This week we have begun an Adult Faith program called “Catholicism: The Pivotal Players”. It addresses 6 different people through the history of the Church and started with St. Francis of Assisi. One of the key points they make about St. Francis is that while he is known for living in poverty, abandoning all worldly goods to serve God, and for his care and love for the poor, they make the point that Francis did not come to his love for Christ out of his love for the poor, but rather that his love for Christ led him to his love for the poor. I bring this up early in Lent because I think it is a good thing to be aware of in ourselves, especially as we may be choosing and trying to live out certain Lenten practices of fasting, alms-giving, and prayer. Consider how we are motivated to do these things and what changes they may have on us.
I think most of us probably do not have quite as radical of a conversion as Francis did when he decided to devote his life to God. But even Francis I think grew some from both manners. While his primary first change may have been his love for God that led him to recognize and care for the poor, but I believe his care for the poor then further helped him to grow in his love for God. Sometimes doing something that is good, and getting into the habit of it and developing a virtue, may not be something we really want to do, but we are doing for a penance or a discipline. But over time we start recognizing the value of it, both for others and ourselves, and feel the blessing of being able to do this, and even though it still takes labor, or sacrifice, or work, but we wouldn’t consider not doing it. Ideally this helps us also to grow in our love for God, in recognizing the blessings he gives us, and also the way in which he can be a blessing for others through us.
In the Gospel reading from this last Monday (MT 25:31-46) we heard the people saying they did not know when they helped God, when they fed, welcomed, clothed, or cared for him and Jesus says “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Obviously doing the good deeds is worthwhile, and we hear Christ saying how appreciative God is for them, but it can be even more if we actually let it change us, and to increase our love both for our neighbor and for God.
As we continue in our Lenten practices hopefully we can stay faithful to them. But also we hopefully don’t just ‘complete’ them, but we let them change us, to grow in our practical virtues but also in our love and awareness of God in our lives.