Joy and Hope
March 8, 2008
Lent is not a lonely, anonymous campaign, but a public matter
In the past few weeks the news has been dominated by the presidential state primaries. The field of candidates has been narrowed by the preference of voters and the availability of donor dollars to sustain these relentless campaigns.
Change is the common theme that has emerged during the course of the past weeks. It is one that will continue to be heard for the months remaining prior to the November election.
While change may be the common word, each candidate has proposed his/her own version of change. We heard about a need for a change of leadership, a change of political parties, a change of direction, a change of vision. More often than not, the change proposed has to do with the government, the economy, the war or the world.
Seldom do the candidates suggest that the voters need to change. That would not be a good campaign strategy. The winning strategy is always to tell the voters what they want to hear, that one will make the changes necessary in the government or the economy or the courts so that the voters get what the voters want. The proverbial “they” should change but not “we” or “me,” the voter.
Some weeks ago the church began its own campaign. We began our campaign as we always do with the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. Curiously, our Lenten campaign and the current political campaigns both use the same word. We are both talking about change.
There are some important differences, however, in the way we use the word and in how we apply the word. Like many of the political campaigns we also hope for a change in our world. We want a change in laws that protect the lives of the innocent and the weak, especially the unborn. We hope and pray for an end to war and the establishment of peace. We hope for an economy that is not only prosperous but fair. We want a government that is just as well as effective. These are changes for which we all hope but we also believe that we are the ones who must change so that the fruits of God’s kingdom can come “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus is the one who leads this spiritual and moral campaign — a personal as well as social exodus from death to life, from despair to hope. Jesus calls us to conversion. He wants to bring about a change in the world by changing our minds, our hearts, our lives. As St. Paul tells us, we are on a campaign to put on the mind and the heart of Christ, to think, love, and act like the Lord Jesus (Phil 2.5).
This is not an easy campaign of which to be a part. The work that must be done calls for each of us to become personally involved with bringing about the kingdom announced by Jesus and hoped for by all the church. We must become personally involved in the changes for which we hope. By becoming personally involved in these Christlike changes we understand that this is an inside job. Jesus is talking to each one of us, inviting each one of us to let go of the ensnarling nets of sin and follow him.
The Lenten campaign is personal because Jesus came as a person to save the human person. He became personally involved in our lives and calls us to be personally involved in his mission He wants this campaign to bring about a conversion and renewal of the human person. It is as an interior campaign because he wants to change the whole person — heart, head and body. He wants to save the whole person.
To say, though, that the campaign is personal and interior does not make it a private matter. Lent is not a lonely, anonymous campaign. Lent is a public matter and a social work. Jesus wants to renew the whole world. He came save all of society. He chooses to do this work through men and women whose lives have been changed by the Gospel, whose minds and hearts have become like his own.
While each one may personally participate in the Lenten campaign by prayer, fasting and works of charity, these personal acts are not private. The Lenten campaign is not just a matter of being concerned for one’s own salvation. Lent is the church’s great solidarity campaign where we join with one another in the significant work of renewing our minds and hearts to be like Christ. What each one of us does personally matters for the rest of church. What we do together is an inspiration and a support to another. This is so not because of the merits or efficacy of our own efforts. It is so because we share in the saving work of the Lord Jesus.
This is not to say our Lenten campaign has nothing to do with the political campaigns that will besiege the American voters over the course of the next few months. As Catholics we will have very serious decisions facing us as voters in the months ahead.
The convictions of our faith do not justify a spiritual withdrawal from the confusing, conflicting character of the political campaigns. We are morally obligated to engage with our heart and mind the issues and choices placed before us on the ballot. We should do so not by conforming ourselves to the tone and tenor of these rancorous times. Our hearts and minds should first be conformed to Christ.
For this reason, this Lenten time offers us a unique opportunity to do the personal and interior work that is necessary to change ourselves so that we can better decide and act with the mind and heart of Christ. These are the personal changes that will have greater, long-lasting significance for each of us, our communities and our nation.
The political campaigns will culminate with the election in November. At that time, each citizen is call upon to exercise his/her civic duty to vote. In our Lenten campaign we act with the knowledge that the one vote that counts has been cast. Jesus has already elected us. He has chosen us to be his own.
We rejoice with those who have been called as the “elect” during this Lenten season. They will soon share with all of us in the grace and joy of the sacraments to be celebrated at the Easter Vigil. This divine election demonstrated by the wondrous love of the cross is what attracts us to seek for ourselves the mind and the heart of Christ.
The resurrection of Christ is the “first day” of a new humanity, renewed in grace and restored by love. All the hopes and aspiration of the human person, including our political endeavors, must conform to the vision and promise revealed on Easter morning. This is a campaign worthy of our best efforts. Jesus offers us the change worth making. Let that change begin with us.