As we approach the beginning of Great and Holy Lent, we are reminded that this is a special time of the year where each of us is called to look more deeply at our interior condition, to assess our spiritual health, and to stretch ourselves just a bit more in order to grow in the likeness of Jesus Christ. During this time we are given the divine medicine of God’s word through scriptural parables on successive Sundays that illustrates for us the path of repentance leading to salvation. In these parables, we are reminded of our human tendencies to pursue what we want and desire, even when such impulses may impede us from achieving what we know is best for us. Through this insight we recognize a battle that wages within us and consequently find the words of St. Paul resonating within our hearts, when he so eloquently expressed what all of us feel, “for I see another law warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:23).
Thanks to God, Great Lent offers us a unique opportunity to address this dilemma, the battle of the law of the mind vs. the law of the flesh, in a very direct and powerful way. Through fasting, the special services offered, and the biblical themes covered, we are spiritually positioned to advance and grow in holiness if we approach this time with humility. The writings, stories, parables and hymns of the Church help reorient us and redirect our course in life, coming in line with the path on which the Saints walked, faithfully fulfilling their calling as Christians. As noted, St. Paul speaks of how challenging it is to faithfully fulfill such a calling, and yet, we are constantly encouraged to press on in light of the challenges that lie before us, keeping our hope in Jesus Christ.
The challenge to live out our calling has been addressed since the time of the Apostles. Every generation of Christians throughout history has had to “fight the good fight” and every generation has received the grace necessary for the journey. St. Gregory Palamas (14th cent.) was one of many who spoke about the Christian journey and who reminded those of his time and those of us today to faithfully fulfill our calling. In his ninth homily he states, “If we saw people being faithful to what they knew to be right, putting it into practice and being made good themselves by their deeds, without offending against their souls’ good sense, then we would not have much to say about honest behavior, chastity, self-control and the like.”
These words of St. Gregory are like the sound of the symandron used in the monasteries to call the monastics to prayer. With each blow to the wood we hear, be faithful and put into practice what you know to be right. If one were to be faithful to what they know is right, as St. Gregory says, nothing would need to be said about being honest, chaste or exercising self-control, because these things would be natural to their way of life. But alas, we see another law warring against the law of the mind, warring against what we know to be right. It is in this “warring” where we experience an inner tension, a great frustration in our quest for godliness. The blessed St. Paul says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15). What a predicament! How hard it is to desire to be one way and yet constantly fall to the law of the flesh. In frustration Paul cried out “wretched man that I am!”
Being faithful to what is right begins with one thing and one thing only, repentance. We start in our mind, acknowledging with our thoughts, that there is only one type of heart that is truly receptive to God’s grace and the Kingdom of Heaven and that is a heart that is humble and meek. Humility and meekness lead to repentance and prepare the heart to receive grace. Notice how it was only after Zacchaeus humbled himself that Christ came into his home. Notice likewise that the Publican left the Temple justified only after he humbled himself when he said that he was not worthy to lift up his eyes to heaven when he prayed. Also, before the Prodigal Son returned, he first humbled himself, recognizing his true condition and then upon his return his father ran to him and embraced him in his repentance. Throughout Great Lent the theme of repentance saturates the services and readings in order to redirect us toward the Kingdom of God. The plethora of examples to illustrate the need for humility stare us in the eyes of our soul to promote a quick response from us. How blessed we are to be reminded each year of our true calling and purpose in life!
It is through humility that we enter into a spirit of repentance and it is through repentance that we have the opportunity to be faithful to what we know to be right, without offending against our soul’s good sense. Truly unique is this time in the life of the Church. I pray that we will all seize this time with humility, gratitude and joyfulness, assessing our spiritual health, stretching ourselves just a bit, supporting one another and worshipping together, so that we may attain more and more to the likeness of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Good Strength! A blessed 40 Days!
In Christ with love,