I do not want to meet Jesus on my deathbed. I want him to already be close so that death is something we do together, just as in life.
Jesus told us to strive to enter eternity by the narrow door (cf Luke 13:24). That directive can leave us fearful. Is our life leading us to the narrow door? How do we get there?
“But Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62). We want to be fit for the kingdom; to enter through the narrow door. Pope Francis knows that way. For Lent this year, he encourages us to let go of the plow. He chose the theme: “He became poor so, that by his poverty you might become rich.”
A Time of Preparation
Lent is not the destination but rather the journey that leads to everlasting riches. The Holy Spirit will take us there, but it is up to us to give him easy access to our soul. It is such access that Jacque-Bénigne Bossuet provides in Meditations for Lent. Bossuet lived during the Seventeenth Century. He was a French bishop, theologian, a brilliant orator, and a student of St. Vincent de Paul. His writings are compared to those of St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom, and he was reported to have been at the bedside of Pope Pius XII.
“The whole of the Christian life consists in making this journey [to Heaven] well,” Bossuet writes, “and it was to that end that our Lord directed all his deeds.”
Lent is part of making the journey well. It can remove impediments to our relationship with Christ but it can also overwhelm us. We know it’s a time to grow holier but we have just forty days to get it done. In Meditations for Lent, Bossuet’s translated writings are organized into day-by-day pieces to gradually deepen our interior life.
On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded to pray in secret and open our hearts to God alone as the keeper of our innermost sorrows. “It is unnecessary to tell God your needs in lengthy speeches, for he knows all of them before you say a word,” Bossuet says. “Tell him interiorly about what will profit you, and recollect yourself in God.” He instructs us to say little with our lips but much in our hearts.
On this first day of Lent we are told, “”We will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). “Desire that he should be in you in this way. Offer yourself to him as his dwelling and temple.” Bossuet encourages us to look at Jesus in heaven waiting for us so that we will break the chains that hold us down. With such a vision, we will run–no fly— to our Lord who awaits us.
Through the words of Jesus, Bossuet instills a desire to detach rather than needing to pry loose our grasp on the world. It is the love of God that can fill us so that we turn easily from the emptiness of earthly life.
Bossuet recalls that St. Philip said in Scripture, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” (John 14:18). Since God alone suffices, the world can give us only partial and temporary fulfillment. “He alone can fill all our emptiness, satisfy all our needs, content us, and make us happy,” Bossuet writes. He explains that the solution, then, is obvious and easy: “Let us then empty our heart of all other things, for if the Father alone suffices, then we have no need for sensible goods, less for exterior wealth, and still less for the honor of men’s good opinion…. We need only God. He alone suffices. In possessing him we are content.”
Ah, but so many of us are not content. And even if we are content with God for a time, the tug of the world causes us trouble. Yet, we know that Jesus is the truth and the life. Bossuet explains that Jesus is our support and nourishment only if we listen to him who is one with the Father. He points out that Jesus is the truth because he is God. Yet, he is also Man creating a real closeness with us.
Through Bossuet’s meditations, we are encouraged not to delay our walk with Jesus. “Let us then depart from this world with joy, but let us not wait until our final moments to begin the journey.” He reminds us that the Israelites, once departed from Egypt, did not arrive at the Promised Land immediately. “Let us learn to celebrate Passover from the very first step. Let our journey be a perpetual one.”
Bossuet leads the way: “I am not of the world. I am passing, holding onto nothing.”
He likens truth to bread for the soul, which does not need to be swallowed whole, but by holding on and embracing it, it becomes a part of us. Each day we are given another morsel to enrich our soul. We are told to understand and accept that Jesus meant every word that he said, that even the smallest letter of the law was fulfilled in him so we too must desire to fulfill all that God has deigned for us.
Finally, as Lent draws to a close during Holy Week, Bossuet leads us on the journey with Christ through Jerusalem and to the upper room for the Eucharist, to the Garden of Olives, to the house of Caiaphas, to the sentence handed down by Pontius Pilate, to the climb up Mount Calvary to his crucifixion. “Let us make Calvary echo with the sound of our sobbing,” he writes. “Let us carry in ourselves, the death of Jesus.” And so, on Easter, we rise with Jesus, “open to all honor and with the Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.”
Originally published in Integrated Catholic Life, used with permission.
Art for this post on journeying with Jesus through Meditations for Lent: Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet [mirror], 1698, Hyacinthe Rigaud, PD-US; “The idea of building the monument to Christ the King comes in 1934, during a visit to Brazil by then Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, D. Manuel Gonsalves Cherry. Passing through Rio de Janeiro, saw the imposing image of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado and soon his heart was born the desire to build a similar project in front of Lisbon. In 1936, the idea of building a monument to Christ the King was sent to “Apostleship of Prayer”, which warmly welcomed. To be National Monument needed the approval and cooperation of all Portuguese bishops. This awareness is achieved Bishops, being officially proclaimed on Collective Lenten Pastoral of 1937″, 6 September 2012, own work, Rotiv74, CC; both Wikimedia Commons. Cover of Meditations for Lent used with permission.