"True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice." -- St. Francis of Assisi
This is something I know to be true. We grow in grace the same way we mature from childhood to adulthood: patiently and day-by-day.
Yet, mile-stones play an essential part of our lives. In childhood, we may recall loosing our "baby teeth" and growing in adult ones. In later years, there were significant birthdays and our first leaps of independence. Adulthood consisted of searching out, and embracing, one's vocation. I believe the same is likewise true of spiritual "growing up."
Today is "Ash Monday," the beginning of Lent for Eastern-rite Catholics. My Husband and I celebrate this in our household, as he is a Maronite. The Latin-rite Church will celebrate this in two more days, on what has been called "Ash Wednesday." Holy Lent is a 40-day period of repentance, self-denial, and penance in preparation for the joyous season of Easter. I believe it is also an opportunity to be a spiritual "mile-stone" in our lives.
Two years ago, I wrote a letter entitled "Lenten Vows." The text of this can be found by clicking on the "February 2009" link at the bottom right-hand corner of this page. It bears the distinction of being this blog's first entry. I wrote this letter as a promise to God, to my Husband, and to myself to become a holy woman of God. The actual hand-written letter sat on our home-altar for well over a year, at the foot of our small statue of Our Lady of Lebanon, in plain sight (although it was folded) of all who entered our home. It was a visual reminder to follow Christ, and I caught myself glancing over at it frequently. The letter is now tucked away elsewhere and, similarly, its contents are tucked away in my heart.
When I think of who I was two years ago, I was a struggling soul who had a good heart and right intentions. My actions, however, let much to be desired. Although I was still a good wife by modern standards, there were many times throughout any given week in which I would raise my voice privately to my Husband in anger or employ excessive sarcasm. There were times I fought him physically. I struggled constantly with submission and I wanted to give up more times than I could count. Obedience was good in theory and it was something I wished to accomplish; in reality, it was a bit akin to pulling teeth. It has taken much to arrive at where I am today. Even still, I am by no means perfect. I remain grateful for a just and merciful God, a consistent Husband, a wise spiritual director, and for the myriad of loved ones in my life who have helped to mold and shape me.
I am also profoundly grateful for the challenges in my life. Just as it may be difficult, in the moment, to be thankful for the corrective lash of an implement, it is likewise difficult to see the grace of God working through painful circumstances. And yet, the two are the same, if we but bear them with love.
Who are you and what challenges lie on your way to following God perfectly? I invite you to take a good, hard look at yourself. Do you love Him with all of your heart? Are you obedient to His will or do you still trust in your own understanding? Are you angry and bitter over circumstances in your life? Or do you praise God even in the midst of the storm? Do you fall often into snares of the Devil? Do you love your neighbour as yourself? Or do you lack patience toward others? If you cannot see your own faults, consider asking your spouse or a trusted friend for their advice. Do not be angry with them if they say something you do not particularly like to hear; be thankful for the reproofs in all meekness and begin to change.
Let us be reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Only what is done for God in this life shall last. When we become holy vessels of our Creator, we can be used of Him to change the lives of others and our hurting world. Nevertheless, we must first be shaped and molded in order to be a useful vessel. Sin has left us weak and crumbling. What good is a water jug if it is cracked? Or if it has no spout from which to pour its contents? We must seek to root out our faults and failings as we ask the Master Potter to re-shape us, patiently bearing His work in us and in our lives. It can be difficult; yet it is precisely at these moments, when His Hands are molding us, that we enjoy a deep and close relationship with Him.
This Holy Lent, may we humbly submit to God as He continues to complete His work in us for His glory.