Papal Resignation & Psychology of Lent

In the immediate aftermath of this morning's historic announcement - the first time this has happened in six hundred years - there is precious little that I can contribute by way of commentary on Pope Benedict XVI's resignation. While I may lack in the ability to offer enlightening commentary, I can point readers to Paddy Power's betting pool on who will be elected to succeed Benedict XVI: if I were a betting man, I'd throw a buck down on Bono (500/1 odds) just for fun.




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I just have a brief comment on William Lynch's chapter on "Hopelessness as Entrapment." Very many of us are entrapped by an absolute projected by our imaginations. That is, we have this idealized notion of what we "should" be but are not yet. Perfect body, perfect degree, perfect job. Yet the gap that separates us from the ideal frequently traps us, freezes us in place. The goal seems unattainable and we feel trapped where we stand. Unable to achieve the ideal, we feel trapped by our present reality.

Let's make this concrete. I have a friend who won't go to the gym because he is afraid that people will think he looks fat. So he resolves to "lose weight on this own" at home and then, at some point in the future, go to the gym. Do you detect the problem: the gulf between his "ideal" and his present condition separates him in the form of a long and arduous journey to physical health...unwilling to embark upon this journey, he's presently trapped in his current state of life.

Spiritually, this happens all of the time. People will say, "I really want to have a deep prayer life" and this is a great desire. But they expect to go from their current state to some condition of mystical ecstasy overnight. Again, the gulf between the "idea" and the present appears infinite and people give up trying to reach their goal. Little do they know that the path to spiritual depth is marked by huge leaps but rather by the small planks of daily prayer we lay down in faithful practice.

We have, all of us, to give up the paralyzing idealized images of ourselves that prevent us from growing. To run a marathon one must first get past the first mile, to play an instrument you have the learn the musical scale. In an instant-gratification society, it's increasingly difficult to undergo the slow process of growth and transformation. Yet for real growth to take place, there is nothing that can replace patience, time, and the confidence that growth and conversion can take place.

Hence the psychology of Lent: each year, we are given the spiritual space to grow. Whether it be through a few minutes of quiet meditation, fasting, reading the scriptures, or some other practice we are invited into a space of journey with Jesus as he heads toward Jerusalem. Remember, Jesus just doesn't pop into Jerusalem and say, "Hey, Crucify me!" The crucifixion is the consequence for Jesus' living an authentic human life, a life of love and generosity in witness to the values of God's kingdom in a broken and sinful world.

As we prepare to begin our Lenten journey, let us put to the side our 'idealized selves' and take a long and loving look at who we are. If you have spiritual love handles, there's no reason to suck in your gut: let this be a time for hard work and discipline, not cheap tricks or gimmicks, that will help you grow in authentic strength. Think of Lent as a P90X for the spiritual life: it's a relatively short period of intense work and, although we won't see changes over night, we can trust that with patience, discipline, and grace we will experience a transformation of body and soul that will draw us ever more deeply into companionship with the Lord. 
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