“Without falsehood one may avow and believe oneself in all ways unprofitable and useless in respect of one’s own capability, so as to refer all one’s sufficiency to God.” –From “Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life; Vol. 5: St. Thomas Aquinas.” pg 41. Selected and Arranged by John P. McClernon.
This sentence-sermon, I feel, captures the essential message of Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent: We are dust and ashes, and ‘in all ways unprofitable and useless’ when we rely on our own strength. Only in God can we find our ‘sufficiency.’
It is a hard message to swallow. Don’t we, after all, do many and various things each day, seemingly of our own accord, our own will, our own strength? There is the key word: seemingly. With the use of right reason we can trace each action back to its source of strength. What enabled us to rise this morning? The fact that God graciously preserved us through the night, keeping our heart beating, our lungs pulling in and releasing air, keeping the roof above us from tumbling down. What enabled us to put fingers to keys and log on to the internet, rather than wander off to some other thing? What put this meditation before our eyes? And if we do not see this meditation, why is that? Because God allows it. His Will orders all things. Just think of the many things outside of our control. We cannot tell the earth when to turn, or the sun when to rise or fall, or the clouds to move, or the moon when to have its phases. All we have control of is our own little selves, and in order to find our sole happiness, we must relinquish, to a great degree, even this control!
Our free will, yes, dictates what we actually do and do not do. But when our will is aligned to our motives rather than the motives of God, we are unprofitable! So if we go to sleep, rise, log onto the internet and read this meditation simply because we feel like it (doggone it!), that is our will pointed to our motives. But…if we do the same, offering it to God, and read St. Thomas’ words knowing they will move us closer to God, we are seeking the will of God–whatever will bring us closer to Him, whatever is in line with His commandments and teachings. Thus, when we offer our actions and thoughts and desires and, indeed, our whole will to God, He will lead us to what is good for us and uphold us with His grace in avoiding those things which are bad. It is only when this is happening that our works gain any ‘sufficiency’ before God.
We can especially see the strength of God working in us when we, in order to obey the laws of the Church, deprive our flesh of the things it craves. Were God’s power not working in us, we would fly to those things which our flesh naturally desires–the use of meat, the use of food and snacks–without a second thought (as we usually do throughout the rest of the year). But, so that we might align ourselves with His law, God graciously gives us the grace we need to resist these natural impulses and instead, fast.
When we rise in the morning and go to do some work, whether it be a duty of our state of life, a work of charity, a work of penance, etc., we really ought to offer it to God, whatever it may be. Alone, we are ‘unprofitable and useless.’ God knows that we are dust and ashes. He knows that we need His grace to have any sufficiency. And He has offered it to us, in manifold ways, but most especially and importantly in the Sacraments. Daily prayer, especially the Rosary, also calls down the graces needed to live each day relying on God’s strength. Let us ask God for the grace to trust Him, to humble ourselves before Him and admit our nothingness, and to rely solely on His grace and power to render our works sufficient in His sight.
+Adoramus Te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi,
Quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.+