Living in this fallen world we all desire, deep in our hearts, to help, to heal, to restore what has been lost since leaving Eden. More intimately, we desire to heal our families, bless our friends, and bring order and peace to the communities we live in. Politics, government, laws, agencies and huge bureaucracies are all rooted in this desire for peace and an orderly society founded on love.
So how have we gone so wrong? How do we have school shootings, and 40,000+ worldwide abortions per day, a pornography industry that dwarfs the GNP of many sizeable nations, 21,000+ starvation deaths per day, and the complete and total breakdown of respect for the human person made in the image and likeness of God? The answer is our lack of holiness. It all comes back to each one of us either putting our personal effort to be like Jesus first in our lives, or putting our own temporal desires first. Lent is an outstanding opportunity to look at our true priorities, our values as we live them out each day.
Our little lives cause ripples that go out into humanity for good and for evil. The more we try to model our lives on Jesus’ life, the more those ripples spread His love, His grace, His goodness, His order, His plan for humanity. During Lent, grace is poured out for us to radically reorient our lives in the little and big ways we have stopped living as reflections of Him, as fonts of His love.
Be a Restorer!
Your people shall rebuild the ancient ruins;
the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
“Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you,
“Restorer of ruined dwellings” (Isaiah 58:12).
What a glorious call! Who would not want this said about them after they are gone from this life? We see ruin all around us in so many ways, but we can do something about it, and it does not involve strategic planning sessions, committee meetings, giving up all of your family time, armies, agencies or governments. We answer this glorious call to be restorers of society by being ruthlessly faithful to our vocations, to the call we have received from God in the simplicity of our lives.
The temptation in living out our vocations is to listen to what the world tells us to do. In great clarity and wisdom St. Teresa of Avila prayed, “God preserve us from the prudence of worldlings.” This little truth bomb reminds us that the world is not going to lead us nor teach us the best way to run our lives, even if those leadings and teachings seem practical and logical. We are called to ask God what He would have us do and not do in each season, in each moment of life.
In discerning what God is asking us to do and not do in our lives, how to be restorers, we remember two basics. First, God will never ask us to do anything that contradicts the teachings of the Church, nothing sinful. Second, He will never ask us to do anything that causes us to be unfaithful to our vocation. Keeping these precepts at the forefront of our decision making can greatly simplify the process every time. It eliminates 95% of the questions, leaving a much more manageable “discernment load” for further prayer and thought. If I am a wife and mother of three small children and am offered a full-time job that requires a lot of out of town time, not much discernment is necessary. God would not call me to do something contrary to my vocation. If I am concerned about my family finances, discernment leads me to pray to Him, as Divine Providence. He will show me ways to economize and help support my family without putting finances ahead of vocation.
X It Out
God is calling us to do and be for Him, for our spouses, for our children, our flocks, our families, with total, radical, crazy trust in Divine Providence. On a retreat in 1935 Jesus asked St. Faustina to literally X out her will in writing and promise, “From today on, I do the will of God everywhere, always, and in everything” (Diary, 372). This radical, some would say crazy, step gave her the freedom and simplicity to make all of the decisions that would follow in her life. In our own lives, our own vocations whatever they be, we too can have this freedom. By following this radical way of faithfulness, we too can be fonts of mercy and grace as Faustina was, and still is.
The prudence of worldlings would have us concerned with a thousand different factors for every decision we make. But God knows we are little, so the way of life he offers us is simple. In this moment now, what is the best decision, keeping in mind the basic precepts of virtue versus sin and the confines of fulfilling your vocation. Virtue and Vocation. It doesn’t get simpler than that. Ninety-five percent of the time, decisions become clear when this God-given lens is used, and our will and selfish desires are X’d out of the way.
That Troublesome 5%
There are so many good things to do, so many excellent causes to serve. Ministries are doing wonderful things. Agencies are doing crucial, needed things. But are you being called to do this one thing someone is asking you to do?
“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – St. Teresa of Calcutta
We all have our own set of “constants,” chunks of time that are already spoken for and not readily changed. Work, care of family, sleep, prayer, community obligations and keeping of the home use up the vast majority of our time. But for many people there is time available beyond those constants. That “variable” time can get us into a lot of trouble if we forget our two precepts of Virtue and Vocation. We are asked to serve on a committee for a great cause with people whose company we enjoy. We are urged to help raise funds for improvements to an institution that benefits our family. We are asked to run an event for a dear friend who is overwhelmed with too many things to do.
There are many ways we can feel pressured to do things that, on the surface, are good and noble. This is where deeper discernment is called for. This is where we need to get radical and crazy with our simplicity and our desire to follow what God is actually calling us to do. When it’s not a question of virtue, and in fact may seem to support the virtue of charity or service, we have to lean in a little harder on that second precept: vocation.
Is the time commitment truly going to be as minimal as described?
Is the time commitment going to increase at a time when other factors in my vocation are also going to be more demanding?
Am I saying “yes” to this to “people please” or because I believe this is God’s will for my time?
Am I saying “yes” for fear of other consequences of saying “no” besides hurt feelings?
Does this activity serve God in simplicity, foster virtue, support vocations in others?
