Prayer and Openness to God.
As this is the First Sunday of Lent, I am going to make an assumption – albeit one that is pretty safe: that many of us are approaching Lent with the desire to grow in holiness. For some, that desired growth in holiness may be rooted in the intentional act of “giving something up.” Others may formulate this desire by asking themselves “what can I do in addition to…” Whatever approach we take as a way to deepen our love of God and holiness of life, might I speak to what is meant to be in common for both of these approaches, namely prayer.
However, before we talk about prayer, let us together reflect on the true end goal of “giving up something” and “taking something on.” That we are doing this reflection together means that I want to pose some questions that can be useful in examining our Lenten goals and the progress we make toward those goals.
- What particular act are we either giving up or committing to do more frequently?
- What do we hope to accomplish by Easter through this act of sacrifice and/or service?
- How will we stay committed to the goal?
The first question of course is for each of us to answer individually. The second, however, contains more than meets the eye, as the true goal of our Lenten observance hopefully pertains to seeking the Kingdom of God, and not merely an earthly desire being fulfilled (like “giving up candy…so that I can lose some weight”). Finally, question three is truly the MOST important, and the proper answer that all of us should give to question three is “prayer,” no matter what we have embraced as an act of sacrifice or service – even if “to pray more” is already your answer to questions one and two.
Why is prayer the primary way to “stay committed to the goal?” Might I offer you an image used by St. Augustine regarding how God works through our desire for
virtuous living: “Suppose you are going to fill some holder or container, and you know you will be given a large amount. Then you set about stretching your sack or wineskin or whatever it is. Why? Because you know the quantity you will have to put in it and your eyes tell you there is not enough room. By stretching it, therefore, you increase the capacity of the sack, and this is how God deals with us.”
In so many words, the end goal (heaven) that we all desire, which motivates us to “do something for Lent” is not accomplished by our own efforts (we don’t work our way to heaven). Rather, our true end of heaven is only accomplished by God Himself, who fills us with His life, as though we are empty containers. Our true task is to open ourselves to this life of God, that we might take in all that God desires for us. While the image of being “stretched” open applies well to our acts of giving something up or embracing a greater life of charity – that God Himself may fill the empty space – the image is even more fitting when talking about prayer. Authentic prayer will open us up to taking in that which God desires to give us, namely, Himself. In order to accomplish any goal in life, the greatest of which is to “do God’s will,” our first call is to open ourselves in prayer, that God may fill us and truly make of us His own dear children.
May we all live this Lenten season rooted in prayer – that God, who is the source of all life, may fill our lives with Himself, leading us to the eternal life of heaven.