I know a woman who is beautiful, talented, and is willing to undertake just about any challenge. She rarely admits that something can't be done*. She is a "can do" woman. This however, is not about her, but about how, with Lent coming early this year, we should use the opportunity to be "can't do" Catholics -- we can't do it without our Savior.
Lent and Realityby Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P.
Here's what to give up this Lent: the doubt that goes, "I can never get closer to God because I'm too sinful, too flawed, too weak." This is a lethal attitude, for it is based on the false presumption that we can possess something of our own — that does not come from God — by which we can please God. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Only what is from God can please God. But as long as such error persists, we estrange ourselves from God. Lent is not about lamenting our inadequacy. Rather, it is a graced moment to receive from God what he is eager to give us so that we can live the friendship with him that he desires.
How do we approach reality?
As one contemporary theologian has explained it, God does not judge us on the level of our ethical blamelessness, but on the way we approach reality . . . starting with the reality of our deficiencies and imperfection. There's a reason why Lent begins with the command,
"Remember that you are dust!" Self-confident self-knowledge of our nothingness and misery stands as the indispensable starting point for salvation simply because that is the reality which we are forced to face every day. For salvation by definition is an escape from our own inability.
The trouble is that, on account of our fallen state, we try to compensate for the lack we find in ourselves by attempting to be self-sufficient. Seized by a strange contradiction, we strive to please God by proving that we can get along without him. When delusion such as this infests our life, God acts. In his mercy, God permits our soul to be covered with a kind of darkness in which we feel separated from him — we may even wonder if God hates us.
There's a reason for the darkness. God knows how tempted we are to withdraw from him whenever we experience the defects in ourselves that displease him. The truth is, however, that instead of withdrawing, the most reasonable thing we can do when that feeling strikes is to renew our act of love and confidence in God's love for us. The Lord allows the darkness precisely to move us to unite ourselves all the more closely to him who alone is the Truth. For the only logical thing to do when enshrouded in darkness is to reach for the Light.
Doing the impossible
Still — we panic! We feel as if we are obliged to do for God what we know we are unable to do. But the point of this pressure is to convince us to receive everything from God. We can be sure that God himself is the one who, in his mercy, moves us to do what is not within our own power. This is the Father's way of opening us a little more to himself by making us a little more in the likeness of his crucified Son.
For nothing glorifies God like the confidence in his mercy that we display when we feel indicted by our frailty and inability. The experience of our hopelessness is a heaven-sent chance to exercise supremely confident trust. God delights in giving us the grace to trust him.
Sadly, for those who refuse God's gift of confidence, the darkness can turn to despair. Yet even in despair the miracle of mercy is at work. Father Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire, the 19th century Dominican priest who was responsible for the revival of the Order of Preachers in France after the French Revolution, makes this astonishing remark: "There is in despair a remnant of human greatness, because it includes a contempt for all created things, and consequently an indication of the incomparable capacity of our being." In our darkness, the incomparable capacity of our being will settle for nothing less than the embrace of the Infinite. Like nothing else, our helplessness moves us to cry out for that embrace in confidence and trust. The cry of forsakenness that Jesus emits from the cross is just this.
The grace of being forsaken
Saint Paul wrote, "We were left to feel like men condemned to death so that we might trust, not in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead" (2 Cor 1:9). That's the point. That's the challenge of Lent. God wants us to have the strength to believe in his love so much that we confidently beg for his mercy no matter how much we may feel the horror of death in ourselves.
We become like little children fit for heaven when we no longer look for peace and security in our own strength, in our own goodness. This grace lies at the root of the famous serene assurance of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: "Ah! Lord, I know you don't command the impossible. You know better than I do my weakness and imperfection . . . Now I am astonished at nothing. I am not disturbed at seeing myself weakness itself. On the contrary, it is in my weakness that I glory, and I expect each day to discover new imperfections in myself." God is not interested in our prowess or prestige; he came to call sinners; he loves the lost sheep; he promises the good thief paradise.
Let us this Lent, in the face of all our sins, our limitations, and our weakness cry out with Jesus, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" And let us do so with certainty — not doubt or desperation — because our union with Christ crucified has given us The Way to approach reality. In our asking we hold the Answer.
Father Peter John Cameron, O.P., is the Editor-in-Chief of Magnificat and the author of "The Classics of Catholic Spirituality" and "To Praise, To Bless, To Preach: Spiritual Reflections of the Sunday Gospels".