The humility God has shown to humanity never ceases to astound me. The Incarnation of the Lord is the poignant foundation stone of that spirit of humility. In human history much ink has been spilled and time offered up wrestling with the gift of Christ’s incarnation.
One of the insights I always gain from pondering on this mystery of our faith is the idea that God gave us what we demanded of Him: proof. Love is a powerful thing that human words cannot fully convey. In receiving love, we fallen humans tend to demand evidence of the validity of the love being offered. God’s choice to humble Himself by entering His creation for the sake of redeeming, saving, and sanctifying was done to fulfill that human desire for proof.
The Proof of Love is the Cross
Yet, the proof of God’s love for us was not in a thing but in a person, the Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the clear evidence of God’s love for us. From that, we can travel deeper into the question: How much does God love us? The answer to that question – its fulfillment, if you will – is found in the Cross of Christ. Not only did God offer us proof of His love in Jesus, He showed us the extent of that love by embracing the Cross.
With the gift of God’s love in Christ, we are given the ability to become like Christ through our relationship with Him. The Christian life is about embracing, growing in, and becoming transformed by the love of God through Jesus Christ. Love makes it possible for us to enter into union with the one we love. But the love that is given to us calls us not to merely journey into Him but also into ourselves and into the community around us.
Those journeys demand a certain kind of sight – spiritual sight. His disciples are meant to see like Him; we are meant to have the “eyes of Christ”. Also, having the eyes of Christ allows those in the world, those who remain far from Christ, to experience His love for them whenever they look into the eyes of those that bear the name of Christ. The season of Lent provides the Christian with three great means of developing the sight of Christ in the Spirit of His love: almsgiving, fasting, and prayer.
Almsgiving – Seeing the Other in Love
Almsgiving seems like a straightforward act: giving money to the poor. However, Christ never calls us to be superficial in our practices but to journey deeper into them. It is far too easy to drop a dollar into a beggar’s cup and walk away, but we must always ask ourselves: Who are the poor around us? Why are they poor? What are their needs? The call to almsgiving is a call to know our neighbors; but part of knowing them is the need to truly see them. Almsgiving, with the love of Christ, challenges us to see the person in need before us. This need to see the other can begin by simply asking the other person’s name. How often do the homeless in an area have their names spoken to them or asked of them in love?
Names are powerful things. When a person gives us his name and we give ours, it is like a seed of love sown between the two. Also, when we take the time to ask the other’s name, money is not the only alms given; our time is an alms also. For most people, time is far more valuable than money in terms of the cultivation of love. Money can’t buy love, it only garners affection.
Giving time warms the heart, making it possible for the seeds of love to grow in it. Almsgiving, when it is not merely relegated to money, causes love to flourish, making it possible for the Christian to see the other person before him. This kind of sight is not from a position of power but from a position gratitude. It is in gratitude that all are made equal because, in giving alms, we are reminded of what it means that Jesus gave Himself for us in time.
Fasting – Seeing Ourselves in Love
God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 12:30-31). In my short time as a religious and a priest, I’ve found that the hardest demand in that call is the need to love ourselves. We are a fallen people, so prone to vanity and pride, yet God calls us to a love of self that is not selfish. That call to love comes with a necessary perspective, the need to see ourselves with the eyes of God.
Fasting is the means given to us for the cultivation of that sight. The human person is a composite of soul and body. Fasting impacts the body in a way that causes the eyes of the soul to wrestle with the needs of the body. God created the human person with the need to eat, and in fulfilling that need we have a relationship with the exterior world around us. Fasting is thus a means of purification.
The body makes many demands that arise, not from God’s creative plan, but through a hunger cultivated by the world. Fasting purifies our way of seeing what the body truly needs versus what the body wants and then craves out of blind folly. Being able to see what the body truly needs, allows us to begin to grasp the beauty of God’s creative act in forming man from dirt. Understanding our needs also helps us to appreciate the satisfaction we gain from our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Thus, through fasting we see what our body needs and requires and how those things came about from God’s creative act of love – a love that we can participate in through our bodily life.
Prayer – Seeing God in Love
St. John of the Cross wrote, “God is hidden in the soul, and the true contemplative will seek Him there in love.” How are we to understand the verb “to seek” in the thought of the great saint? Prayer. We seek God by prayer. Prayer again is a sacrifice made from our time. In prayer, we give that finite gift of time back to God in faith. Why? Because it is in faith that we begin to find and see God in prayer. Prayer is the language of God in the soul because it is a means of attuning one’s heart to the rhythm of the Other’s heart.
St. John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, heard that rhythm of God’s Sacred Heart because he was willing to give the time to remain close to it. Like John, all disciples are called to that place of rest on Christ’s bosom. Offering up time to God in prayer allows the heart to see how near it is to the Heart of its beloved Lord. When we can see how much closer His heart is than we are even to our own hearts (so says St. Augustine), we can begin to accept the place He offers us, which is none other than a place of rest upon His bosom being comforted by that sweet music of His Sacred Heart. It is a place that allows our eyes to gaze up into His blessed eyes.
Lent is upon us. It is an ever ancient and yet new reality for us. It is not a season where we travel in ignorance. It is a season of sight that is extended to us as an invitation, an invitation from the very Heart of Christ, a Heart that yearns for us to be joined with Him in love. Yet, that invitation will always bring us to Christ on His Cross as a way of proving the authenticity of His love for us. Through accepting that invitation, we begin the journey to see things in, by and through Christ’s love.
That acceptance is an act of faith in Christ’s love from the Cross. True Christian love will always bring us to the Cross; but no longer can that implement of death produce a blind fear in us because it is now through the Cross that we receive the fullness of God’s love for us. Thus, from the crosses of our lives we can make Christ’s love visible so others can see the beauty of Christ’s love for them, as with renewed vision we see His infinite love for all.
In tribulation, immediately draw near to God with trust, and you will receive strength, enlightenment, and instruction. ~ St. John of the Cross