Lent is a season of restoration. That may sound odd because we all know it is a time of atonement. But what is the goal of atonement? The restoration of God’s love within us that has been blocked or kicked out by our errant ways. If we think of Lent in this way, it gives the fuller purpose to our practices of giving up what is bad or unnecessary and taking on new healthy ways of living and thinking.
The question begs…what does God desire to restore? I think the memory of being His child, the meaning and purpose of being created in His image, and ultimately integrity. In our human condition, these are ‘lost’ as we move through life picking up wounds and inflicting the same upon others. Restoration of Love within us, which is God Himself, must then involve restoration of love within our human relationships too. The Trinity exists in ongoing relations of each Person to the other. Created in that image, we must try to live out the same in our relationships with each other or true love cannot grow in us.
From that perspective, a season of restoration is one of restoring relational well-being, for the only true measure of well-being is love and love is a relationship.
There are many types of relationships with others. The types based in love are those found in community: workplace, neighborhood, family, religious community, marriage. The area of strength in a relationship is where true goodness is active. The weak spots in a relationship are where goodness is lacking. The secular culture will form us to seek our needs first and break off relations when those needs are not met. The worldly view places our perceived ‘rights’ as equal or higher priority than loving others. Yet as Christians the only command we have been given is to love. And since Love only comes from God, the command we have before us is to bring God into the relationship. Reconciliation must be our goal. After all, Jesus was brutally tortured and died to provide the means for that reconciliation of relationship. God never breaks His covenant, and He desires that we imitate Him.
To understand relations, we must understand God’s intent for the Christian life. The entire purpose of the Christian life is to be brought into union with God. As all the scriptures attest, it is His intent for us to begin sharing in this Divine Intimacy now, in this life. Developing relationship with God isn’t intellectual. It happens by allowing Him into the secret and scary parts of our hearts. As those are restored to their original integrity, we soak in more grace from the Eucharist and Confession.
Sanctification is healing. The evidence of it is to desire God’s will over our consolation. It manifests in our ability to love as Jesus did because we actually carry more of Him in us. Literally. His commandment to ‘love others as I have loved you’ isn’t comprehensible in our broken human state. But experiencing Him literally in the soul, His spirit gifts us with understanding. Then we can begin to love others unconditionally. That is the order He prescribed: to first allow Him to love us, then for us to love others.
As Jesus and His love grow within us, the Holy Spirit in us touches those around us. Relational dynamics change. We keep this fire of love fueled by daily examen of God’s presence, our ways, and continue the honest conversations in prayer that uncover underlying woundedness to heal. Not all people in our relationship will be receptive to God’s love. We must be prudent in realizing this. God permits it to grow our desire and ability to love. Sometimes the situation of the relationship must change. If relations continue to be too toxic at work, it is prudent to change jobs. If a particular neighbor continues to be problematic, it is prudent to minimize interactions while still ensuring to be available in times of necessity. In a marriage where physical well-being is risked, physical separation may be needed. However, the goal must always be reconciliation because it is the higher good, that of God. Reconciliation vs. divorce are not equal options to consider. The first is a restoration of love and the latter is an abolishment of that possibility.
Even dissolution of a relationship must be done in love, having developed that unconditional love for the other person. Otherwise, we carry the privation with us throughout life, simply suppressing it or affirming ourselves with false reason to soothe the poke of our conscious. Only in a state of love for the other person can it be determined that the relationship cannot continue. As a person grows in relationship with God, they also grow in true discernment to follow His inspirations in these matters because their desire to love God and others is so pure. This desire is the hallmark of the discerning life.
We have 2000 years of saints to show us it is possible. God doesn’t give us saints as examples of good deeds. He gives us saints as proof of divinization. They are proof of God working in and through a broken human creature, supernaturalizing their humanity. The outcomes, whether these be people performing stupendous miracles or living quietly unknown to the world, are proof of their sanctity because it is beyond human means. Because the lives of saints are evidence of God Himself manifesting through them into our world, their examples are timeless and always relevant to all people regardless of circumstances. More than an example, they are alive in Heaven and have a role in our specific providential plan (which God Himself put together for us personally). Servant of God John Hardon SJ once wrote that we have a duty to pray to our guardian angel because they are part of our providential plan from God Himself. That same logic applies to the saints; we should permit them to assist us as God has planned because God planned it.
Many followers of contemporary spirituality do not believe in our personal sanctity now. The general belief is that sanctity is only for a small group of people. They are amazed by the saints and might invoke the routine prayer “Saint so-and-so, pray for us.” But they teach that the saints’ example is not pertinent to life today. Looking to St. Monica for insight into relationships, we see that in spite of living with an abusive husband she herself was not abused. That is the point of her marriage-story. Hers is an example of honesty: seeking from God desire to love her husband (for even desire comes from God), accepting that love and then finding humanly ways to give it. Her surrender to God (not to fear, anger, bitterness, hate) permitted Him to manifest Himself in and through her. Her love for her husband was unquestionable because it was a supernatural love, not a human emotion. To then say that her example isn’t pertinent today because she had no choice but to remain married in this relationship rejects the manifestation of God in her life. It also rejects truth, for she had free will of how she lived in that relationship. And it abdicates one’s duty to learn how to do similarly within our own circumstances today.
This is the product of relativism. Rather than accepting the inspired truths revealed in scripture and taught by the saints and magisterium, one interprets them to contemporary views stemming from their own woundedness. This is the same false logic that leads to heresy such as gay marriage. The relativist thinking goes like this: “Because of his times and culture, St. Paul could not have understood same sex attraction. Therefore, his writings against sodomy and homosexual relations may have been pertinent in his time but not ours because we are ‘informed by science.’ Therefore, homosexual relations are not sin, which means they are legitimately ordained by God just as heterosexual relations. This means they deserve the sacrament of marriage.” You can see the false logic is identical. Note how heresy uses the facts of the faith—scriptures and even saint’s writings—reinterpreted to soothe the wounds of the person purporting it. This is not Faith. Faith is to surrender and allow God to teach, to mold, to create in you. Only in that surrender is the soul capable of the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit growing within it.
It is a reductionist view of God that leads to a relative interpretation of things of God. It is in small part a rejection of some of the Faith (which comes only from God) replaced by human intellectual reasoning. It can leave one vulnerable to further loss of faith. To lead the Christian life for which we were created, we must go to Him in mental prayer with our fears, bitterness, and misunderstandings. We cannot surrender unless we surrender these to Him. It requires giving up the many self-protective habits we’ve created, and to do that these must be first identified. That is why prayer with God must have two features: brutal honesty, and patience to allow Him to work.
Lent is the season to restore our relationship with God so that we can restore our relationships with others. Our smallest effort benefits all of mankind throughout time. Consider the impact if each of us made the greatest effort possible to restore our own relational well-being.
“And I saw the river of which every soul must pass to reach the kingdom of Heaven, and the name of that river was suffering; and I saw a boat which carries souls across the river, and the name of that boat was love.”
(St. John of the Cross)
Image courtesy of Pixabay.