Let's use the person who decides to go to daily Mass as an example.  Perhaps, that person is afraid to try going to daily Mass during Lent because if she fails on an occasion to live up to her commitment, she will receive the, "Aha, I knew you wouldn't last" look from her husband.  Or, there is the person who wants to abstain from alcohol during Lent but is afraid that if he fails just once, there will be much gloating among his friends that he blew it.  Or the person who gives up television or limits his computer use.  The fear of appearing a failure to others may well keep him from every trying.

Secondly, we are afraid of changing the image others have of us.  Sometimes, we become slaves to the image that others have of us.  If we are a drunkard, a gossip, a person given over to silliness, or laziness etc, we feel that everyone expects us to be like this.  Everyone has become comfortable with our lack of perfection.  We feel kind of safe keeping things the same.

Thirdly, we are afraid of resentment.  Strange as it sounds, sometimes people get resentful of the person who tries to grow in holiness.  If you decide to pray a little more, gossip a little less, drink a little less, eat a little less, or give a little more to the less fortunate, you could be immediately charged with, "What, do you think you're better than me now?"  People get resentful sometimes when somebody grows in holiness.  In the face of the person who spends more time in prayer, somebody might say, "Well, I wish that I had that kind of time to pray."  In other words, "I wish that I had no other real responsibilities so I could be lazy."  Or, have you ever noticed how insistent people become when somebody turns down dessert or a drink?  "No, just have one drink.  Enjoy yourself."  It's like if he doesn't drink on this particular occasion, he is treated as though he were condemning everyone else who is having a drink.

Lent should be a safety zone where we can grow in holiness and perfection with the help of our loved ones.  We should encourage one another and give one another space.  If our friend fails in his efforts, we want to give him the encouragement to start over again.  If he is successful, we want to support him.  The disciplines of Lent are a shared reality.  Each one of us needs to grow in holiness and in different ways.  But, we can live the pilgrimage of Lent together, helping one another along the path.  Cultivating virtue, combating vice, deepening our friendship with Christ, and mastering ourselves are all part of the Lenten seasons.  None of us should feel alone in this endeavor.  We are in it together.  We are on the precipice of a new beginning.  Following the lead of Pope Benedict XVI, "Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works."

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