I am on the road to an alliance, and as I sit in the rectory of a parish in a very small town in northwestern Ohio, I’m trying to come up with something profound to write for a reflection for Lent, and having prayed for days about what to write, I face my own poverty. Nothing is coming.
So, I’m going to reflect on just that: my own poverty. And what a perfect time Lent is to experience and reflect on our own spiritual poverty. As I prayed tonight, alone, in front of the Blessed Sacrament in this beautiful church, nothing came to me: no inspirations, no consolations, no profound thoughts or zealous affections. In fact, I fought sleep for probably 20 of the 30 minutes while I sat in the church. Already I have fallen in my Lenten discipline; and as I sit here writing this, I am experiencing the desire to break it again (and it is nothing heroic)!
Today, as I drove to Ohio due to a canceled flight, I couldn’t get the work done that I was planning to accomplish on the plane. I also had a lot of time to pray in the car (5 1/2 hours); but did I? Some, but not as much as I could have. Yesterday, as I tried to balance my work priorities, my son’s 2nd birthday, time with my wife and 7 children (before I leave them for 3 days), along with attending spiritual direction and Confession, running errands to get things my wife will need but won’t be able to get while I’m gone… I failed several different times.
In all of this, I am sitting face-to-face with my own poverty. I can do nothing on my own. And as I get frustrated with myself, I again experience my own poverty in my pride of thinking that I should be able to do better. The truth is, I cannot. The truth is, none of us can. And there’s something freeing in this realization. There’s something infinitely freeing in realizing that by ourselves, we can do nothing; “…apart from me you can do nothing…” (Jn 15:5) I cannot pray well. I cannot make wise decisions. I cannot commit myself to a simple little discipline for a month-and-a-half. But what about with Him? What about with Jesus? Shouldn’t I be able to pray well, fast well, love generously, etc.? The answer is ‘yes’ as well as ‘no.’ See, if we had inspiring prayer every time we sat down to pray – or even most times we sat down to pray; if we succeeded every Lent with perfect discipline; if we always loved very generously; correctly prioritized our time; and so on every day, we’d quickly replace our reliance on God with a firm reliance on our own abilities. I know God allows us to stumble, to fall, to experience dryness: to experience our own poverty to purify ourselves from our attachments, self-love, and vanities. He wants to strip us of anything and everything – even things that are in themselves good – that keep us from or slows down attaining intimacy with Him. For experiencing and embracing our own poverty is the condition for receiving His infinite riches! And so, as I get ready to do a little spiritual reading and then examine my conscience, I will pay special attention to those times today when He blessed me by allowing me to experience my own poverty. I will thank Him for those blessings, ask Him forgiveness for my failures, and ask Him for more help tomorrow.
So, it is my prayer that you will not grow frustrated with yourself, with God, or with the people around you this Lent, but rather, be open to experiencing your own poverty. Perhaps include the following in your daily prayer, or as a nightly exam, paying particular attention to those times throughout your day where you experience your own poverty: “Thank you. Forgive me. Help me more.”