by Alexander Schmemann.
Part 1 talked about creating in the home a Lenten atmosphere, a "climate" conducive to an inner life. Part 2 gives suggestions about creating such a climate in our life outside the home.
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, some very general considerations are possible. Lent is a good time to measure the incredibly superficial character of our relations with other people, things, and work.
The "keep smiling" and "take it easy" slogans are truly the great "commandments" which we cheerfully keep, and they mean: don’t get involved, don’t question, don’t deepen your relationships with human beings; keep the rules of the game which combine a friendly attitude with total indifference.
Lent is the time for the search for meaning: the meaning of my professional life in terms of vocation, the meaning of my relationship to other persons, the meaning of friendship, the meaning of my responsibility.
There is no job, no vocation, which cannot be transformed—be it only a little—in terms 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—very often without knowing it—prisoners of systems that progressively de-humanize the world.
If our faith has any meaning, it needs 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 here saint means very simply a man or woman taking his or her faith seriously—will do more for changing the world than a thousand printed programs. The saint is the only true revolutionary.
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.
I tell you, on the day of judgment, men will render account for every careless word they uttered; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. (Mt 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 thinking, 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 people or toward work, than formal preaching.
It can sow the seeds of a question, of the possibility of a different approach to life, of the desire to know more.
We have no idea, in fact, how we constantly influence one another by our words, by the very tonality of our personality.
Ultimately people are converted to God, not because someone was able to give brilliant explanations, but because they saw in that person 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 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 all that which he gave us in his infinite love and mercy.
And thus, on Easter, in one of our hymns we sing:
"Today are all things filled with light,
Heaven and earth and the places under the earth;
All creation does celebrate the Resurrection of Christ
On whom it is founded."
Of this expectation, do not deprive us, O Lover of Man.
—Excerpted from Great Lent pp. 99-105, with permission from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 575 Scarsdale Rd., Crestwood, NY 10707. It can be ordered from their website. (www.svspress.com)
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