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Love in the Season of Lent

Lent; the season of giving something up. In order to prepare for Easter I have always been instructed to give up something that I really enjoyed; a 40 day sacrifice for God. Growing up I gave up soda, chocolate and sundry other items to prepare for the Easter. My children had a discussion just the other day about what they will give up for Lent. As I grew in spirituality I had to come up with more creative and meaningful items that could be given up. One year I discovered something that would hold me for many years. I decided to give up time. Time was one of my most precious commodities. If I sacrificed some of my time it would mean the most. If I spent that time in prayer the benefit would be coming closer to God; win-win, as they say (whoever “they” are). This year, Pope Benedict XVI has asked us to sacrifice something that is worth even more than my time.

” Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works “.
Benedict XVI(Heb 10:24)

What does it mean to respond to others in love and good works? Part of my ministry has been focused on Christian Service. My first response to this call was to think about what I might do under the umbrella of Christian Service. This is not the response the Pope is looking for.

The Pope says “contemporary culture seems to have lost the sense of good and evil, yet there is a real need to reaffirm that good does exist and will prevail”. Good is whatever gives, protects and promotes life, brotherhood and communion”. Concern for others means being aware of their needs and “the danger that our hearts can become hardened by a sort of “spiritual anesthesia” which numbs us to the suffering of others”… We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness… The spiritual masters remind us that in the life of faith those who do not advance inevitably regress. Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the invitation, today as timely as ever, to aim for the “high standard of ordinary Christian living” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31).
Benedict XVI

Dear surfers, the call to reaffirm that good exists and to be aware of the spiritual needs of others has really stretched my understanding of Lent. A little soul searching is in order. Okay, I will have to admit that a lot of soul searching is in order. How do I begin to grapple with my own selfish ways? At what times do I lack concern for the spiritual needs for others and fail to reaffirm that good exists? It is very difficult to be honest with yourself regarding your own failings and this request is a difficult challenge.

“The Holy Father says [you need to] look at ‘the other’ with love – not with reprobation, not with condemnation, or simply accusation – but trying to life them up,” he told Vatican Radio. “We need to get out of ourselves, and see how we can help those who are around us, without in any way implying…that ‘I am holier than thou’ or ‘I am better than you’.”
Charles Collins with Father Gahl

The Pope went on to outline a three step plan. Actually, they are really three aspects that are needed in accomplishing our Lenten mission. Should you choose to accept this mission… I always wanted to say that.
1. This first aspect is an invitation to be “concerned”:
2. “Being concerned for each other”: the gift of reciprocity.
3. “To stir a response in love and good works”: walking together in holiness.

In the TV show Mission Impossible, Peter Graves had a team of people backing him up to complete the mission. Luckily for me, God has my back on this one. I accept the invitation to be concerned for the spiritual needs of others this Lent. I know right where to begin. I must get my head on straight first.

Let us remember also that the etymological meaning of “community” is cum-munio, that is, to share a common task together. To work together. Both inner work and outer work is what we do together. Both are needed especially at this time in history. Without the inner work we are lost. But with it, everything else gains brilliance as Meister Eckhart put it when he said: “The outward work can never be small if the inward one is great, and the outward work can never be great or good if the inward is small or of little worth. The inward work always includes in itself all size, all breadth and all length.” He also declared that when we return to our origins (which is the purpose of inner work) we learn that our work “draws all its being from nowhere else but from and in the heart of God.”
Matthew Fox September 18, 2011

The Pope used the word reciprocity to describe a gift associated with this process. The concern for others has to be genuine and mutually beneficial or it will not be satisfying. I am not very open to the correction of others, giving or receiving. I am a little gun-shy from years of Catholics telling me I should be ashamed of myself, or that I was Satan, or simply reciting the St. Michael the Archangel prayer at me. I have hope that many others have heard the call of the Pope during Lent and many mutually beneficial exchanges are possible.

And of course, community is also about friendship and tolerance, putting up with diversity and learning to delight in it. Some of the people who we may start out with as being tolerant may actually end up to be friends—and some we start out with as friends we actually end up to be a little more at the level of tolerance. But to celebrate the diversity is part of the lessons we learn in our community lives.
Matthew Fox September 18, 2011

We are to respond with love and good works. That is our charge during Lent. As I was reading the Lenten message from B16 something stirred in the back of my mind telling me that I had heard this before. Those familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas (the predecessor of Meister Eckhart) will recognize this Lenten prescriptive from the Pope to be associated with those found in Summa Theologiae. I will let St. Thomas Aquinas explain those attitudes that are directly opposed to love.

