Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the three staples of the Lenten season. As I reflected in holy hour this morning upon these cornerstones of Lent, I realized that they were incredibly close to the Evangelical Counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, which EVERY Christian is to follow, and not just during Lent. One of the main themes in my Pastoral Theology class this semester has been the Evangelical Counsels. We talked about how priests make promises to live out these Counsels in their daily lives, but that they are not exclusively for priest, rather they are to be lived out to a greater or lesser degree by all faithful. Poverty, chastity and obedience are three simple Counsels, but very difficult to follow at times. These Evangelical Counsels help to order our life in such a way that we are not controlled by the things of the earth or the flesh. When we are NOT CONTROLED by earthly desires and passions, our hearts are more disposed to the things of God and we are able to love others more, and to love God with an undivided heart. During the season of Lent we are given a unique opportunity to delve deeper into the heart of Christ so that our will can be conformed more completely to the Father.
In my Pastoral Theology class this semester we have talked about the three main areas which all humanity is prone to fall: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life (1 John 2:16). These three areas are known as the "threefold concupiscence." Concupiscence is mans tendency to learn towards as a result of the fall. Lust of the flesh deals with sexually disordered thoughts, lust of the eyes deals with a disordered desire for worldly possessions, and pride of life deals with adoration of self over God. As you can hopefully see, these three categories are the roots of all other sin. These Lenten staples require us to live an ascetical life (a life of self denial for the sake of the kingdom). When I say ascetical I do not necessarily mean that we have to sell everything we have, but Christ himself seems to be quite clear in his reply to the rich young man, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." (Matthew 19:21) These are challenging words for us who live in a materialistic culture and I, by no means, have mastered this art. As I try to live it out; however, these bold words of Christ resonate true in my life and I desire to live them more completely.
While we are all called to live out poverty, chastity, and obedience we are called to do this in what ever state of life God has called us. As seen with the rich young man God asks us to live some kind of poverty. This does not mean that a mother and father have to sell everything at the expense of their children’s wellbeing. Chastity does not mean celibacy; rather, it means to remain faithful to your spouse. If you are single chastity requires us to save your "love" for the person you give your life to, either the Church or a spouse. While most people are not directly obedient to a bishop as a priest or seminarian we are all called to listen to God and to be obedient to Him. When we give alms to the poor we are living out the Counsel of poverty, and living in poverty we place the lust of the eyes under the reign of Christ. Giving alms helps us to turn from our selves and helps us to see that there are people with much greater need than ourselves. When we struggle with lust of the flesh one of the things I have found to help out is fasting because it gives us self-control and it helps us to live the Counsel of chastity. On the other hand, when we struggle with pride of life and worshiping our own greatness, prayer can often be a great cure because if we are truly praying we are worshiping God. Prayer at its root is listening to God and then responding to his prompting with obedience. As I hope that you can see these Lenten staples help us to become better Catholics because we are more attuned to God and others over our self. These Counsels help us to give ourselves as a gift to God for the sake of the kingdom.
May you have a blessed Lent and when Easter comes may you experience the resurrected Lord in a new and profound way.
Man in Christ, Man of the Church, Men for Others