JAMES BEHRENS: Consider service to others as a way to observe Lent

James Behrens

James Behrens

The Gospels, as old as they are, offer insights into the meaning of life as fresh as if they were written down yesterday. Times and cultures may change, but the quandary of being human does not. Our hearts grapple with the same woes and anxieties as those who lived before us.

The season of Lent is a time to pause and reflect on what we really need to do to align our hearts with the heart of God. Basically, it means letting go of the usual way we go about seeking wholeness, seeking lasting satisfaction. For that is the longing that people brought to Jesus.

They looked to Jesus for healing, for wholeness — and His responses to them often took them by surprise, for their idea of securing fullness was not His. Yet he did not leave them empty-hearted. He told them that there was a way within their grasp that would draw them closer to God’s life — the only source of lasting good.

The way of Jesus, and the way He offers us, has everything to do with our relationships with our neighbors. Words like compassion, forgiveness, faithfulness, honesty, generosity, abundance — these words and many like them give life and expression to the human heart as they teach us what it means to be alive for others and giving to others.

Wholeness comes through and from our service to others. To my way of thinking, this striving for wholeness is as sacrificial as the many other ways people approach Lenten fasting. Whereas it may be good to give up candy, TV, a favorite meal or pastime, these should lead to a more disciplined heart, a heart that will set aside time and effort for others.

The presence of grace in this world is as real as it is effective. I like to think that grace — the very life of God — is all around us as gift. Grace comes into the world through the efforts of those who sacrifice, those who forgo one way of doing things for a more loving and human way, and who, by a smile, a kind gesture, an act of goodness, or an embrace, allow the warmth and holiness of God to come alive through human flesh.

It does not have to be “labeled” to reveal itself to us as coming from the heavens. It is at its best and most pure when it slips through the cracks of human life and shines its light.

Once you see it, you will know it. All you have to do is look for it. Just seeing another person showing an act of genuine loving to another is enough to warm your heart.

But it comes with an invitation, the same kind of invitation implied by Jesus when he said, “Go, and do the same.”

Grace is contagious. It is within the grasp of anyone who seeks God, who seeks wholeness. It is a wholeness that has nothing to do with a perfect body, or a fat bank account, or a problem-free existence. It is, instead, a wholeness that is at the very heart of the world’s longing for hope.

Lent is a time to forego any expectations that our ways will bring lasting hope and peace to the world. We are asked to take to heart the expectations and promises of God, a God who told us to trust in small things and the immense power of the human heart.

It may seem an odd mix. But it is the only source of grace God has given us. Maybe He knows something that we tend to usually ignore.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Highway 212 SW, Conyers. His email address is james@trappist.net.