March 18, 2011

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Lent is a time to faithfully stay on the path to conversion

(Listen to the archbishop read this column)

There is a reading in the Liturgy of the Hours that captures my attention. It is from Chapter 6 of the Book of Jeremiah.

“Stand beside the earlier roads, ask the pathways of old which is the way to good and walk it; thus you will find rest for your souls” (Jer 6:16).

It can be found in the mid-afternoon prayer for Saturday of Week II of Lent.

As I pray this reading, I find ­encouragement to trust in the sacred wisdom of the past. I am particularly struck by this passage because it says a lot to me about the work of being Catholic and Christian in our day.

Conversion and commitment to the Christian way of life is hard work. It demands patience and a willingness to trust in God, and to trust in those who have handed on the faith to us.

I detect a growing trend today in some spiritual pursuits that I fear may be misleading some people. There is a lot of interest in healing and deliverance that in some ways has a place in our Catholic tradition, but not in the “quick fix” manner in which I perceive some folks may be tending. What do I mean?

During the season of Lent, we are invited to turn away from sin and to return to the Gospel. Some people, maybe most of us, find turning away from sin a tough invitation, especially if sin is a deeply engrained habit. The solution that is often sought is some kind of magical healing that works a freeing cure, and thus “everything can be OK.”

In other words, there is a wish and hope that the hard work of conversion can be sidestepped.

For most of us, conversion does not work that way. Repentance requires commitment on our part.

Conversion is a commitment to a way of life, the life of the Gospel. Generally speaking, it is not a split-second happening. We need to be disposed to receive God’s gracious mercy, and with that goes the conviction to do penance and reparation for our sin and to promise to try not to commit it again—not an easy task without our intending to follow the path of Jesus.

God’s mercy is his greatest characteristic, and it is freely given. Yet, for us to find healing forgiveness, there needs to be a real exchange of love between us and our merciful Father.

Do I believe in the evil one—in Satan? You bet I do. Do I believe in possession by the evil one? Yes, but in my experience possession by the devil is an extremely rare phenomenon.

Authentic exorcism is perhaps fascinating, but it is a rare necessary remedy. It is to be applied with great prudence and discretion and prayer.

Neither exorcism nor the phenomenon of deliverance is a magical formula to bypass Gospel conversion and repentance.

For most of us, the way to healing and sanctification is doing the hard work of conversion and commitment, and the avoidance of occasions of sin. We have been created with an intellect and a free will. Is it surprising that we are to put these to use on this journey of faith?

I speak of conversion and pursuing our sanctification as hard work, but there is the rest of the story. Jesus provided his Church with the gift of the sacraments to help us on the journey of faith. The graces of the sacraments nourish us and give us the help we need to negotiate our way through the materialism and secularism that plagues our culture.

Without the sacraments, we can hardly expect to make our way. We need to take advantage of the sacramental gifts that Jesus won for us by his death. I guess, in some ways, this is counted as hard work by some, but the fruits are surely worth the effort.

Lent provides us with a refreshing opportunity to embrace the tried and proven fidelity of the pathways of old, of which Jeremiah wrote. Maybe we need to pray for the patience to “stand by the earliest roads which is the way to good, and walk it.”

Maybe we need to renew our belief that thus we will find rest for our souls.

The concluding prayer for mid-afternoon prayer on Saturday of Week II is this: “Lord, make the peace we pray for a reality; may we live our days in quiet joy and, with the help of the Virgin Mary’s prayers, safely reach your kingdom. Grant this through Christ our Lord.”

Maybe faith is not so much hard work as it is the conviction to remain faithful and steady along the way.

For that, we need the Church, and through the Church we find strength in Jesus and the Father. †

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