Daily Meditations

The Thirty-Second of Great Lent. “. . . BUT BY PRAYER AND FASTING” (Part VI)

What could be the meaning of Lent during the long hours we spend outside of home—commuting, sitting at our desks, taking care of our professional duties, meeting our colleagues and friends? Although no clear-cut “recipe” can be given here as in any other area, some very general considerations are possible. In the first place, Lent is a good time to measure the incredibly superficial character of our relations with men, things, and work. The “keep smiling” and “take it easy” slogans are truly the great “commandments” which we joyfully keep, and they mean: don’t get involved, don’t question, don’t deepen your relations with human beings; keep the rules of the game which combine a friendly attitude with total indifference; think of everything in terms of material gains, benefits, advancement; be, in other terms, a part of the world which, while constantly using the great words “freedom,” “responsibility,” “care,” etc., de facto follows the materialistic principle that man is what he eats!

Lent is the time for the search for meaning: meaning of my professional life in terms of vocation; meaning of my relationship to other persons; meaning of friendship; meaning of my responsibility. There is no job, no vocation, which cannot be “transformed”—be it only a little—in terms not of greater efficiency or better organization but in those of human value. It is the same effort of “interiorization” of all our relations that is needed here, for we are free human beings who have become (without very often knowing it) prisoners of systems that progressively de-humanize the world. And if our faith has any meaning, it is to be related to life in all its complexity. Thousands of people think that necessary changes come only from outside, from revolutions and change in external conditions. It is for us Christians to prove that in reality everything comes from inside—from faith and life according to faith. The Church, when she entered the Greco-Roman world, did not denounce slavery, did not call for a revolution. It was her faith, her new vision of man and life that progressively made slavery impossible. One “saint”—and saint here means very simply a man taking his faith seriously all the time—will do more for changing the world than a thousand printed programs. The saint is the only true revolutionary in this world.

Finally, Lent is the time to control our speech. Our world is incredibly verbal and we are constantly flooded by words which have lost their meaning and therefore their power. Christianity reveals the sacredness of the word—a truly divine gift to man. For this reason, our speech is endowed with tremendous power either positive or negative. For this reason, also we shall be judged on our words: “But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the Day of Judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37).

To control speech is to recover its seriousness and its sacredness, to understand that sometimes an innocent “joke,” which we proffered without even thinking about it, can have disastrous results—can be that last “straw” which pushes a man into ultimate despair and destruction. But the word can also be a witness. A casual conversation across the desk with a colleague can do more for communicating a vision of life, an attitude toward other men or toward work, than formal preaching. It can sow the seeds of a question, of the possibility of a different approach to life, the desire to know more. We have no idea how, in fact, we constantly influence one another by our words, by the very “tonality” of our personality. And ultimately men are converted to God not because someone was able to give brilliant explanations, but because they saw in him that light, joy, depth, seriousness, and love which alone reveal the presence and the power of God in the world.

And thus if Lent is, as we have said at the very beginning, the recovery by man of his faith, it is also his recovery of life, of its divine meaning, of its sacred depth. It is by abstaining from food that we rediscover its sweetness and learn again how to receive it from God with joy and gratitude. It is by “slowing down” on music and entertainment, on conversation and superficial socializing, that we rediscover the ultimate value of human relationships, human work, human art. And we rediscover all this because very simply we rediscover God Himself—because we return to Him and in Him to all that which He gave us in His infinite love and mercy.

~Adapted from Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent