March 5, 2014
In many ways, Lent is about finding out where our real loyalties are. It is the season to test whether or not we belong to the city of God or the city of men. But the difficulty of our search is amplified by the subject matter, for we have ready-made symbols to express our loyalty to outward associations; the flag, an anthem, the monarchy, the cross even. But we know that loyalty, the stuff that nations and cities are built on, is born on the battlefield.
Lent then, is the spiritual battlefield for hearts. It is the time within the Church where we all encourage each other to look deeply within and root out what is in fact an enemy to our mission.
It is very much like riding a passenger train and staring out the window. As night descends we see less and less of the outside world and more and more of ourselves reflected back upon us. Lent is the night we need so that we can see what has been happening and even festering within the train of our souls. But what can be most frightening as we begin this journey, is that we often find that we are not alone on the train, that when the darkness descends and the image of our inner world becomes clearer, we find that there are enemies standing there along with us.
Greed, gluttony, lust, envy, pride, wrath, sloth; enemies of the soul whose presence indicate a previous and active loyalty to the prince of this world. It is our reaction to this revelation that brings us the courage and resolve to strike out in penitential ways. We know that a rebellion is in order, and so we deny even the many good things about us, knowing that they too might be one of the many links to our current predicament.
But [Jesus] answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)
But we will not succeed in this task because we have received ashes on our foreheads and the darkness of Lent surrounds the Church. We will not win this fight because we have found something really tough to give up. We will only succeed when we refuse to close our eyes to the reality we see reflected back at us; when we can honestly say that we have found a traitor within, and that we are willing to throw him from the train.