Last Wednesday at the Mass for Ash Wednesday, Abbot Joseph offered a brief reflection after the Gospel which certainly spoke in a very concrete way to the monastic community. But while I was listening, I couldn’t help but think that it would be helpful to a number of our readers. This is Father’s entire reflection:
As we commence another season of Lent, it would be important to ask ourselves if we truly believe that we stand in need of conversion. Or perhaps an even more important question: Do we wish to be converted? Neither of these questions is rhetorical for, if we are not careful, with the steady passage of years some of our sins and imperfections can become so ingrained and part of us that we are no longer even aware of them and, consequently, lack any desire to change. Lent is a graced opportunity to step back and look more closely at our lives and familiarize ourselves with some of our less obvious sins and failings. Inner peace is always going to be a barometer of our spiritual health and inner turmoil, restlessness and discontent the more likely indicators of acknowledged or unacknowledged sins and imperfections. And so, if you find that you can’t think of some obvious fault or failing that you can concentrate on this Lent, it might be helpful to take note of and more closely examine the circumstances and situations that rob you of your inner peace and stillness in a typical day. At the heart of these daily inner disturbances you will find not only their cause, but also what the focus of this Lenten season needs to be for you. Let us all pray for this grace of a renewed commitment to ever deeper self-knowledge so that God’s saving grace may touch the innermost recesses of our hearts and that Easter may bring us a deeper and fuller share in our Savior’s victory over sin and death.
What an elegantly simple strategy! If I pay attention to what upsets me–and own it as my own, rather than shift it to someone else–I’ll put my finger on the pulse of my habitual failing. For example, we’ve all said at some time, “So-and-so made me lose my temper!” Well, so-and-so didn’t do anything. I lost my temper in response to so-and-so. Losing my temper, if I conscientiously follow it to the roots of my reactions, will lead me back to that vulnerability of character that needs some work. I don’t have to go down a list of the commandments to examine myself abstractly; I only need pay attention to what actually provokes my impatience, my distraction, my discomfort…Most of us don’t like visiting what lies outside our comfort zones, but that’s precisely where we really need to go!