Monday, February 8, 2010


When you hear two suggestions from different sources, at different times, and you realize they dovetail toward one goal, I guess it’s time to listen.

In reverse order of my “hearing” them, there is the insight of Pope Benedict in his Message for Lent 2010 (to which I referred in this past weekend’s homily):

“[there is] a permanent temptation within man: to situate the origin of evil in an exterior cause….This way of thinking—Jesus warns—is ingenuous and shortsighted. Injustice, the fruit of evil, does not have exclusively external roots; its origin lies in the human heart…”

Some time earlier (October, to be exact), Our Savior hosted a workshop put on by the North American Forum on the Catechumenate. During one of the sessions, the rhetorical question was asked: “How can I use this coming season of Lent to prepare to renew my own baptism?”

Putting these two challenges together, there is nothing for it except to want to make a commitment, this Lent, to focusing less on “externals” (what do I give up; what do I do extra) and more on rooting out the inclinations to evil that are in my own heart. This means spending quality time with the Lord in examining my own heart, to test the spirits, as I John 4:1 puts it—to see those that need to be embraced and those that need to be exorcised.

This will lead me to see exactly what I need to renounce at the Easter Vigil when we are asked, in renewing our baptismal promises, to renounce Satan and all his works and empty promises. Darkness comes to each of us rather individually; there is no magic “one size fits all” form of temptation to sin that is in every human heart, even though at root there is really only one sin: the self-centered egotism of pride, as St. Augustine describes it—The City of God XII, 6. It is the desire that leads to such rationalizations as "Just this once," or "Only a little," or "It's wrong for everyone, all the time, except me, this time."

So I must explore the darkness within that I have (not another’s); and external extra doing or giving up must have one single purpose only: to encourage and make possible this exploration within. After all, it's no good wanting to exorcise a non-real 'darkness' simply for the sake of claiming a false victory. This is a scary prospect: it’s much easier to think that my Lent will be good enough if I simply give up desserts and between-meal snacks. But it’s also ingenuous, as Pope Benedict wrote…

This exploration is famously described by T. S. Eliot in a somewhat different context, in his "Four Quartets," but his words are still worth reflecting, as Ash Wednesday approaches:

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

I hope our explorations and interior exercises will prepare us all for the most awesome celebration of resurrection ever.


  1. "And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." Might this mean re-tracing one's life back to the first recognition of conscience, its development (if any), and its effect on meaningful exploration?

  2. As I was using TSE's lines, I meant them only to suggest that we need to do the inner exploration honestly, and to discover the self, perhaps for the first time...

    Your take on re-examination of the development of conscience is certainly valid.