. . . During this Lenten pause I suggest a practice that many people, no doubt including some who are reading this, already find helpful in organizing their lives.
Midpoint in Lent is a great time to pause and take stock. Most of us probably started Lent with a bang, filled with determination to make good use of this opportunity for penance and renewal. And now? How are we doing at keeping those good resolutions we made on Ash Wednesday? Forgotten what the resolutions were? Now, while it's still Lent, there's plenty of time left for a fresh start.
And as we proceed with this stock-taking, here are some thoughts from a sermon called "The Lapse of Time" by St. John Henry Newman:
"We know very well that much as we may have attempted, we have done very little, that our very best service is nothing worth -- and the more we attempt, the more clearly we shall see how little we have hitherto attempted."
Reading Newman, you're reminded that this is someone with a tough-minded, unsentimental understanding of human weakness and the struggle required of anyone serious about making progress in the spiritual life.
He makes the point -- obvious enough, but one we tend to forget -- that time really is a precious treasure of which each of us is allotted a specific, limited amount. Ideally, we would use our particular quantity of time loving God and serving others. In reality, as self-examination usually makes clear, much of our time, maybe most of it, is spent satisfying our own interests and desires, with comparatively little devoted to God and those around us.
So, during this Lenten pause I suggest a practice that many people, no doubt including some who are reading this, already find helpful in organizing their lives.
Every day, at the same time if possible, read a chapter from one of the gospels. If it's especially long, read half. Stick to the same gospel every day, reading through it, chapter by chapter, until you finish, then go on to the next gospel. When you've read all four, start over.
After each day's reading, sit quietly for 10 minutes and think about what you've read. Consider how it applies to you. Say something to God about it -- thanking him for his goodness, telling him you're sorry for not responding as you should, promising to try harder. Or whatever else seems appropriate to you there and then.
Catholic News Service reports a British study showing bible reading improves mental well-being. Great -- supposing you're interested in religion as therapy. But here's something better: bible reading improves spiritual well-being.
Let me conclude, though, with a further thought from Newman:
"Those whom Christ saves are they who at once attempt to save themselves yet despair of saving themselves; who aim to do all and confess they do nought; who are all love and all fear; who are the most holy and yet confess themselves the most sinful; who ever seek to please him yet feel they never can; who are full of good works yet of works of penance."
That is all very strange, one might think. And Newman agrees. Then he adds:
"All this seems a contradiction to the natural man, but it is not so to those whom Christ enlightens. They understand in proportion to their illumination that it is possible to work out their salvation yet to have it wrought out for them, to fear and tremble at the thought of judgment yet to rejoice always in the Lord and hope and pray for his coming."
May we all take our turn fearing, trembling, and rejoicing for the rest of Lent -- and beyond.
- Russell Shaw is the author of more than twenty books. He is a consultor of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and served as communications director for the U.S. Bishops.
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