Today the Scriptures remind us of a fundamental truth: our life is in God. Thus, Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy (30:15-20) instructs the people:
Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy. If however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy. … Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.
In similar fashion, Jesus in today’s Gospel (Luke 9:22-25) goes even further when he says:
If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?
Now that Lent is begun, we are surely aware of those areas of life where we are not choosing life, those sinful patterns of decisions and behaviors that allow us to experience the truth of God’s Word that when we fail to keep God’s ways we experience death. At the beginning of Lent we are filled with hope and good intentions that we will amend our ways and root out these sinful patterns.
But, we need to be wise and realistic that such conversion will be met with resistance from the enemy. Our good intentions and free will cooperation with God’s grace are all important, but we must be aware of the subtle ways the enemy will seek to keep us chained and bound to our deadly ways.
Take a look at the way the enemy sought to keep St. Augustine from taking the final step of handing his life over completely to God:
The very toys of toys, and vanities of vanities, my ancient mistresses, still held me; they plucked my fleshy garment, and whispered softly, “Do you cast us off?” and “From that moment shall we no more be with you forever?” and “From that moment shall not this or that be lawful for you forever?” And what was it which they suggested in that I said, “this or that,” what did they suggest, O my God? Let Your mercy turn it away from the soul of Your servant. What defilements did they suggest! What shame! And now I much less than half heard them, and not openly showing themselves and contradicting me, but muttering as it were behind my back, and furtively plucking picking at me, as I was departing, but to look back on them. Yet they did delay me, so that I hesitated to burst and shake myself free from them, and to spring over whither I was called; a violent habit saying to me, “Do you think you can live without them?” (The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book VIII, Chapter 11)
Notice how the enemy ‘whispers’ despairing thoughts about ever leaving his sinful behaviors behind, how he paints a hopeless future. The enemy hopes to create doubts that we are ever going to live a better, holier life. Deceptions are all the enemy has to work with, and they are therefore to be rejected, as St. Augustine does in this moment.
And now, look how God came to his aid to strengthen his choice for good:
But now it asked very faintly. For on that side whither I had set my face, and whither I trembled to go, there appeared unto me the chaste dignity of Continence, serene, and joyous, but in no wanton fashion, virtuously alluring me to come and doubt not; and stretching forth to receive and embrace me, her holy hands full of multitudes of good examples: there were so many young men and maidens here, a multitude of youth and every age, grave widows and aged virgins; and Continence herself in all, not barren, but a fruitful mother of children of joys, by You her Husband, O Lord. And she smiled on me with a persuasive mockery, as would she say, “Can you not do what these youths, what these maidens can? or can these youths and these maidens do this of themselves, and not rather in the Lord their God? The Lord their God gave me to them. Why do you stand on your self, and thus stand not at all? Cast yourself upon Him. Have no fear. He will not draw back and let you fall. Cast yourself trustfully upon him: He will receive and heal you.” I felt great shame, for I still heard the muttering of those trifles, and still I delayed and hung there in suspense. And she again seemed to say, “Turn deaf ears to those unclean members of yours upon the earth, so that they be mortified. They tell you of delights, but as of the law of the Lord your God.” This controversy in my heart was self against self only.” (The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book VIII, Chapter 11)
God’s desire is to lead us to Christ, to lead us to Life! This is our greatest longing. This is the light and interior voice we are looking for and promising to embrace at deeper levels this Lenten season. May God grant us such awareness, wisdom and grace.
There is another line from Scripture that is very applicable to our efforts to grow in holiness: “Do not surrender your confidence; it will have great reward. You need patience to do God’s will and receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:35-36) So, my dear friends, cling to those good intentions of these early days of Lent, but more importantly, cling to Christ Who is our salvation!