So soon after Advent and Christmas, another contemplative season is upon us; a time to return to God. The laws governing our relationship with God have not changed since our celebration of Advent, Lent’s sister season, several weeks ago, so my message as we venture into this season is by and large the same as it was for Advent.
In truth, we are not able to return, on our own, to God. It is rather God who returns to us, or more precisely, it is God who ensures our return to him. The grace of God, the Providence of God that brings us closer to himself is not like a glass of milk that we can pour for ourselves. Rather we are, relative to the grace of God, like helpless little birdlings in a nest who can not feed themselves, who can only open their beaks wide, so that their mother might feed them. Like them, we can not feed ourselves, we cannot give ourselves the things of God. But we can position ourselves to receive them. Let me just point out some of the ways in which this can be done.
The fundamental principle is that given the fact that God is discreet, that he is not one to impose himself on anyone, positioning ourselves to receive his grace means creating an emptiness, a space in which he can slide himself into our minds and hearts, into our lives.
First and foremost among the ways we have of exposing ourselves to God’s grace is exposing ourselves to God’s Word. Like Advent, the season of Lent puts before us some of the most powerful texts in the Bible. Attentiveness to God’s Word in the Liturgies of Lent are a very powerful way of opening a door to God’s grace in our minds and hearts. To repeat a down-to-earth suggestion that I’ve made many times but that bears repetition: subscribe to the monthly edition of Living with Christ and take a few minutes, every day in Lent, to read the texts which have been prepared for this season.
Regular attendance at mass. If your attendance at mass – especially Sunday mass – is spotty, commit yourself to making it regular during this Lenten season. You would be surprised how much mileage we can get out of simple regular attendance at mass, in terms of spiritual growth, in terms of homecoming to God. And since you’re attending, make your attendance count. Arrive early. It helps enormously in focussing you on the present moment. Sit as close to the front as you can. It eliminates a multitude of distractions and facilitates your attention on what’s going on in the sanctuary. As you settle into your pew, lift up to God all the concerns, fears, worries and distresses that you have brought with you into the church. Ask him to hang on to them for you for the duration of this mass, that you might focus more easily on him, on the gospel that is presented to you in this celebration.
Silence. Lent is about creating a space, an emptiness in which God can slip into our lives. The most obvious kind of emptiness we can create is the emptiness of silence. Now I know that most of us are not comfortable with absolute silence. The silence we create during Lent need not be absolute silence, an utter absence of sounds. It can be a silencing of the sounds that, for sure, don’t contribute to our connecting with God. It can be as simple as making sure that we turn off the television, the radio, and our smart phones during family meals, so that the only sounds we will hear will be one another’s voices in our family conversation.
There are sounds that rival with silence in terms of their potential to provoke an encounter with the things of God: the sounds of sacred music. Music is such a powerful medium. Words from Scripture, put to music, have the potential to impact our hearts and minds more than a great many homilies!
I could go on and on, but I’ve reached the end of my space. By the grace of God, may we all be inspired to find the ways that work for us, during this Lenten season, in terms of creating a space, an emptiness, in which God can touch our minds and our hearts.
A blessed Lenten season to you all,