An Unselfish Heart
When I was quite young the instructor in my CCD class (religious education for public school children) told a story which made a huge impression on me. Unfortunately, it was not a good one. The story concerned a little girl who dutifully prayed the Rosary, but because she was often distracted, she did not say it well; that is, the prayers were not ‘perfect.’ Thus, when she died, she was barred from Heaven! I was so horrified at this that I feared praying the Rosary, deciding it was better to avoid it altogether than to risk messing it up. Being so young, what I failed to realize was that the teacher falsely implied that God is rather petty, to say the least. Thankfully, as I grew in maturity, and therefore realized the ridiculousness of that story, I learned not only to pray the Rosary, but to love it. I realized that the teacher was trying to impress upon us that we should be attentive rather than rattling off a multiplication of words, but she truly had missed the mark. The truth is that the sincerity of our intention and the love with which we approach God matters more than whether or not we forgot or added one Hail Mary in the decade, or whether a prayer was said ‘properly.’ No human is perfect so we need to let go of the false idea that our prayer is not good enough in some way. The One who receives our prayer is perfect and His love for us is also perfect. Thus, contrary to the message I received as a child, every intention and every prayer we offer is received perfectly because it is received with the unfathomable love and mercy of God.
Being nervous about the quality or quantity of our prayer renders the entire point to be lost. For one thing, prayer is not about rattling off words. Saying rote prayers does have great value, but we also need to pray in our own words as well as to prayerfully meditate, (to reflect or ponder). To distrust our prayer is actually to be distrustful of God because prayer is about a relationship, not about a ‘secret formula’ of words. Judging our own prayer as somehow deficient projects our lack of self-acceptance and self-love onto God and therefore limits our experience of His actual love and mercy. Prayer is time spent with God which means that we bring ourselves as we are, not as we think He wants us to be. In short, God does not judge the quality of our prayer and neither should we. Doing so is deadly to our desire to pray since our worries about quality will probably lead to giving up altogether. And best of all, when we sin we will be apt to feel comfortable approaching God for forgiveness and reconciliation knowing He rejoices when He can remove all that comes between us. He never runs out of mercy!
Lent is a season when we concentrate on growing in prayer, almsgiving, penance, and abstinence; therefore it is a good idea to ask the Holy Spirit for whatever graces are needed for this process. Remember, it is not about ‘doing Lent’ perfectly, but rather it is about offering our love to God and the world in a more intentional way. It is also good to ponder the value of fasting and abstinence. Fasting allows for purification of our intentions and behaviors which can include more than simply eliminating food. In fact, it seems God has a preference: “This is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” (Isaiah 58:6-7) And throughout His teaching Jesus spoke similarly, best summed up in what we call the Corporal Works of Mercy. (Matthew 25:31-46) In other words, abstaining from food is important, but it should be part of an interior change that leads to living justly with mercy, kindness, and love. Therefore, we might consider ‘fasting’ from one of the following: fear, worry, selfishness, unkindness, lack of faith or hope, greed, gossip, sloth, impatience, anger, neglecting friends and/or family, or unforgiveness. We will need to rely on grace to do this, but by ‘giving up’ one of these things, we become stronger in our love and in our witness to others about the Christian life.
Finally, we should consider adding gratitude to whatever we choose to do. Part of what Lent provides is the opportunity for growth in appreciation of the depth of Jesus’ love for His people. In this light, we offer our sacrifices to God while asking His mercy and compassion for us and for the world. Thus, an excellent gift we can offer Him is our gratitude for all that He has done. A grateful heart is an unselfish heart. It is a heart which learns to trust, recognizing that what God desires most is that we bring ourselves to Him as we are. Therefore, let us not fall into the temptation to rate our prayer or our efforts at having a ‘good Lent,’ instead embracing this season as an opportunity for growth in inner peace and outer joy.
May we enter into Lent asking the Holy Spirit for the graces we need so that it is meaningful to us and to the Body of Christ! May we have the grace to grow strong against fear, self-doubt, and anything which keeps us from the Lord! May we be beacons of love and mercy so that our actions draw others to Jesus! And may we grow in awareness of the depth of love that Jesus offered through His suffering and death that we may be inspired to deeper gratitude for such an unfathomable gift! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus! Happy Lent! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
1. My photo of a stained glass window, Our Lady of Lourdes, taken in Nevers, France. Notice the Rosary she had hanging from her belt. The first time St. Bernadette saw Our Lady, they prayed a Rosary together.
2. Painting, Old Woman Praying, by Paul Cezanne: Notice that the woman is praying the Rosary, the beads in her hands.
3. Painting of broken bread: To me it symbolizes sharing our bread with others.
4. My photo, taken near Noto, Sicily, Italy. As they day ends, our hearts turn to God in gratitude.
5. Icon, The Holy Spirit The Lord The Giver of Life The Paraclete Sender of Peace, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. The Holy Spirit showers graces upon us in the Sacraments and when we ask. This can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-holy-spirit-the-lord-the-giver-of-life-the-paraclete-sender-of-peace-093-william-hart-mcnichols.html
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
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Heart Speaks to Heart