Monday, March 28, 2011

Opening doors – an unspoken task of Lent

Lent is often seen as a time to keep our spiritual houses clean, to do ‘spring cleaning’ for our souls, and to see where we need to readjust our sights so that our targets are truly set on the Lord and his will in our lives. All those are considered good in our classical Catholic spiritual tradition, and they are good spiritual exercises for us all. They put us in good stead to keep ourselves aligned onto “God’s beam”, as Fr Robert Barron likes to say.

Well, here’s my take on Lent. I have come to see that it is a time for opening doors. This is largely because as we grow physically in our lives, we seem to ironically close a whole series of doors that we think are either troublesome to keep opened, or are terribly frightening to see the things that lie on the other side of them. In retreats and with good spiritual guidance and direction, one is often led to the more difficult task of identifying these doors, and to open them. Often, it is the demons that supposedly lie behind these doors that become powerless once the doors are open. The interior life beckons us to do the harder task of finding the keys to these doors.

But the strange thing about opening these doors is that one cannot rush into the task as if it were a task to be completed within a predetermined span of time, like as if we were rushing to ‘beat the clock’. True spiritual transformation requires what is known as the ‘law of gradualness’. It’s a bit like physical development in a human being. The prima ballerina in a dance company has taken years of discipline and sacrifice to finally come to be able to dance with the kind of verve and panache that she does on stage. The violinist who plays with such vivacity and enthusiasm didn’t come to do that within a day, but only after years and years of drills and practices to make what he does now look so easy and effortless. The same goes for our quest for spiritual transformation. We are always a work-in-process, and are never quite finished with one Lent or one retreat. I believe that each of us awakens slowly.

Can we force inner maturity? Hardly. Those of us who are painful perfectionists can’t wait for the process to end. Each time we come to some groundbreaking point in our spiritual lives, we will inevitably see that somewhere in the background is something else that remains unaddressed. The problem lies in the fact that so many of us think that the goal is to get somewhere. Richard Rohr said it so well when he said that the goal is to be in harmony with the gifts that are already given, and that the goal is to fall in love with your life. No one who truly loves can say “I loved”, as if it were a perfected act that has reached completion. Love, as is life, is always something that is in the present, and ever evolving.

When the disciplines of Lent are seriously undertaken, with the correct disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, a metanoia or change is resulted. But we often want it to end by the time we celebrate Easter at the end of 40 days. Not only is this unrealistic, but also rather dangerous, because change that happens in a couple of weeks is only cosmetic at best. But true life-changing and spirit-shaping takes a far more longer time.

One of the most significant books on the Sacraments of the Catholic Church that I have come across was written by Joseph Martos, entitled Doors to the Sacred. I believe that it has come to be prescribed reading for many students in Sacred Liturgy, and it gives a detailed account of the historical and spiritual development of the Sacraments of the Catholic Church, which are really doors that open the disciple of Christ to a transformed life. As we approach Easter and the post-Easter season through the discipline of Lent, we as Church are also asked to journey with the Elect in their approach towards the Sacraments of Initiation. We mustn’t fall into the mistake of just observing this from a distance, but rather, we should as Church re-visit these sacraments personally, to see how much further we have moved past these doorways in our own lives. And we can often miss this opportunity when we choose not to participate at the Holy Saturday Liturgy, aptly called the Mother of all Liturgies.

If we don’t, perhaps what has happened to many of us is that we have simply stayed at the jamb of the door, and have hesitated to go in through the opened doors to a deep and real relationship with God, and find him, and to also find ourselves.


  1. morning fr luke..

    here's my 2 cents thoughts..

    the problems with opening the "doors" is that most of us do not want to.cos once open is like opening a treasure box and lies what God has instore for you..
    Rather we stay at out comfort zone shun the opening of the doors.. and remain just a catholic identity or a nominal catholic..

    Probably the reason being if i "open" the door, i expect more "spiritual" task form God.. eg being more patient, more loving.. etc.. not just this lent but thruout the whole christian life..

    God Bless!

    a catholic

  2. Dear Fr Luke,

    Thank you for yet another very insightful reflection. I recognize myself where you said that many a time, the budding perfectionist in us makes us think that change must be fully completed within a certain timeframe, say by the end of the 40 days of Lent, that we have to be good as new from Easter and forevermore, never faltering ever again while entering gracefully into our golden geriatric years.

    I used to beat myself up (not literally, but emotionally) after having made spiritual headway for a whole week with exponential growth, then ending it with say, a harsh word to a colleague or my daughter, and would think 'Argh, I have done it again, God must be shaking his head at me'. It was this type of dichotomous thinking that made me feel it was either all good or all bad, and I realize that I was so hung up about getting it right all the time, that I failed to enjoy the journey of growing up as a Catholic.

    To learn the cello as a second instrument was a teenage dream which did not materialize back then because it was financially taxing already for my parents as I was learning to play the piano. Strangely, even after starting my work life some 12 years back and drawing a regular salary, it never once dawned on me all these years that I could finally afford my own lessons and instrument. It was only during Easter Vigil in 2009 that the inspiration to learn struck me again and I wondered why it took me so long to get to it. Now, reading the analogy of the violinist that you have drawn reference to, I see that God had meant for me to embark on learning a string instrument just at the time He saw fit, not earlier not later, because it would go in tandem with my spiritual journey. My cello learning process has helped me to draw many parallels to my faith journey.

    When I first started, it was easy to make headway in leaps and bounds because of my prior musical training. Somehow after 6 months, I stagnated and reached a plateau where no matter how I practised or reminded myself to be acutely aware of all the techniques that I had been taught to produce good intonation while playing a virtuoso piece proficiently, I just could not produce the sound that I imagined and heard in my head. My teacher would tell me to be patient, that as easy as the professional cellists made it seem, it was really the result of ten, twenty, thirty years of practice and practice, until one day without realizing that I had been improving gradually, it would all come together and I would be able to play with heart-rending emotion and flawless technique. Even then, the learning journey would still not have ended, there will always be new places to improve.

    I shall definitely bear this in mind, to be patient with myself just as God is patient with me. Thank you for the spiritual prompting!

    God bless,