“Unless a man departs from himself, he does not draw near to Him who is above him….It is therefore then that we leave and deny ourselves, when we avoid that which we were of old, and strive towards that to which we are called.” –From “Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life; Vol. 5: St. Thomas Aquinas”; pg 114. Selected and Arranged by John P. McClernon.
This quote, I think, gives us a further strengthening of the necessity of the self-denial of Lent. We are constantly moving away from the ‘old man’ and striving toward the ‘new man,’ the man who is in a state of grace and pleasing to God. We want to remain that ‘new man’ and not regress back to the old, for in doing so we lose many graces and virtues, and, if we fall back into some mortal sin, we lose God’s friendship entirely! This is a frightening thought, and one that should propel us forward with fervor to the keeping of the austerities of Lent.
We must also ‘depart’ from ourselves. This is much easier said than done. But in those moments that we can recall, those few precious moments where we were perhaps rapt in prayer or meditation…do you recall any memory of self-love? Do you recall any worldly distractions? No. All we recall is being in the presence of God, meditating on a mystery of the Rosary or being intensely sorry for our sins (just to name a couple of examples). We must forget ourselves and our little troubles and cares; we must die to ourselves by not giving into the whining of our stomach or the frenzied distractions of our mind. Only then can we hope to lift up our hearts to God and spend a few precious moments drawing ‘near to Him who is above’ us.
It is very hard to do. Oftentimes, I know I am tempted to think it is impossible on some days. But it is always possible through the grace of God. And perhaps we have no consolations, no wonderful forgetting of self, but are still tormented by these distractions? We must continue on, with at least the burning desire to pray well, to serve God well. God will see these desires of our hearts and, in His own time, will reward us for them by helping us to attain them. We must also suffer patiently if these distractions afflict us, suffering willingly for love of God and continuing on with the desire of rising above ourselves burning in our hearts.
“But thou, when thou fastest anoint thy head, and wash thy face, That thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee” (Matt. 6:17-18, DRA). Whatever we do for God, whatever we suffer for God, He sees and repays us, as a most generous Father, oftentimes giving us much more than we gave Him. He asks so little of us and promises so much. Let us go forward through this Lenten season, striving toward the new man, the resurrected man, that we may rise with Christ our Lord on Easter Sunday, with hearts, minds and souls freer and purer to serve Him.