Fr. George W. Rutler – Weekly – February 15, 2009
Fr. George W. Rutler
February 15, 2009
It would be rash to run a marathon without training. And it would not be wise to plunge into Lent without getting ready for it. The old liturgical calendar had three weeks to get ready for Lent: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, meaning seventieth, sixtieth, and fiftieth. These were not exact configurations: Quinquagesima Sunday marks the fiftieth day before Easter, if you include both of those Sundays, and Septuagesima and Sexagesima Sundays are really 64 and 57 days before Easter. But the point is that these are signals to get ready for the gift of the Lenten season which itself is a serene anticipation of Easter joy, and therefore has a joy of its own. Saint Benedict said back in the sixth century: “In these days, therefore, let us add something beyond the wonted measure of our service, such as private prayers and abstinence in food and drink. Let each one, over and above the measure prescribed for him, offer God something of his own freewill in the joy of the Holy Spirit” (Rule, 49). I regret that the revised calendar dropped the “Gesimas.” On the other hand, those three weeks could have been confused with Lent itself, as they wore the penitential violet and left out the Gloria. But the Ordinary Form can learn from the Extraordinary Form how to start thinking about the season of penance. Most important is prayer. It helps rescue us from that spiritually idolatrous mentality which wants ashes without prayer and penance. That is rather like thinking that all you need to do in order to run the marathon is to put on your running clothes. Prayer indicates a desire to enter into God’s plan for the universe. Everything He made is cogent and has a purpose, which is why we expect the world to “work,” and complain when things do not work. By doing His will, we can enter into His Kingdom—and the Kingdom is the state in which all is the way God means life to be. Perfect prayer, then, is prayer that leads us to do perfectly what God wants. God answers every prayer: and prayer is the means by which we come to realize how He has answered it. Spiritual discipline, through acts of penance, also inoculates us against the sentimental attitude which measures reality according to our “feelings.” What we feel about anything has nothing to do with what is right or wrong, and “feeling good about myself” is no guarantee that we are doing God’s will. So prayer should be “instant in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) and not just when we feel like it. Our greatest dignity consists in the fact that God has made us able to think about Him, to serve Him, and to love Him. These approaching weeks of the Church year are His way of reminding us of that.