The Lenten announcements explained in countless churches this morning will be received with varied reactions. Some will welcome the holy season as an opportunity for drawing closer to God and thereby deepening their spiritual resources. Others will accept Lent in the spirit of mild toleration accompanied with the feeling that nothing very much can be done about it. In every congregation there are some who steadfastly refuse to take their religion seriously, who have no disposition to change their way of life. To them the announcements of this season of prayer and penance come as a severe reminder, but something too often resisted.
I venture to make a few practical suggestions. I ask you, first of all, to consider Lent as, according to St. Paul, a most acceptable time. For a change, try to look on Lent not merely as a season of prayer and penance but in the light of opportunity.
We are all eager to better our condition and position in life. Advancement invariably comes to the man who takes advantage of his opportunities. Looking back, we shall notice that some of life's bitterest regrets come as a result of wasted opportunities. In the spiritual life, God is always dispensing His graces. Every hour, every day, God is helping us. In countless ways, we receive God's help. Persistent are the calls of God inviting, urging, begging us to turn from sin; or if we have done that, urging us to rise higher in the spiritual life and to serve Him more perfectly. From earliest childhood we have been made to understand that during the holy season of Lent the grace of God is abundant, because this is a special season of grace. God helps those who help themselves. If man will take advantage of the present-day helps offered him, he will look upon this Lent as an acceptable time; if entered into and followed through conscientiously, there is no telling what it might mean to him in the light of eternity.
Getting a Better Perspective of Life
Lent is a most acceptable time for the average man to get a better perspective of things-to see life as it is, to get an over-all view of life in terms of eternity. The Church furnishes her children these days abundant food for thought. "Not on bread alone doth man live, but every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God." With the bread of the Word you are fed. You are urged these Lenten days to face facts, to be done with wishful thinking, to put first things first. The great eternal truths are presented for your consideration-for example, the importance of your salvation: "For what doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?" In an age that is becoming more and more callous and coldly indifferent to sin, the Cross of Our Saviour is held aloft for your veneration and meditation. We are asked to look at it, and above all to realize that sin-my sin, your sin-was the primary cause of the passion and death of Christ, Our Blessed Lord.
The imposition of the blessed ashes on Wednesday last served as a stern. reminder of death and the inevitable judgment of God that follows in the moments after death. Here are sobering truths. There is no point in trying to run away from them. Many a person is in heaven today because he took advantage of this acceptable time, squarely faced these eternal truths, was sobered by them, and went on to live a life of decency and faith.
Distinguishing the Passing from the Permanent
Lent is an acceptable time to put this world of ours in its proper place. Oh, I do not mean that there is any one in this congregation this morning who has the power to set right this world of ours now so miserably out of joint. What, then, do I mean? Ask yourselves a few questions: "What is the world doing to me? How do I feel about it? What do I intend to do about it?" Lent, each year, summons a careless world to withdraw for a while, to get away from the countless distractions of every-day life, and do a little extra thinking. "With desolation is all the world made desolate because no man thinketh in his heart." This is of immediate importance. Men cannot choose aright and act aright unless they think aright. We are and we do what we think. How are we thinking at the present time? How much of our thinking concerns the things of God, and how much of it concerns the things of the world? One of our poets has said, and with a truth that all must recognize: "The world is too much with us." There- fore, it is necessary that man, as a spiritual being, withdraw from it occasionally. In the Gospel this morning, the devil took Our Lord "up a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them." He was clever not to show the wickedness, the misery, and the complete shallowness of the world. The world in which we live can be very deceptive. To live in it is no simple matter. We come into this world with nothing and we go out with nothing, but in between the coming and going the average man gets frightfully confused. So, unless a man has something like religion to steer him right and to help him get the proper slant on the whole business of life, he is headed for deep trouble.
Today No Time for Day-Dreaming
Yes, this. is a good time to do a little serious thinking. We are still in the tough process of making peace. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the war is not yet over. War always creates its own People grow tired of the hard realities of life, and after sacrifice and suffering there is always the most dangerous period of all the early days of a peace. Then comes the temptation to retreat from life into a dream-world of pleasure and prosperity. We are passing through such a period right now. It is a dangerous period. After the last world war, the world went on a pleasure spree and wasted its substance living riotously. In the light of past experience, we know now that it would have profited us more had we approached the problems of the peace more seriously and with greater reverence. The hard truth of the matter is that there is grave evidence that we are, right now, on the verge of repeating that same ghastly mistake. The war is over, but there is no peace. The problems that lie before us are staggering. Good will and patience, combined with a readiness for hardship and self-sacrifice, will be needed for us all if we are to achieve a lasting peace. My friends, Lent or no Lent, this is no time for a merry-go-round of pleasure. Let's be serious about our days, and above all let's be prayerful about them. For in these dark days Lent, indeed, is the acceptable time. Let us meet the demands of the hour.
Our Restless Generation
There is a restlessness among men today that is painfully apparent. We are a jumpy, jittery generation - on edge. We simply cannot and will not be still. What do you think is behind all this restlessness? There must be a reason for it. Let someone wiser than myself furnish the answer:
"In the very act of affirming him- self, man has lost himself. He has conquered the earth, has created marvels, yet his assurance in himself, is gone and he has lost his illusion and hope.... Dwarfed and insignificant, he is left to contemplate the vast spaces he has discovered, and the infinite emptiness in which there is no consolation but only godless terror.... When man broke away from the spiritual moorings of his life, he tore himself from the deeps and went to the surface, and he has become more and more superficial. When man lost the spiritual center of being, he lost his own at the same time."
In plain language, man has lost his way; he has lost his bearings, and in seeking today to find himself he is going around in circles. He is seeking peace, rest and happiness in places where they cannot be found. This is the cause of our restlessness and of a good deal of our unhappiness. God's call to all of us this Lent is to deepen our spiritual life. Go back to God-return to religion!
Like the prodigal of old, who came to his senses, let us say with determination this morning: "I will arise and go to my Father." I will recognize that He is my God. I will come to Him with my burden and lay it down; I will reach out my arms for His welcoming embrace. This will bring me peace and rest. Life Augustine, my conviction is this: “Thou hast created us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” Yes, Lent is a most acceptable time.