As I prayed last night and again this morning in preparation for this Lenten journey, the phrase came to mind: “Less consumption, more production.” I doubt that mantra would fly for long on the lips of present presidential candidates, but it is not an economic formula, but rather has become my spiritual goal for this Lent.
First and foremost, the Lenten journey draws our attention to the sin that is at work in our lives, and to be humbled and repentant. The Psalms speak well of the reality of sin, and our need for God’s mercy and forgiveness.
For I know my offense; my sin is always before me. Against you alone have I sinned; I have done such evil in your sight that you are just in your sentence, blameless when you condemn. True, I was born guilty, a sinner, even as my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51: 5-7)
Such honest acknowledgment of personal sin is the starting point of the Lenten journey. But, this humble recognition of our sinfulness is what leads us back to God. This is the foundation of the repentant nature of the Lenten journey. Our starting point in the spiritual life is always God, not self. It is in the light of God’s loving mercy that we call to mind our sin and allow our hearts to be touched by contrition, knowing how our sin separates us from God and neighbor, and holds us back from bearing the good fruit God looks to receive from each of us.
Less consumption, more production. If all we do is consume and never bear any fruit, we should be alarmed!Less consumption, more production. If all we do is consume and never bear any fruit, we should be alarmed! Less consumption, more production. If all we do is consume and never bear any fruit, we should be alarmed!
Less consumption, more production. For example, I intend this Lent to spend less time ‘consuming’ in front of a screen and more time cultivating good fruit. How much time can be ‘freed up’ with less time in front of a TV, computer screen, IPad, or IPhone? How much of this is simply for mindless consumption of time, information and entertainment? Granted, there are many good uses of these devices, and what they allow us to access, but not all of that information and entertainment is good, nor is all of it necessary. It can become just one more way that our focus is limited to ‘self’ when our God-given dignity and vocation is always concerned about others. Inner fasting, inner renewal leads to outward fruits.
The first reading today encourages us to “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God.” (Joel 2:13) This simple phrase reminds us that the inner relationship with God is our starting point and priority. If there is no solid relationship with God, no outward expression (rending garments) can take its place. “Less consumption” has to do with inner discipline, with virtue. Cultivation of the heart is what provides the fruitful soil which bears good and many fruits. Renewing attention to the inner life instructs us that no matter how we may feel physically, we must learn to take our cues from the heart. Whether we are tired, bored, in pain, frustrated or even despairing, our hearts always long for the LORD. Whether we are filled with the things of this earth, or not, our soul always hungers for God.
Production has to do with bearing fruit. Bearing fruit has to do with being attentive to the needs of our neighbors. Jesus tells us that “It is mercy I seek, not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13) An isolated spirituality is not healthy. We cannot grow in holiness in isolation. Personal holiness always has another in mind. Growth in holiness includes acts of charity for the one or the many in need. Before the Gospel is proclaimed, we sign ourselves three times with the cross, asking that God’s Word be on our minds, and on our lips, and in our hearts. The heart and mind and words of Jesus are addressed to others; to us. Lent is a privileged time to be formed more fully into the person of Jesus, so that as we have received him by God’s grace and mercy, so we may discover and serve him in those around us. Love of neighbor is the ‘production’ of our life; the good fruit we bear.