Saturday, March 17, 2012

NOT what you want

Lent gives me power. Not accustomed to much in that regard, I am astonished by the feats I can accomplish when it is Lent.

Any other time of the year, whatever task I am engaged in, if there is something I want, I stop my work, and get it. I can sense that I am hungry or thirsty, and immediately get myself something to eat or drink. I can remember a book I wanted to read, or something in the rectory that broke, and I can go online and with a few clicks arrange for it to be delivered to me. If I am annoyed by the noises coming from the next room - which is the kitchen, home to a broad spectrum of noises -- I can turn on iTunes to provide covering fire. And when I am distracted, nervous, anxious, irritated, or bored, I can anaesthetize that unpleasant feeling by clicking on my browser and surfing the internet.

You may think that all this sounds like power, but it is the opposite. My appetites dictate my actions. Not just the appetites that I need for survival, either, like actual hunger for nourishment; but these are appetites that are desires beyond what is necessary for my life, more like the munchies. I am, all too often, their abject slave.

But that’s okay. Or at least there are a lot of people telling me that’s okay, which is one of the reasons I fail to rebel against this serfdom. As a matter of fact, there is a steady stream of opinion and information telling me that this is, in fact, the pinnacle of power: to be able to get what I want, how and when I want it, because I want it. So I can be remarkably attuned to what I want, just to be able to prove how powerful I am in getting it. So why do I feel so weak and helpless?

But then comes Lent. Suddenly, I break the bonds of ennui and agitation to assert this strange new power that I have: the power to NOT. The power to NOTfeed my face; the power to NOTwaste my time. The power to NOTavoid responsibility, or prayer, or someone else’s need.

This power is ours for the using, but only against our own wants. We can NOTeat that second helping, NOTbuy those new shoes, NOTsay that funny but sharp remark, and NOTsleep past the alarm. Soon enough, we are better and stronger at NOTgiving in to our appetites.

Let’s face it, this is a great power in a society where it is becoming increasingly difficult, even impossible, to NOToffer someone else something that they want. For one thing, almost everything is possible, thanks to our incredible advances in technology. And if it is possible, who are you (or who am I) to say someone can NOThave it? If it is too much for you or me to provide, then it falls to a Company, a System, or a Government, and where a want is sufficiently funded, or sufficiently demonstrable, they are constitutionally unable to NOTprovide it.

So how can we help these enslaved people, if our power is only to deny our own desires? For them and for their benefit, we can NOTdo things that we want for ourselves. This is the truly amazing, even God-like power that we have: to sacrifice. And unlike the simple power to NOT, it is strongest when turned on others. Unleashed in the world, this is the astonishing power of love. This Lent, feel the power!

Monsignor Smith

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