Extract from a marvellously insightful Lenten message from John Michael Talbot this year:
"MOST OF US normally function on the level that, while not blatantly immoral externally, is stuck in a self love, or ego. This manifests in our life when the senses of the body are given first priority, followed by emotions, and thoughts last. Senses such as hunger, pain and pleasure, comfort and discomfort dominate our life.
"Emotions are also enslaved by this domination, and thoughts follow along last from the lead of the sensual appetites and our unruly emotions. The human spirit thus remains 'asleep' under this tyranny of our disordered human faculties.
"There is a way out of this slavery to unhealthy disorder through Jesus Christ. St. Paul describes the human being as being 'spirit, soul, and body', in complete reverse of this normal enslavement we know all too well. This is what Lent helps us to discover and experience for ourselves."
JMT's message in full:
PEACE and Good In Christ!
I come into this Lent from a busy recording and concert schedule, so regardless of my life in an integrated monastery, I have a great sympathy with our domestic Brothers and Sisters of Charity members and secular Catholic and Christian friends and readers who are called to be "in the world, but not of it." This is not an easy mandate to fulfill.
Lent is the most earnest annual period of repentance and change for Catholic and other liturgical churches and communities. It comes with its own prescriptions for fasting, prayer, and corporal works of mercy intended to help us in drawing closer to the life of Christ, lived out in our own modern lifestyle. At the center of all these practices is a greater conformity to the love of Jesus Christ for all peoples. This love will change our lives.
Most of us normally function on the level that, while not blatantly immoral externally, is stuck in a self love, or ego. This manifests in our life when the senses of the body are given first priority, followed by emotions, and thoughts last. Senses such as hunger, pain and pleasure, comfort and discomfort dominate our life.
Emotions are also enslaved by this domination, and thoughts follow along last from the lead of the sensual appetites and our unruly emotions. The human spirit thus remains "asleep" under this tyranny of our disordered human faculties.
There is a way out of this slavery to unhealthy disorder through Jesus Christ. St. Paul describes the human being as being "spirit, soul, and body," in complete reverse of this normal enslavement we know all too well. This is what Lent helps us to discover and experience for ourselves.
The Fasting of Lent helps us to first let go of our old sensual habit patterns that so often dominate our life. Eating is one of the strongest instincts in the human being. It is needed to survive. But often food rules us instead of helping us to live. As is sometimes said, some people "live to eat instead of eating to live." Altering eating habits is a great way to begin the process of being freed from a life enslaved to the more base appetites. Once the old pattern is broken, then a new pattern using these God given human faculties in a life giving way become a bit easier.
Of significance here is that dealing with food helps us in other areas of the senses as well. It could be the addiction to nicotine, caffeine, sex, alcohol or drugs. These are all powerful addictions, and while not always grossly immoral or illegal, they are nonetheless most oppressive to those who battle with them. Fasting is a great way to start the road to freedom in these areas.
Prayer is the way to move beyond the mere law of renunciation into its spirit. The various forms of prayer redirect the thoughts of the mind and the emotions in meditation. Like the senses, negative thoughts and emotions often enslave us on the more interior level. Prayer is the way to freedom.
Following meditation comes the rebirth of the spirit as primary in every aspect of our life in passive contemplation. Then the thoughts, emotions and senses find their peaceful place in the human being as facilitators and vessels for the life in the spirit. Thoughts are godly. Emotions are empowerments for the things of God. And the senses of the body become wholesome vessels for the emotions, thoughts, and spirit in the Spirit of God.
At first these practices are done as a discipline without much spiritual understanding or feeling. We only do them because we know that the Church has told us that God wills it, and we trust the Church to direct us in these things. It is hard to break old patterns. Sometimes we must overcome an old habit with a new habit.
But after a while these new patterns will become a second nature to us. Going back to the old ways will become as distasteful as was that first stomach ache after overeating, the first drink of coffee, beer or wine, or that first puff with cigarettes or marijuana. Often we would have done well to have heeded those childhood instincts that repelled us from these things.
Last, but not least, are corporal works of mercy. Once we renounce and redirect our negative sensual, emotional, and mental patterns into positive ones, we can overflow again into positive works of mercy and love beginning with those closest to us. Yes, helping victims of the tsunami, or a disaster far away is a good thing to do. But the real test of love comes from those who share our daily life with us. What good is it to us if we help those in a disaster far away, but cannot help our family or community members in their daily needs? As Jesus teaches, once we are faithful in little things, God will give us the great. Great mercy begins with small acts of human kindness.
This year let's not see Lent as just an annual forty day ordeal to get through once more. Let's see it as a forty day practice period to help us turn our whole way of life around. St. Benedict says that serious Christian life can be a "perpetual lent." He does not mean that life should become drudgery. He means that these disciplines can become a source of freedom and strength in later life. This is also true for those of us who seek to follow Jesus seriously today.
May God bless you in charity, joy, and peace.
John Michael Talbot
Founder, Spiritual Father, and General Minister,
The Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage