We all have our own personal traditions for the big holidays of Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years, and birthdays. And of course our church’s worship and sacraments are filled with traditions and rituals, some breathtaking in their beauty and splendor. This week we began our Lenten observance with its own particular traditions and observances, such as fasting and not eating meat on Fridays, and of course the one about what should I give up for Lent this year? Traditions and rituals seem to condense the mystery and spiritual meaning into very human and touchable terms and give us a certain sense of security and consistency that we can count on.
While our traditional observances and rituals can serve as cherished reminders of the importance of our faith, Jesus nonetheless delivers a warning to us about them. The Hebrew washing of hands observance before one eats was not out of concern for personal hygiene but was an elaborate ritual full of deep religious symbolism that mislead the Pharisees into thinking that the ritual itself was their faith. For Jesus that was just lip service. If we are not careful, we can fall into the inclination to reduce our faith and relationship with God into mere protocols and procedures. Jesus calls us to look beyond them or look deeper into them to see the reality of our faith is about a living and loving God and not in some devotion to observances or rituals.
What if this Lent we really did have a metanoia, a “change our mind” and rather than giving up the traditional chocolate, french fries, or booze for Lent, we try giving up that old worn-out story about ourselves, that we are somehow entitled to more respect and appreciation that we are being offered, that our opinion is somehow more valuable, more correct than others, that we are too busy saving ourselves to take time to pray or just sit in silence before our God, or that our insecurity, shame, remorse, and self-centeredness are somehow unworthy or undeserving of the embrace of God’s love and mercy.
What if this Lent we truly fell in love with Jesus and followed him into the desert of our own being and faced the inner demons of our false self that prevents us from being who we really are in Christ. What if we lovingly walked into the wilderness of our souls and into the shadows and solitude of our hearts and made an inner space for grace, where there is nothing to prove and nothing to protect. The space where I am who I am and that is enough.
As we continue on our Lenten journey, perhaps we should take note of the following reflection by Jesuit Pedro Arrupe on the power of God’s love to change our minds and discovery of our true selves in Christ:
“Nothing is more practical than finding God,
than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.”