Grace: That my intentions, actions, and entire life might be purely ordered to the praise and service of my Creator and Lord.
Text: Ps 117
Reflection: Today we receive ashes on our foreheads and head into the desert for 40 days. What will guide us along the way?
We might be inclined to draw up an itinerary for ourselves: I hope to get this, this, and this out of the Lenten retreat. But even if the things we name are good in themselves, we instantly recognize how artificial it all sounds. We did not decide to go into the desert on our own, but only because our Lord went first. And so we have to follow his lead. Plus, we know from experience how quickly we run up against our own limitations and how often we have abandoned our good intentions in the past. How can I count on myself any more this year than last?
The words we hear as the ashes are being traced on our foreheads point the way forward: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” While we are prone to forget the fact, Lent always reminds us that we are creatures. And if creatures, then not isolated individuals. Our very existence points beyond us to our Creator. He alone is the answer to our questions. He alone establishes the itinerary of our pilgrimage and gives us the grace to complete it.
Here at the very beginning of the retreat, therefore, our attention should already shift from ourselves to the Lord who created us. If we want to know the way forward, we have to ask what the Lord created us for. What end did he have in mind? St. Ignatius says something that might surprise you:
“Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.”
(Spiritual Exercises, #23)
We are created, first of all, to delight in the Lord and to praise him for his goodness. How often do you find yourself praying in this way? We often pray to ask the Lord for something that we need. We even pray to thank him for what he has given us. But both of these kinds of prayers begin with our own concerns and then move outward toward God. When we praise and adore him, on the other hand, we place our “I” so fully in God that we forget our own concerns. And this inevitably leads to the desire to serve him—to make his concerns our own.
Knowing what we were created for frees us up to enter the retreat with great generosity. And it will remain our essential compass throughout, because it keeps us in the disposition of receptivity. We want to give the Lord complete control to shape the retreat, and ultimately our lives, as he desires.
So the first word of our retreat is “praise.” We take this day to reflect on God’s goodness, to praise him for his love which radiates through all of creation. To marvel at the fact that he is always greater from one moment to the next.
Begin by reflecting on the statement of St. Ignatius. Do I recognize that my end is to praise, adore, and serve him? How does this thought move me?
Then read our text for today, Psalm 117. Hear the command going out to all the earth, to all peoples and nations: praise the Lord! Coming into the Lord’s presence with love and reverence, how are you moved to praise him?
Laudate Dominum, omnes gentes;
laudate eum, omnes populi.
Quoniam confirmata est
super nos misericordia ejus;
et veritas Domini manet in æternum.
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto,
sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper
et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.