The Lenten Invitation: Making Choices and Changing Ourselves
The readings at daily Mass during Lent can become an invitation to true transformation in our lives. Or, they can stay just words on a page.
One key is found in our own receptivity and response.
The words proclaimed by the priest or deacon, or read in our time of personal prayer, are inspired by the Holy Spirit. They made it into the Canon of the Bible. They are the Word of God.
The real question is whether they will make it into our hearts, that center of the moral personality. (Catholic Catechism 2517, Matt. 15:19)
“Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom…. I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you.” (Deut. 30:15)
“Jesus said to his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?” (Luke 9: 22-25)
The readings of the Liturgy on the Thursday following Ash Wednesday invite us to probe the deeper meaning of the Christian life – and of every Christian vocation – by examining our own choices – and how we actually make them.
Not only do we make choices, our choices actually make us.
We become what we choose, changing ourselves in the process. These forty days of Lent are an invitation to respond to the Lord’s invitations of grace and be remade into His Image and Likeness – through our choices.
As we walk our Lenten pilgrimage over these coming weeks we should reflect on how, what and WHO Jesus chose – in His Sacred humanity. He walked the path of surrendered love to the Father and always chose what is good and true and beautiful.
So should we. And, by His grace, we can actually begin to do so – today.
In His Sacred humanity, Jesus shows us the way – and is Himself the model- for how we should choose. Then, by his saving life, death and resurrection, He is the means for healing our fractured freedom and transforming our own capacity to choose. He gives us grace, His Divine Life.
The agony in that garden called Gethsemane shows us a very human Jesus. Yes, He was Divine and, because of that, He alone could do for us what we could not do for ourselves, restoring through His passion and death the broken relationship between God and the people whom He fashioned for love and communion.
However, he was also human and in His Sacred humanity shows us the path to taking the shackles off of our own exercise of freedom by directing our choices toward God.
One of the most powerful passages in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes ), issued by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, is Paragraph 22. It addresses the profound implications of the Sacred Humanity of Jesus on our own call to grow in holiness and the character of Christ through our choices.
Here are some excerpts with the Biblical references (found in the footnotes) which I offer for prayerful meditation over the coming weeks of Lent. Please, pray and then slowly reflect upon them. Read the passages in the New Testament which they cite. I have put them right into the text:
“The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”
“He who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), (2 Cor. 4:4.) is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too.”
“For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.” (Heb. 4:15.)
“As an innocent lamb He merited for us life by the free shedding of His own blood. In Him God reconciled us (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Col. 1:2O-22.) to Himself and among ourselves; from bondage to the devil and sin He delivered us, so that each one of us can say with the Apostle: The Son of God “loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).”
“By suffering for us He not only provided us with an example for our imitation, (1 Pet. 2:21; Matt. 16:24; Luke 14:27.) He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning. The Christian man, conformed to the likeness of that Son, Who is the firstborn of many brothers, (Rom. 8:29; Col. 3:10-14.) received “the first-fruits of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:23) by which he becomes capable of discharging the new law of love. (Rom. 8:1-11.)”
“Through this Spirit, who is “the pledge of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14), the whole man is renewed from within, even to the achievement of “the redemption of the body” (Rom. 8:23): “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the death dwells in you, then he who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also bring to life your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11). (2 Cor. 4:14.)
Pressing upon the Christian to be sure, are the need and the duty to battle against evil through manifold tribulations and even to suffer death. But, linked with the paschal mystery and patterned on the dying Christ, he will hasten forward to resurrection in the strength which comes from hope. (Phil. 3:19; Rom. 8:17.)
Now, what does all of this mean for us?
With His outstretched arms on the Cross, Jesus freely chose love and bridged the gap between heaven and earth. In His triumph over death he defeated the last enemy and began the new creation. We are called to be a part of that new creation. (2 Cor. 5:17)
In His Sacred humanity, this man Jesus, shows each of us how to live differently. Through His Saving Life, Death and Resurrection, he then makes it possible, by grace, for us to actually live differently. When we cooperate with grace, we can grow in holiness, be remade in His image and likeness, every day.
We are not only saved FROM – sin, death and separation – we are saved FOR , a new way of living! To be a Christian is a new way of being human; to live and to love as Jesus did. Through cooperating with grace, the free and loving gift of God’s very life, we can begin to live that way – now.
Even in the midst of difficulties, suffering, setbacks and trials.
We are invited during Lent to embrace even that which we do not want – or like – yes even suffering – as the means of this transformation. We have been given the grace to accept all difficulties. In fact, they can become, when embraced in love, a path to our continuing redemption.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote “ For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 14:15)
The Christian tradition insists that even undeserved and unmerited suffering, when joined in love to the sufferings of Jesus Christ, can produce extraordinary fruit within us and around us. This is the mystery of suffering in the Christian life. Saint Jose Maria Escriva once wrote:
The great Christian revolution has been to convert pain into fruitful suffering and to turn a bad thing into something good. We have deprived the devil of this weapon; and with it we can conquer eternity.
How do we treat those circumstances that cause us to struggle? How do we deal with what we find unpleasant?
Do we practice an “adult” form of avoidance and run, acting as if it will all just go away like when children cover their eyes? Or do we believe that even unpleasant things and even “difficult” people can actually be gifts from the hands of a loving God who invites us to walk in the way of His Son? How do we deal with unresolved conflicts or troubling relationships?
Do we work toward resolution, making “love our aim” (1 Cor. 14:1) or do we avoid them, thinking they will just go away if we pretend they don’t exist?
What is our attitude toward suffering, struggle and difficulty in life? This day, let us ask for God’s grace to choose life and live; to choose the way of redemptive love, following the Way of Jesus.
Let us pick up our cross, and walk in the path of the One whose choice, made on our behalf, secured our true freedom. It is on that road where we will find the Way to making choices which not only affect the world around us – but change us in the process.
That is the Lenten Invitation.
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