Avoiding Lenten Gimmicks


namaanSome people try to get rich quick by aiming for a $400 million jackpot, and others try to lose weight quick through fad diets. These methods very rarely work even among worldly goals; why would we expect them to work any better in our spiritual lives, where perseverance bears the reward?

There is no get holy quick card; it is a life-long effort which must never be abandoned. Similarly, just as there is no secret about the implements of good weight loss methods — diet and exercise — there is no secret about the implements of the spiritual life — prayer, fasting, devotion to God, and love of our fellow man.

This lesson of commonness is the theme today’s Reading and Gospel share. Chesterton would love the commonness of the instructions given to Namaan. “Go and wash in the river,” Elijah says. Namaan the Syrian almost walks away. How boring was that suggestion! It is as if he says, “If I wanted to be told to wash, I would have stayed at home.” Are not, after all, the waters of home every bit as fine if not better?

Common things are rejected, even when they are the tools of God’s restoration in us.

This theme of commonness is repeated even in the same reading. How does God accomplish the task of healing Namaan? It is through the advice of a wise servant that Namaan accept the common-sounding instructions of Elijah. Not only is the advice common sounding, and not only is the water common-looking, but it is a very common person whose only mention in scripture is this passage, who finally gets through.

What implications this has for the spiritual life, and how this echoes through the plan of salvation even in our lives! How many times have we been called to holiness, to the sacraments, to prayer and love of God by the words of people other than priests? It is by trust in others, and ultimately by faith in God, that the glory of a common-seeming thing changes our lives.

Christ moves through the midst of people. This is the connection commonness has with today’s Gospel. Jesus is known to them and they have contempt for him, but when they try to attack he somehow moves through the midst of them. We don’t know how Christ accomplishes this miracle of leaving them safely. Strictly speaking, we don’t even know if it is a miracle, because it may be accomplished by natural methods, and because even the effect seems so mundane compared to water turning into wine, or Lazarus rising from the dead, or Christ rising from the dead, or the tongues of flame at Pentecost.

Those are extravagant miracles, extravagant signs, and they are certainly important pillars of Christian doctrine. Unlike fad diets, they are real. There are extravagant, real signs outside scripture, too, such as the many Marian apparitions. However, our lives cannot be spent waiting for extravagance, as if everyone received a Marian apparition, though we may certainly experience something like it in the spiritual life. Our lives must be built upon the common-seeming things God often gives us the grace to do, even things as banal-seeming as the daily Rosary, or the blessing before meals.

Though we might be tempted to gimmickry this Lent, let us instead embrace prayer and fasting, devotional confession, and a weekly worthy reception of the Blessed Sacrament. These are truly uncommon things, but before we enter into them they seem common. If those uncommon things were enlivened by faith and made common in our lives, our lives would uncommonly shine with the glory of God. That, and that alone, will ensure that we will persevere, that God will not be a novelty to our lives, and that we will never leave his glory.


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