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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lenten Reflection—“Choose Life (again)”

One of my Lenten devotions this year is to reflect on the daily readings.  While I won’t always have the time or motivation to post my reflections every day, I will try to post some of the ones that I find more edifying or relevant.

I reflected on these same readings two years ago as well, but I wanted to come at it from a slightly different angle this time around.

The “sound-bite” that we can take from the 1st reading, and which will serve as our theme for reflection is “Choose life… that your descendants might live”.  This begs the questions—how do we choose life, and what does it mean to do so?

In the Readings:

In today’s first reading we see that we have two choices: Life or Death.  From the Old Testament perspective choosing life, or rather, choosing God, means keeping the commandments as well as “loving him and walking in his ways”.  It is these last two that I think are especially important, and we will flush out their meaning next.

We find a completely different story in the Gospel reading.  Though we should still keep the moral law (commandments) of the Old Testament, we find, through the fulfillment of Jesus and thus the law, that we are charged with a responsibility that is both harder than merely keeping commandments but also easier, as it speaks to our deepest human nature.  Basically, we are called to love. 

Loving in Lent:

I’ve posted a lot about love in the past, both in my Lewis Blog and this one.  However today I want to focus on a particular aspect of it as it pertains to the readings and to Lent, and which may be especially relevant over the last couple months.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Well I think it can be more than just flattery, it can also be a sincere form of love.  In fact, as an act of love, we are called to imitate Christ and do the will of God.  Today’s readings outline the best (though hardest) way to imitate Christ—dying and Sacrifice.

A good parallel is John 12:24-25, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”

The Gospel for today is much the same, and in fact it’s likely that John used the words of Luke for his passage.  The point is, if we truly want to love God, if we want to be with him in eternity (choosing life), there is better way (and in fact really no OTHER way) than to sacrifice everything for him, even if that be our lives.  This is what the focus of lent should be… teaching ourselves to sacrifice so that we may love Christ and love like Christ.

How do we Sacrifice?

Now let me concede a point—very few of us, especially those of us with the means to be reading this blog right now, will be called to literally sacrifice our lives for Christ.  Martyrdom is still a very real and beautiful reality within the Church (and we should all, with God’s grace, pray that we be willing to accept it if it comes), but it most likely won’t happen while residing in a first world country (despite the path that certain first world countries seem to be taking concerning religion).  However, there are other ways to sacrifice or give up our lives for Christ, as well as opportunities, every day in fact, to sacrifice smaller things.  We call this “dying to ourselves”.

The major way in which we give our lives to Christ is through vocation—offering ourselves, our gifts, our work, to do what God is calling us to do.   Whether it’s being a priest, religious, raising a large family, doing missionary work, serving the poor, etc. following God’s will despite how scary it can be is a form of giving up our lives.

There are other, smaller ways, however, and this is where Lent comes in.  Dying to ourselves, to our desires and passions, is a way to grow in virtue (particular those of temperance and fortitude), and this is why we fast.  By fasting and giving up things that are important for us, and which are hard to give up, we slowly come to form the habit of giving things up.  Not only that, but it also drives us to prayer and contemplation on Christ’s suffering, and further cultivates in us a desire to imitate him.  See how this is cyclical?  See why it’s important to give things up, even if it’s little, as long as it’s important to us?  By practicing the small things, we can begin to find the larger sacrifices a little easier.

I was going to take this and apply it to why some people choose to have abortions or use birth control… but perhaps this isn’t right place or time, and I think you can make that connection by yourself (plus that’s why there’s a comments section ;-) ).

Choose life…

With all this said and done, let us try to choose life this lent by sacrificing those little things, and if need be anything big.  Let us pray as well that we may be willing to imitate Christ in love for him.  When it all comes down to it, loving like Christ is what we should all be focused on, whether it’s Lent or not.