NOW WE MUST EXAMINE the vices opposed to love:
first, hatred which is against the very act of love;
second, spiritual apathy [acedia] and envy which are against the joy of loving;
third, discord and schism which is against peace;
fourth, offensiveness which is against neighbourliness, and scandal which is against fraternal correction.
Thomas Aquinas – Summa Theologiae (Thomas R. Heath, editor)

The Pope used the term “spiritual anesthesia” to describe the hardened hearts of people we encounter. The proper word for this condition is acedia. We don’t use this word much these days, and Acedia carries with it a much broader meaning than simply being spiritually numb. To to truly care for for others and walk together with them we will need to recognize acedia.

With acedia people are able do what they know to be right, but don’t care enough to take action – hence the derivation from akedia, or “not caring”. This is certainly at the root of the “whatever” we hear so frequently these days. Thomas Aquinas saw acedia as the opposite of spiritual joy. Effectively, acedia sets in when the flesh overwhelms the spirit, and the person is no longer “fighting the good fight” for spiritual health, as when we she cannot be bothered to pursue the daily habits that keep us at the correct operating frequency – tuned in to the right radio station, as it were… “The battle is in the mind.” Those in the grip of acedia can’t be bothered to fight the good fight in this world, much less on any higher plane(s). We are here to overcome the world, and stretch ourselves to rise above familiar conditions. However, in order to do so, we must engage with who we are, here and now… God only speaks to us through the heart; if our heart is jaded, we cannot hear that “small, still voice” – if our lives mean so little that we no longer see God’s truth in us. It’s important to have a grasp of reality, which means knowing who we are, and what we are here to do – what we would be doing if we hadn’t been trapped by false programming and negative thought patterns like acedia… The counterpoise to acedia is zeal: enthusiasm, spiritual joy, pleasure in what is praiseworthy and excellent.
Dr. Kyre Adept

The term used to describe helping others shake-off the effects of the vices opposed to love, such as acedia, is fraternal correction. The Pope has used these words often in 2011 and 2012, well, a few times anyway. If we are going to walk together in holiness we should understand the boundaries of fraternal correction.

As we have said, fraternal correction is to help a brother mend his ways, and to the degree it is accomplished that is a spiritual good. But that could never be accomplished if he takes scandal at the correction. If we omit to correct him because of the scandal he will take, we are not giving up a spiritual good.
Thomas Aquinas – Summa Theologiae (Thomas R. Heath, editor)

Not everybody we meet during Lent is a candidate for this gift of reciprocity and walking in holiness. We may come across people deep under the influence of acedia, but to any degree that we can bring spiritual zeal is a success. Some people we will have to skip entirely, as not to bring scandal. This will be a hard task. How can I offer my spiritual zeal without making people feel that I am somehow better than they are? I am, after all, a lowly servant. Dear surfers, I look to the lives of the saints for my strength and inspiration. When St. Francis hugged a leper, who was there to say that he was a show-off? Preach the Gospel every day, so it is said, and when necessary use words. Living by example is the place I will start.

We say we honor Martin Luther King. We put up this big stone monument and fight over it and all—cool. But the truth is, you don’t honor the ancestors by looking back. You honor the ancestors by imitating their courage. You don’t say, what did they do in 1960, or what did Francis of Assisi do in the year 1200? You ask, what would they be doing in the year 2011? Would they be as controversial and as wild and off-the-edge in our time as they were in theirs? Of course they would be! This is what made them memorable. They were all called. We’re all called to this kind of greatness today, because our species is slipping, and the whole ecosystem is slipping with us, and we don’t have the luxury of putting other people on pedestals. We have the responsibility to roll up our sleeves and to go to work with whatever talents we’ve been given, whatever communities we’ve gathered to encourage us, and whatever artists and spiritual leaders there are to inspire us and to kick us out of our couches.
Matthew Fox September 18, 2011

AMEN!

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About neodecaussade

I am a Roman Catholic quester. You will find that I have scripture based academic interests. You will discover that I am a conservative Catholic but I am also prone to heterodox tendencies. I am versed in highly pietistic traditionalist practices but I am not a traditionalist. I am interested in entering a discussion on the future of the Roman Catholic Church. I would like to have a role in discussing how the future Church will be shaped.

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