Lent is a great time to find the meaning and the measure of our creation.
Here’s one of the most important questions you’ll ever be asked: “Why bother?” Another way of approaching the question: “Why am I here? What am I for? Does it matter if I succeed for fail?” These are always important questions to ask and answer repeatedly, but especially during the season of Lent.
With the Church, I do believe that we’re made for something quite specific and that it does matter greatly whether we succeed or fail. We are made for success, and God is doing everything he can to help us so we succeed. But sometimes—and, here’s the hard part—most of us, at least some of the time, choose to fail. Maybe I can make that bitter pill easier to swallow by suggesting that Lent can help to free us from the ugly things that hold us back and weigh us down, that threaten to make of our lives a tragedy, rather than a comedy. God affords us the dignity of fighting at his side for our own liberation, so let’s be happy warriors and work with him for our salvation.
In my last column (HERE) I spoke of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s “First Principle and Foundation,” namely, that man is created for the praise, reverence, and service of God. We’re to judge every aspect of our life as good or ill depending upon whether anything brings us closer to or farther from the end for which we were made. In this column, I want to reflect further on what it means to be “made for God.”
To know and delight
Let’s reflect again on what it means to be a creature of God, of one who is created by God from nothing. The infinite God, whose good attributes are without limit, cannot be benefited in any way by anything that he has made. He needs nothing. Yet, because he is all love, and love’s trademark is self-donation, it is not surprising that he would create beings—while inevitably less than himself—to be like him to the degree that they are able. We human beings are, like God, rational, free, and therefore moral. We have been given body and soul together so that we may know and delight in the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Because God is supremely good and supremely generous, he wants the best for his beloved (us); what’s best for his beloved is himself—to love as he loves, to give as he gives, and to share to the fullness of our finite capacity in his limitless joy.
To help us achieve the glorious end for which we were made, he gives us not only a human body and soul, he also gives us all of creation. All that we need to learn to live, know, love and give—in imitation of God—is offered to us through God’s good creation. The challenge for us is to order our lives properly. That is, in light of the end for which we were made, to arrange our lives so as to rightly value what is rightly valuable so as to rightly desirable what is rightly desirable, and, with right reason, to use the right means to the right ends, and so achieve our ultimate destiny, which is the happiness of Heaven.
Sounds like a great plan, right? Yes—now here’s the hard part: Sin made a mess of it all. We still value, desire, reason, use, even love, but in a distorted, corrupted or incomplete way. We proclaim as true what is half-true or fully false; we merely use what is lovable and love what is merely useful; we are more inclined to take rather than to give. That tragic path takes us way from the destination, the destiny for which we were made. We cannot turn around on our own. What are we to do?
God chooses to offer us a second chance, at a terrible cost to himself. He offers us the grace needed to rightly order our human nature and our appreciation of creation in order to bring us to Heaven, our only true home.
Our challenge is to work with divine grace by throwing down the idols that we have made, taking the trash out of our lives, renouncing our excuses, and giving proper order and place to each aspect of our lives. That work of conversion is a constant task of course, but the season of Lent is meant to highlight and emphasize the work and urgency of conversion, as well as the glory or horror awaiting our success or our failure.
Let’s go back to our original question: “Why bother?” And let’s re-ask it: “Why is life worth living? How can it possibly be worth the effort?” Here’s my summary of the Church’s perennial answer: “Because of who God is, and because of who I am to God, it matters how I live, and what kind of person I am when I die. I am so loved that I don’t want to disappoint love.”
When I write next, I will continue with my reflections on Lent. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.