As we begin our Lenten journey, permit me briefly to look back to the conclusion of the Christmas Season. At the 10:00 am Mass for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Bishop Paprocki preached about the difference between being a true follower of Christ and being merely an admirer. He quoted the nineteenth century philosopher Søren Kierkegaard who wrote the following:
The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe. Though in words, phrases, songs, he is inexhaustible about how highly he prizes Christ, he renounces nothing, will not reconstruct his life, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires. Not so for the follower. No, no. The follower aspires with all his strength to be what he admires.
I would like to suggest this theme for our reflection for this season during which the Church invites us to undergo the conversion that will result in our being more like Him whom we profess to be our Lord.
The Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the disciplines that the Church proposes to us as the means to bring about this reordering of our lives. But it does not suffice for us just to “do” these practices, for there is no great merit in simply going through the motions. True conversion and growth will come only when we connect these practices with our desire to grow in our love for Christ and our brothers and sisters. If this is not the motivation behind our practices, why are we even doing them? Because the Church says we are supposed to? Because that is what we have always done? In these early days of Lent, we need to make a good examination of our motivations and readjust them toward Christ, lest we fall into a sort of idolatry where we focus just on love of self over love of God and neighbor. Ensuring that we have the right motivation for how to approach Lent is critical in determining if we are an actual follower of Christ or just an admirer.
You might find it helpful to write down the practices you are resolving to undertake this Lent and then bring that list to prayer. As you look at each item in the list, ask yourself: “Am I doing this for me? Or, am I doing this for you, Lord?” If you answer yes to the former, ask for the grace to keep your resolve rooted in Him. If you answer yes to the latter, ask for the grace to purify your motives. Then, at the end of the list, I might suggest your offer all your proposed Lenten practices to the Lord with this simple line from the Responsorial Psalm we heard on Ash Wednesday: “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” (Ps 51:12)