Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son was the parable from the Gospel at mass today.  The parable details the mercy of God, and is often shown to be an analogy for the Israelites and Gentiles.  What actually jumps out to me from the details are three things. First, in order to receive mercy from God, we must acknowledge the truth of our situation. We must see ourselves as we truly are in relation to what God has called us to. Then we must seek that mercy (not least, by aligning our lives with God's law), it doesn't just come to us. Last, God is always waiting for us, and will espy us from afar, if we but begin our journey towards him.  Much more could be said, but I will leave my reflections at that.

-Quaestor

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Fasting

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are usually the listed means by which the holy season of Lent can sanctify us.  Yesterday, I mentioned prayer, and what a life of prayer (surely the goal of the spiritual life) might look like.  In continuance of that theme, I will now look at fasting.
   The best way to understand fasting is not purely as an abstention from food or any other thing.  Self denial is a good thing, but not in a vacuum.  Like the demon from the cleansed but empty soul, such self-denial would merely clear space for some other self-indulgence.  Perhaps we might gain some good just from this--self knowledge, for instance.  But ultimately, we do not fast purely for the sake of fasting, for the sake of the space.  The space we might create is merely a means to a further end, as would be any self-knowledge gained.
   Ideally, what happens when we fast is that, with the separation we create from daily things, we can remove our attention from things that are too comfortable to us.  As Pope Benedict XVI once said, we were not called to be comfortable, but to be holy.  The daily things that we fast from conform to us; we form them, we form the immediate reality surrounding us in a way that we see fit.  As we all know, however, this is not how things really are, so we need to separate from the immediateness of life, as a first step.  Fasting allows us to pull back from the easy aspects of life.
   Once we have created that space, we are no longer surrounded by things that reflect our self and our desires.  We can examine ourselves, assuming real humility on our parts, in the light of unchanging and perfect Goodness. 
   What we must do, lastly, is make use of the newly created space in our lives, by putting more important things close to us.  Remove a distraction or self-reflecting thing from our daily existence, and put God and His works in their place.  Thus, it is clear that fasting is the real key to the whole work of Lent, the growthof the person in holiness.  It unlocks the door of the self, and clears away the detritus of the past year's habits and indulgences: the result is a reclaimed space for truly living a life in God through prayer, which should then overflow into concrete acts of charity towards others.

--Quaestor

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

...And Now it is Lent

   Ash Wednesday is now upon us, indeed almost over.  This year, the lead-in to Lent has been a strange one--rather halting--due to the snow storms and delays associated with them.  Nonetheless, the need for Lent has been growing ever stronger in my mind.  I would guess that the busyness of the last year have stretched out the days, for it has never seemed so long since Lent last was.  Observing the liturgical season of Septuigesima certainly benefited me, for the readings, the vestments, the tone of the liturgy (cough, cough, revised missal of Paul VI...) all pointed to the upcoming season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

   For prayer, I plan to just be more consistent in what I try to do.  Really, that's about it.  If I did that well, it would be a Lent well spent.  Obviously, a holy hour here or there would help, but as I have to keep reminding myself: it's not about the amount, but the consistency and care.  Quality vs quantity is an over-used trope in this instance.  Real prayer is about the habit, not the practices.  I say 'practices', for I, at least, tend to focus on the practices, the iterations of prayer.  Many fail to look at inculcating a habit of prayer, a practice of prayer; and real quality of prayer must be based on the habit.  Surely, practices are important, and repetitions, and enumerations.  At least what we do, doing it again and again, and numerically increasing it are all considerations we must have.  Ultimately, however, a lot of the prayer angle is personal, and depends on the personality and situation of each person.  It would seem that certain fundamentals should really be covered, but the how is not as important.  The Eucharist should be at the center, and Our Lady as a guide to Him in that form.  The liturgy should be a real emphasis, and prayer as a habit must derive from it and return to it, as the highest action of man, as individual and community.  Scripture should be involved as the key unlocking the door to Christ, while a good commentator or commentary is like a keychain.  Spiritual reading should have a role, as one's mind should ponder the realities of God's existence and providence, as well as their real interaction in human affairs via the person of Christ.  Taken together, these lead to a unified habit of prayer, where we can quickly turn our thoughts towards our eternal home and He who awaits us there.  If one could aggregate these parts into a whole, with the contemplation of the one God as the result, then would one have learned to pray.  If one can learn to take the daily goings-on and relate them, in the moment, to eternity, and easily see the Cause of causes in all our thoughts and doings (without making it a mining excursion to find them), then one would have gained the habit of prayer.  Of course, the question then is: how to do this.  For that, I'd better leave you to the Saints.

--Quaestor


About the image:  The Weeders by Jules Breton, which I have listed here, often reminds me of Lent, as there seems to be a pause in the midst of work, or at least a call, as Lent is for us in the midst of the labor of our lives. I also thought of Jean-Fran├žois Millet's Angelus, but this seemed to show more of what I meant by Lent being a call in the midst of labor.