Jesus. That one word sums up all of Catholicism. All the creeds, codes, and cult of the Church - the beauty of Catholic art (unmatched in human history), the glory of the great cathedrals of Europe (peerless among architectural artifacts), the wonderful complexity of Catholic philosophy and theology (you won't find a more rigorous intellectual system), the beauty of the Holy Sacrifice of Mass ("the most beautiful thing this side of heaven"), the disciplines by which Catholics strive to live, the power of the Sacraments, the stunning magnificence of Catholic liturgical music, the heroic and awe-inspiring lives of the saints, all of, all of it, is ultimately about just one thing - Jesus Christ. We are called, as Christians, to love Jesus Christ above all things. This is the meaning of our lives.
While this love is what our lives, all of our lives, all the time, is supposed to be centered on, it can, unfortunately, be quite easy to forget during the hectic modern lives we live. Lent, for many Catholics, is a great time to slow down and recenter our lives on Jesus. We want to, but how can we better focus on this one necessary thing - love of Christ - can remain a mystery. Saint Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei and perhaps the best guide for men and women striving to attain holiness in the midst of the world, gives us a great, and very simple, exercise,
call our Lord by his name - Jesus - and... tell him that you love him.1
We must remember to repeat that name which is above all names (cf. Phil 2:9), the name at which every knee will one day bend (cf. Phil 2:10). Simply repeating the Holy Name silently to ourselves, in our hearts and in our minds can be a great spiritual practice. When taken to the next level, when combined with a short act of love, as St Josemaría recommends, the power of this easy to remember prayer is magnified.
At times we may feel spiritually "dry," unable to raise our hearts to the Lord in even a short act of love. The centering force of Christ might begin to shift to the edges of our lives. Even calling on his Holy and Venerable Name might not suffice to entirely recenter our being on Him. What can we do then to reorder ourselves? St. Josemaría has a cure for this as well, a simple thought experiment to bring the reality of what God did for me and you before our eyes,
If one of my fellow men had died to save me from death… God died. And I remain indifferent.2
Reflect on that for but a moment. If, carelessly crossing the street, we were to find ourselves in the direct path of a bus with death an unavoidable and immediate threat, how grateful would we feel if a man were to, at the cost of his own life, push us out of harm's way? A lifetime of gratitude could hardly begin to make up for this supreme sacrifice, but such gratitude would probably come quite naturally to most of us. God died. God, who never needed to feel pain or privation, who never needed to feel loss or abandonment, who never needed to die, did so. And how often do we fail to show even the slightest gratitude? How often do we blithely live as if He was just "somewhere up there?" How often do we live as if He mustn't really matter that much? How often do we look to do what we want and at most try not to break "His rules" rather than living as if every second we have, every breath we inhale, is finally the gift not just of His creative love, but even more of His Supreme Sacrifice?
But perhaps we feel not unable to love Christ but unloved by Christ. Maybe His majesty and power, His might and sinlessness seem to make Him an unapproachable deity, one which we, like ancient Israel before Sinai, cower before. Maybe we turn from Him not out of a lack of gratitude, but out of a feeling of worthlessness. Again, St. Josemaría provides the corrective,
Jesus is your Friend - the friend - with a human heart, like yours, with most loving eyes that wept for Lazarus. And as much as he loved Lazarus, he loves you…3
Even a moment's reflection on the love Christ had for Lazarus, for whom He wept (cf. Jn 11:35), ought to fill us with courage and hope as we realize He loves each of us that much. He weeps at the tomb we bury ourselves in when we commit a moral sin and calls out "come forth" (cf. Jn 11:43) when we turn to Him in repentance.
We must then, "keep touch with Christ in prayer and in bread,4" so that we can not only love him ourselves, which is to say to place Him at the absolute center of our lives, but also so that we can "make him known to others5".
If we do this correctly we will, ipso facto, become agents of the New Evangelization for then it will be said of us, when our "behavior and... conversation6" is witnessed, "this man reads the life of Jesus Christ.7"
May all of you, and I, live lives that may make men say, "this man reads the life of Jesus Christ." If we can but put this one resolution into active, daily practice we will have had a fruitful and holy Lent.
1. The Way, 303
2. ibid., 437
3. ibid., 422
4. ibid., 105
6. ibid., 2