If I am married, what does my spouse think?
Too many times I have gotten involved with something for fear of hurting someone’s feelings, or some other fear, when what was needed was radical trust in God and His will for simplicity in my family’s life. Instead of having peace at home, I have been distracted, over-busy, over-tired and eventually sick, all in the misguided name of service of one form or another. The truth is I was not only being unfaithful to my vocation with this misguided use of my time, I was actually being sinful by not trusting God. I did not trust Him that, whatever the consequences of my faithfulness to Him would have been, He would have given me the grace to handle them.
Block It Off
So how do we learn to know what is God’s will? How do we hear from God? Among those “constants” in our time usage is the all-important block of prayer. Block off prayer time first and firmly in your schedule and guard it with your life. This is tithing of your time, giving God the first fruits of your time. If we were to give that Old Testament 10% of our time to prayer we would be devoting 2.4 hours to prayer each day! In our life in the New Covenant, we are called to be even more generous than that 10%! While this level of prayer time can only remain a goal for most of us, it is still a necessity of the Christian life that we commit ourselves to daily prayer.
As the saying goes, this is not because God needs us to pray, but because we need to pray. We need to spend time with Him. We need to receive His presence and His grace every day to live in this world, to be restorers of this society. We need to pray in order to hear from God and know His will in all things, but especially with that troublesome 5% of the time when Virtue and Vocation don’t make our decisions for us. Clarity comes by degree, but it will still be a constant battle against the good things that are presented to us at the cost of the best things. Block off that prayer time first. Let God order the rest. You will find He’s very good at it.
The “Blessings of the Thousands”
… The LORD, the LORD, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity, continuing his love for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but bringing punishment for their parents’ wickedness on children and children’s children to the third and fourth generation! (Exodus 34:6-7)
In his blog, Father Stefan Starzynski of the Diocese of Fairfax, Virginia writes:
We are told that the blessing goes to the thousands generation but the curses only go to the third and fourth generation.
This means that God places a limit on evil. But he places no limit on good. The power of goodness is far greater than the power of evil.
In the theology of the family tree we all have the holy and faithful members of our family tree. We do not focus so much on breaking the curses in the family tree as releasing the blessing of all the holy and God Fearing people that we all have in our family tree. In the theology of the Healing of the Family Tree we focus much more on releasing the blessing than on breaking the curses. Because God Does Not put a limit on the blessing, while He does put a limit on the curses. Goodness and love are far more powerful than evil.
We all have our own Abraham, Isaac and Jacobs in our own family tree.
What grace! What mercy! The buck can stop here with us! We can be the restorers of the ruined families, of a diseased society! All we are called to do is to faithfully persevere in Virtue and Vocation. It is not rocket science or even social science. It is simple because God knows we are little. It is radical and it requires great trust. But God is trustworthy and will bless our families and our world “for a thousand generations!”
What does a restored family, a restored society look like? Close your eyes and imagine it for a moment. The focus of the society is not on entertainment or politics, but on church and family. Institutions are not huge and impersonal with far away headquarters, but small, personal and local. The ambition we breed in our children is to become all that God created them to be, not to amass the biggest fortune, or get their fifteen minutes of fame. We care for our neighbors instead of not noticing that they are falling through the cracks because we are too busy in our worldly pursuits. Our hospitality is simple and welcoming instead of backbreaking and bar-raising. We enjoy the present moment instead of plowing through to the next thing. Our homes are cozy, safe havens where people are pulled by the magnetism of the peace they contain, not pristine monuments to taste and style. Close your eyes. Imagine what is there and what is absent. No government, no social program in the world can bring this restoration about, only your personal commitment to holiness and mine.
Make no mistake, this is no Quietist movement, no way to sit back and avoid the fray by holding up in your home. This is a battle and not for the faint of heart! Everything will come against you when you set out to live this way. The enemy has a vested interest in keeping you from becoming a restorer, from putting Virtue and Vocation first. You will feel guilty and fearful and worry about a thousand things. But keep pushing through the way you know the Lord wants you to live, in peace and abundance of all truly good things. Make your Lenten offering an experiment in trust in Divine Providence! This little reorientation can not only be the most important thing you do this Lent, but the most important thing you will do within your life! Repair the breaches! Restore the ruins! Go home!
As St. Josemaría Escriva was frequently known to say, “Nunc coepi! Now I begin!” Lent is the perfect time to begin to be that restorer, to cross out your will and surrender to God’s, to be His instrument of releasing the blessings of the thousands by living Virtue and Vocation in simplicity through disciplined prayer and radical trust. Allow yourself, your family and your community the freedom of this grace. Live Lent fully and just watch what God will do!
Lord, you know how often I fail at all of this, how often I trust in the “prudence of worldlings,” how often I follow my own will. But you also know my desire to follow you, to be a restorer of ruins, a breaker of curses, a releaser of the blessings of the thousands. Please help me, help us, to follow simplicity and focus first on prayer. Help us to make Virtue and Vocation our decision makers, and trust you to show us your will in all else. Help us to live in the freedom you gave for abundant life in simplicity. Restore us, Lord!