Years ago my grandchildren always wanted to know exactly what it was that everyone in the family was doing for lent. Then they were on vigil watching and waiting for you to fail. Then they would gladly proclaim to all that you failed to maintain your Lenten sacrifice. We fondly called them the lent police. But the amazing thing was how little time it was between Ash Wednesday and one’s failure to maintain their Lenten resolve.
I don’t know if there has ever been a study on how many people fail to maintain a Lenten resolution. It is not like a New Year’s resolution since we are committing to drawing closer to God through sacrifice and prayer. I guess, for the most part, people do complete what they are committed to doing during lent. But after lent is over the question is are we closer to God because of what we have done during those forty days.
In order to be closer to God we must do something more than just become more faithful to a religious practice or by temporarily giving up something. Remember that scripture passage where God says to us, “it is not sacrifice I desire.” Those words alone should shake us in the core of our being. What must we do beyond what we are doing so what we are doing is not just a sacrifice? Most of us do give our time, talents and treasure to the church. Those things are easy for us to give because they only require a commitment to be faithful.
But God tells us that he wants is our hearts and not our works nor our sacrifice. When we do our Lenten sacrifices they should become a means to draw closer to God. But all too often what we do during Lent either ends, never to be done again, or it just becomes another religious practice added to our “piety repertoire.”
How can we surrender our hearts to God? We do love God or we would not be in church each and every week. Our love of God should be a motivating force continually moving us to draw closer to God. So is there a way we can teach each other how to give God our hearts. Is there a program or a step by step guide to draw closer to God? This yielding of ourselves to God is something I wrestled with in my own faith journey, how to give God my heart. What I do know is that the key to being a disciple and to fulfilling greatest commandment is in loving God with our entire heart, soul and being. How can we do that?
The answer as always is there for us in his word. In the upper room the night before he died Jesus said, apart from me you can do nothing. Yet we continue to do things under our own efforts and our plan to grow spiritually. All our attempts to draw close to God are generally guided by our own sense of righteousness. Remember when God said with him all things are possible. Let’ s take God at his word for all things are possible if we let God guide us to holiness – especially a change of our hearts.
It begins with us making a decision to say yes to God. Come follow me are the words we need to hear as we begin lent. Follow you where Lord? But that is the beauty of following God; we do not know where it is leading us. What we do know is that with him all things are possible. So we stand before God and say, here I am Lord use me, guide me, open my mind, my ears and heart as you flood me with your presence. Like Mary, we say let it be done according to your word.
By surrendering our attempts at holiness we will discover that we need God pouring his Spirit upon us in order to change. Come Spirit Come becomes our prayer. Then our hearts begin to hear the voice of God speaking to us, guiding us and motivating us to do more.
Try this as you come to mass each day during Lent and up through Pentecost. During the Eucharistic prayer the presiding priest invites us to “lift up your hearts.” We automatically respond by saying “we lift them up to the Lord.” Some people even make an upward motion with their hands as they respond. Beginning today and during every mass you attend up to and including Pentecost let us when we say, “we lift them up to the Lord” add this silent prayer – God here is my heart; I give it to you today; change it, fill it with your love and let my heart overflow with love for you. Then you will find that what Paul says in his letter to the Romans – “the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” becomes a reality in your life.