Thursday, March 4, 2010
Already in the third week of the Great Fast, or Lent, I'd like to reflect a little on the meaning of the word Lent, and the meaning of Transfiguration.
The word Lent comes from the Teutonic word meaning Springtime. This certainly denotes the calendar season in which we tend to arrive as the 40 days are being accomplished, but it can also have a further, spiritual meaning to it. Lent is a time of penance in which a certain discipline is proposed by the Church in which the whole Christian family is to participate as much as they are physically able, and during which each person should choose a personal fast of some sort. A food is technically more appropriate, but it is also possible to "fast" from other things as well such as television, or internet, or something else.
Spring is a time of planting, in which the ground is tilled, seeds are planted, and growth begins to take place. The growth may not be seen at first, but before too long, the fruits of such labor cannot help but become visible. If the ground is hard, the preparation is more difficult, but not impossible.
It can be this way with our hearts as well. If our hearts are hard, it is not impossible to have them become soft, but it is difficult, and can even hurt terribly. Softening the heart, however, is absolutely essential in order to bear fruit. Only then will the soil be ready to receive the seed of God's word. Only then can the Holy Spirit's living water begin to nurture that seed.
The Holy Spirit's action is absolutely essential for the process of softening the heart to begin, but His work produces the desire for us to begin to cooperate with His work. This cooperation does require work on our part. We use the word discipline as one of the words by which we describe the process of working in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, but another word used is Askesis, from which we get the word Asceticism. Asceticism is the particular discipline by which we train ourselves to run the race to sanctification. In short, it involves prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It can also, however, involve the voluntary embracing of the sufferings which come our way, including injustice. At this point, I'm not going to go into great detail, but the general idea is that, because Christ embraced our human existence, including our most desperate suffering, we may draw closer to Him in His embracing of our sufferings.
This process of Lent is a process of turning over the soil of our being and planting the lifegiving Word of God, not just words on a page, but the Living Word, the Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father and Consubstantial with Him, in the soil of our being. Jesus Himself made it clear that it is possible for the ground to be so rocky that He cannot enter, as well as for the ground to be so shallow that, while His presence begins to manifest, it doesn't remain. He also speaks of those who are ready to receive Him but have too many concerns, and His presence fades to the background of their lives. Let us be like the soil with depth which was ready to receive Him gladly with no concern in our lives greater than to receive Him and nurture His life within us.
The Church, as a Hospital for Sinners, can help us to reach this by virtue of the Spiritual Fathers and Mothers mentioned in Part 1. She also helps us through her teaching, as well as her Sacramental Mysteries, given to her by her Divine Bridegroom! As His life begins to grow within us, His Light begins to become more visible within us.
Consider the greatest moment in Peter, James, and John's time with Jesus. They witnessed Him shining with the brilliance of God Himself, and speaking to Elijah and Moses. We call this the Transfiguration, where Jesus whole aspect changed. There is a very real demonstration of the Light of God peeking through a small crack in this world's existence. It would also seem to show us something of what we are to experience. At first, Jesus' light begins to shine on us from without, as with the apostles, who were not yet inflamed with the Fire of God in their own lives. All that they had done up until this point was a reflection of Christ's own Glory. So we begin by reflecting the Light of Tabor. As His life grows in us, this light begins to shine forth through us from the One who dwells within us, Jesus Christ, the Source of the Light and Life that we are to live. We cannot reach this on our own, but only through His Life dwelling in us. But it is the Goal that He gives to us. Jesus even describes this aspect of our Christian vocation by calling us, His followers, the Light of the World.
By our participation in Lent, we are given an opportunity to fan the flame of the Fire of God in our hearts, that it may shine forth into all the world. We participate as co-workers of God as we do this, and our practice of this is indispensible, but it is God who gives the increase. May God give us the Grace of persistence as we continue 0ur practice of Lent.
Christ is Among Us!