A blessed Lenten season to you and to your loved ones! Lent is a time to take stock, to increase a few of our spiritual practices and to do some more intense self-examination for the sake of following Jesus and the Gospel more freely and more generously.
The beginning of wisdom is self-knowledge and self-knowledge is not easily gained, especially given the fact that we are all so prone to self-deception. I was reminded of how easily we can deceive ourselves recently, when I read a brief reflection from Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and creator of “Word on Fire Ministries.” He recounts a memory of a retreat he made in which the director asked those making the retreat to call to mind a “person that we found uniquely hard to take and then to recount, in some detail, the characteristics of that person that made him or her so obnoxious to us.” Bishop Barron confessed, “We entered into this exercise with some relish.”
I imagine that many of us, like Bishop Barron, occasionally relish the opportunity to bring to mind the faults of others. Pointing out the shortcomings of another can easily deceive us into thinking more highly of ourselves.
But as Bishop Barron explained, the purpose of the exercise was not to focus on others’ flaws. He went on, “The retreat master then said, ‘Now I want you to return to your rooms and ask God to forgive you for those very faults in yourself.’”
This retreat master understood the command Jesus gave to us in a recent Sunday Gospel: “Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye” (Lk 6:41-42). Most often the flaws we easily identify in others are the issues we struggle with most in our lives. In many ways it is easier to judge others for their sins than to take a serious look at the dark places of our own souls. It can be frightening to go to these dark places, especially because Satan wants to deceive us into thinking this is our true identity. If our true identity is evil, better to hide it or shift the focus onto others, than to deal with it ourselves.
But the beauty of the Christian message is that evil is not our true identity. Rather, our true identity is that we are broken individuals who have been made whole through the all-encompassing love of the Father. This is why the sacrament of confession, or reconciliation, is so liberating because it invites God into those places of darkness so that he can transform them in his light!
Lent is all about coming to understand the truth about ourselves, by allowing the light of Christ into our lives. The traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving create the space to allow Christ’s light in. This is the beginning of self-knowledge and the more we know about our capacity for evil, the more we can claim freedom in the light and walk closely and lovingly with our God and all those people he has placed in our lives. We are called to walk behind Jesus and alongside others, to love, encourage, challenge and become beloved “disciples on the way” to the Kingdom of God.
May this Lent be a time for each of us to be transformed by the healing light of Christ!
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter at @BpDavidRicken.