An Encouraging Word — Lent is about being more human

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness. Matthew 5:6

Knott-fLent is our annual pre-Easter retreat, in which we focus on our pursuit of holiness through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

One of my favorite definitions of holiness comes from Thomas Merton. “Sanctity,” he said, “is not a matter of being less human, but being more human than other men.”

Some of you might be thinking that it can’t be just about becoming more human. Maybe it is. The African American minister who preached at my doctoral graduation brought this point home in a very memorable way. In speaking of the message of the Book of Genesis, he summarized that message this way, “God has always been happy being God, the animals have always been happy being animals, but humans have never been content with being human. They want to be God one day and animals the next.”

Thomas Merton may be right. Being who God created us to be is our path to holiness. St. Ireneus agreed when he said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

If we truly seek to be “fully alive” and “more human,’ then we must “hunger and thirst” for it, even while remembering that we are already holy because we are God’s creation.

For us to become all that we can be, we are invited to use this holy season to “double down” on our use of the tried and true spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Harry Emerson Fosdick may have described the spirit of Lent when he said, “No steam or gas drives anything until it is confined. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated and disciplined.”

The successful man is the average man, focused. Nothing can add more power to our lives than concentrating all our energies on a limited set of targets. Alexander Graham Bell made this point when he said, “The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”

Maybe the linchpin of Lent that will help us become focused, dedicated and disciplined is to remove what is not working, rather than adding more resolutions that have little hope of being carried out. Doing one thing well this Lent, in a concentrated effort, is better than trying to do too much poorly. It’s one thing to pledge oneself to a high purpose and it’s another thing to have the focus, dedication and discipline to carry it through.

If sanctity is about becoming more human, not less human, then those of you who are spouses might focus on doing one thing better as a spouse, rather than trying to take on extra spiritual practices. Those of you who are students might focus on your dedication to study, rather than trying extra ascetical practices that are doomed to failure.

Those of us who are priests might focus on improving our homilies or the way we preside at Mass, rather than adding more to our already overbooked lives. Just a thought.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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