What Francis of Assisi and every other great saint discovered in their time is that we become who we really are — we experience life most vividly — when we allow Jesus Christ to transform and work through us. Each of us as disciples receives a call to share in God’s power to give life. That’s the meaning of the prayer we all learned as children:
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and we will be created, and You will renew the face of the earth.
Blessed Pope John XXIII described the Church as our mother and teacher. And in that role, the Church gives us a blueprint for accomplishing God’s work of renewal. Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council’s great Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, argues beautifully for the dignity of the human person; for economic and social justice; and for true peace and human development. And it offers us an examination of conscience that we can apply during Lent to just about every aspect of our lives:
Do we reverence and defend the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death?
Do we really love our enemies? Do we even try?
Do we teach our children to have gratitude; to take responsibility for their time, choices and actions; to feel the suffering of others; and to understand their role in building up the common good? Do we encourage that by our own good example?
Do we preach, by our actions, the dignity of human labor and the importance of human free will, work and creativity? Do we live our lives with a clear moral purpose — the purpose of co-creating with God a world shaped by the Gospel?
Do we promote the nobility of marriage and the integrity of the family?
Do we practice justice and mercy in our own social and economic relationships? Do we try to root out the prejudices in our own hearts? And do we encourage justice in our friends, business associates and leaders?
Do we take an active hand in the public square? Do we demand that our leaders promote the sanctity of the human person? And do we do everything in our power to correct or replace them if they don’t?
Finally, do we cultivate in ourselves and in our children an appetite for simplicity, humility and solidarity with others? The word “Catholic” means universal. We live most of our lives in our families and parishes, and that’s where our first priorities should always lie. But there’s no such thing as a merely “parochial” Catholic. Baptism makes all of us members of the global Christian community. That’s why issues like hunger, poverty, economic development, human trafficking, the rights of migrant workers, religious persecution – even when they’re happening on the other side of the world – are happening to our brothers and sisters in the Lord. And so they involve us.
We’re in the world as agents of God’s love and joy. And we need to live in a way that honors each other, and honors the mission of the Church — because in us and through our actions, both individually and as a community of faith, the outside world will judge the Gospel we claim to believe.
Two images are worth remembering as we move more deeply into Lent.
Here’s the first image: The Gospel of John, 19:26-27, says that on Golgotha “when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple that he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘woman behold your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother.’ And from that hour, the disciple took her into his own home.”
Each of us this Lent is that disciple Jesus loved, and loves. And from the cross he’s asking us to take the Church into our hearts as John took Mary into his home; to love, defend and care for her, and to advance her mission in the world.
The second image comes from Robert Frost and the last few lines of one his greatest poems:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Following him may be “the road less traveled,” but as every great saint learned, it’s the road that leads to the joy and light of God’s love.
In these days of Lent, and every day of our lives, that road should be ours as well.