Lent Devotion 5: Light the Fire Again
‘Am I stone and not a sheep, that I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy Cross, To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss, and yet not weep?’ – Christina Rossetti
‘A guilty suffering soul is more open to grace than an apathetic or smug soul.’ Edna Hong
Lent alerts us to self-deceit. We can fool ourselves with a good Christian reputation. Proud to be in a lively congregation, we dull ourselves to how dead we actually are. Our works for Jesus become detached from Him. We choke down the Eucharist and race off to many things. We forget the One thing needful.
Maybe it hurts to slow down. To a church traumatized by sex abuse scandals, corruption in the ‘corporate offices’, and everyday injustices (parish and otherwise), busyness preserves us. Works defend us from our wounds. Better to busy ourselves than to feel and to face our betrayals.
With severe mercy, Jesus slowed down the church in Sardis by calling them back to Himself. (Rev. 3:1-6) He warned them to not be fooled by their good reputation; the appearance of spiritual life masked something deadly. (vs. 1, 2) However successful, the church had been encroached upon by sins of various sorts, including sexual immorality (‘only a few in Sardis had not defiled their garments’ v.4)
‘Be watchful, and strengthen what remains and is about to die…Remember what you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.’ (v. 2, 3a) Through renewed connection with Himself, Jesus intends to save them and the beautiful works He has entrusted to them. The key? Remembering Mercy: all He accomplished for them at Calvary and all He entrusted to them. He urges repentance unto His new life but also unto ‘the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.’ (Phil. 3:10)
Like Jesus’ call to the church at Sardis, Lent invites us to turn back to Jesus. Lingering with Him, we feel our betrayals. But we also can experience the Love of the Betrayed whose healing Presence removes the poison from our wounds. He frees us from frantic dodging of our pain. He frees us for Himself in the pain. He assumes it and somehow transforms it. Our very church ‘wound’ becomes fuel for works of mercy rooted in the Merciful One Himself.
We have a part to play in all of this. We must turn to Jesus. And we must remember and hold fast to what He entrusted to us, to stir it up so that it will not die. I spent the last year tending to a series of ‘Christ-centered’ betrayals that tempted me, not so much to bitterness, but to resignation. I felt inclined to give up my own calling and the desire to work out that calling with others. At age 55, early retirement sounded good!
Jesus reminded me of what He had entrusted to me that was not finished. He reminded me that such a trust was from Him; mere creatures could not remove it from me. He called me to fight for that calling, so that it would not die under the weight of sin and sorrow. He urged me to get out of the bed made by my betrayers. Keep watch. Wake up. Remember what He has entrusted to you.
‘God has entrusted His Church to those who betray Him again and again.’
Pope Emeritus Benedict
‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you…Do not be foolish but understand what God’s will is.’ (Eph. 5: 14, 17)