As we journey through Lent, we focus on penances, almsgiving, and fasting. The obvious goal is growing in holiness, by gaining mastery over self, freeing us from our unruly passions.
On a psychological level, there is so much wisdom here. If our disordered passions, or even our wounded emotions, are in charge, we often get into trouble and conflict. By nature, our emotions are made to be guided by reason.
But to what end? As I’ve pondered the idea of purgatory recently, I had to wonder if we’re alone there or with other suffering souls. I had never given that much thought. We hear about the suffering of these souls, whose salvation is assured, but who remain separated from God, their souls’ true longing. But I’ve begun to wonder, are they in isolation or in community with others? After all, it’s rare we’re not put in community.
Of course, I don’t know the answer, but it strikes me that since so much of our sinfulness involves sins against others, perhaps purgatory is a place, without the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil, where we do interact with others, practicing kindness and forgiveness and mortifying our pride, to ready us for heavenly relationships.
The Gospel reading this past Friday was from Matthew, chapter 5, verses 20-26. He said if bringing your gift to the altar and you recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Similar advice about settling with your opponent on the way to court, or that opponent may hand you over to the judge and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison…and you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.
Wow, so much of that is about relationships. God wants us to live in harmony with others, to not hold grudges or resentments. And clearly until we get relationships right, and until we make up for the harm we cause to others, we cannot be free or in God’s presence in heaven.
So, as you journey through Lent and perform your penances and fasts, remember that simply trying to be perfected, without an eye toward living more in peace with all those you encounter may be futile. If fasting makes you cranky and you lash out at your loved ones, you doing this all wrong.
Heaven will be that place of perfect love with no conflicts, no resentments, no crankiness and no ulterior motives in our dealings with others. Most of us won’t go directly there, even if in a state of grace, until certain sinful tendencies and character flaws are purged out of us by the grace of what Jesus did on the cross. We can’t do it without Him. But Lent offers us a head start here to be perfected.
So, focus this lent on your relationships. Where do they need improvement—and what can you do to improve them? Do you need more patience? Do you need to keep your mouth shut more often? Do you need to be more aware of building others up, of giving complements? Are there people who can use a visit or a phone call, that you don’t usually have the time for?
You get the picture…focus on the good of others. By doing so, of necessity, you will have to mortify yourself and your own flaws. If you’ve given something up, resisting the temptation to indulge will help build the spiritual muscles to forego your own selfishness and pride, which will ultimately strengthen your relationships and increase your psychological freedom.
Wishing you all a most fruitful and prayerful Lent and may the work you do during this holy season, bring you new joy this Easter.
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