Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lenten Tune-Up

At this time of year our thoughts turn to how we will walk this 40-day Lenten journey with Christ toward Jerusalem, the cross and resurrection. People often ask “What are you giving up for Lent?” While the notion of self-mortification for purification of the body and spirit is useful, we find that it’s sometimes too easy to get trapped into viewing Lent through a negative lens of denial, when it has the potential to offer us so much more growth. Then there’s the perennial problem of what to give up? Unhealthy habits, a quick tongue, unedifying media use, a prayer life in a bit of a rut?  Of course, we all have areas where we can do better, but where to begin?

At the McMillan homestead his year, we’re approaching the Lenten season by tuning up our Pauline car. In Abundantes divitiae gratiae suae, Blessed Alberione summed up Pauline spirituality neatly by using the example of a car (actually, back then it was a “cart”) that runs on four well-balanced wheels:
“The whole person in Jesus Christ, in view of loving God completely by means of one’s intelligence, will, heart and physical strength. Nature, grace and vocation: everything for the apostolate. A cart that runs on the four wheels of sanctity, study, apostolate and poverty.” 
By focusing our spiritual, intellectual and physical energies to grow in these four aspects of our spirituality we follow God’s will for all Paulines to make Christ the Divine Master, Way, Truth and Life ever more visible in the world. This is an excellent way for us to grow in communion with Christ and in our Pauline vocation—an excellent touchstone for examining our progress and making resolutions to improve as faithful Paulines.

The first wheel, sanctity, refers to our prayer life, which includes any obligations or promises of prayer we may have made, the frequency with which we seek this intimate communication with God, and the quality of our prayer. By quality, we mean sincerity, openness, vulnerability…in essence, the love behind our prayer. Is there some aspect of our prayer life that could use some attention this Lent?

The second wheel, study, gets at what Blessed Alberione called the sanctification of the mind, seeking communion with “the mind of Christ”(1Cor 2:16). Study and meditation on the Gospels and the letters of St. Paul are important for all Paulines, but we might also consider other types of intellectual growth. This could be professional development in our careers, learning a new skill or even starting a formal academic program of study toward a degree. Whatever it is, its goal is sanctity and the apostolate.

The third wheel, apostolate, is the personal testimony we give to those we encounter. As Pauline Cooperators you have a very tangible apostolate of evangelization, but again, we can think more broadly: How well do we personify Christ in our apostolate of life, in the family, at work, in our parish, and to the strangers we meet? As St. Francis is often quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel always, and, if necessary, use words.” How do our lives preach what we believe as living testimony of our faith?

The fourth wheel, poverty, has a particular Pauline meaning when used by the Founder. We lay Paulines cannot forego the burdens of financial obligations and money management, but we should always strive not to become overly attached to riches, lest we end up as the young man in Matthew 19:24 who walked away sad when our Lord told him that, to reach heaven, he needed to let go of all his wealth. For lay Paulines we should seek the proper administration of the blessings and talents we have been given, remembering to put them, along with our lives, at the service of God’s kingdom. We have to make provisions for the future, provide for our children, and make a decent home within the scope of our possibilities, but we must ensure we are not enslaved by what should be a means to an end and is too often an end in and of itself in this world. Do we show our gratitude by giving the Lord the first fruits of our labor?

Stations of the Cross, Lourdes, France
We’re making a special effort this Lent to return to a practice we found very helpful in the early days of our Pauline life: the joint evening examination of conscience. While we typically conduct our examinations individually during the day, as spouses we’ve found it incredibly enriching to come together for our evening prayers and voice our examinations of conscience before God and each other. Hearing each other place before the Lord all that we had attempted, and perhaps failed at doing during the day, as well as the joys and stumbles we had along the way, never fails to bring us closer to one another, and helps heal any discord that may have arisen between us during the day. (It’s hard to carry a grudge when God is present, while your spouse expresses remorse for an unkind word or action.) This practice helped us weather many storms in the early years of our marriage, and got us through many sorrows together over the years.

If you really want to step things up this Lent, we invite you to consider praying and meditating the Founder’s “Heroic Act of Love” in our prayer book. It is a wonderful example of the paradox of the wisdom of God and folly of man that so often trips us up. Can we truly mean what we ask for in this prayer? It’s a wonderful subject for a Eucharistic Visit during Lent or a reflection after the Stations of the Cross. Of course, the “Secret of Success,” also in the prayer book, turns to the Master Mechanic to keep the four wheels aligned.

May the Lord share the extraordinary riches of his grace (Eph 2:7) with you this Lent.

Credit: Images downloaded from Flickr and used under Creative Commons License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/.
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Jim and Luisa McMillan are perpetually professed members of the Holy Family Institute, which they entered in Colombia in 2000. They reside in Colorado, where they work as translators and interpreters. They have three daughters ranging in age from 13 to 30 and are expecting their first granddaughter in April.

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