Lent and the battle for the heart

Listen to mp3 file
Ash Wednesday: February 22, 2012
Joel 2:12-18; Ps 51; 2 Cor 5:20–6:2; Matt 6:1-6, 16-18

Everything that God created is good. Everything that God created is good, and so is worthy of being loved.

The problem, St. Augustine tells us (in City of God and elsewhere), is when we love some things too much; or in the wrong way. When, in the order of things and persons that we should love more and less than each other, they get out of order. Something lower displaces something higher. Things within our heart get out of order.

Lent is a season to work on putting our hearts back in order.

St. John of the Cross knew well that we are made to love. And what we love above all—that is what we serve; and we also become like that person or thing. (Ascent of Mount Carmel, bk. 1, ch. 9, no. 1) We human beings have been created to know, love, and serve God himself—who is infinite, eternal, all-good, all-loving. And if we put anything or anyone who is less than infinite into that top spot in our loves, that center core in our heart—then we lower ourselves, and our lives get out of order.

Like any addict, we say, “I’m not addicted; I can stop anytime I want!” Really? The Church in her wisdom knows better. The Church knows this is a battle. Against what? Against those “temporal consequences of sin” that were left behind in you when original sin was washed away in baptism—temporal consequences like physical suffering, character flaws, and “an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence.” (CCC 1264) This is the battle that our Lord Jesus has left for us to fight with his help—to fight and to win. The battle for our heart.

And so we prayed in the Collect at the beginning of Mass:

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

And so, in this battle for our heart, we take up the three traditional practices of Lent:

  • Fasting, in which, in different ways we take those mere things that have risen too high in our loves and say no to them. They are good and worthy of love, but not that much. And so we need this discipline to return them to their proper place.
  • Almsgiving, in which we remember that other people are not only there to serve our needs, but we are there to meet their needs. The surplus that we say no to can supply what they lack—they, who must always rank higher in our loves than things.
  • And Prayer, in which, in the words of St. Teresa of Avila (Life, ch. 8, no. 5), we “take time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.” He whom we should love above all things, and all things for his sake.

So the battle is joined—the battle for our heart. And when this season of Lent comes to a close 40 days from now, may we be more ready than ever to join our heart to his Sacred Heart, who died and rose for love of us.

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