"...many persons clothe themselves with certain outward actions connected with holy devotion
and the world believes that they are truly devout and spiritual
whereas they are in fact nothing but copies and phantoms of devotion."
St. Francis De Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life
In recent months, I've adopted a routine of making a stop at my designated prayer spot for a few moments each day. I look at the crucifix, make the sign of the cross & say a handful of short prayers- an Act of Contrition, a Morning Offering, a Consecration to Mary, a Prayer Before A Day's Work, and a Prayer to Keep God's Presence. In less than 5 minutes, I'm onto the rest of my day. Because it's Lent, I've also been reading a chapter in Bread and Wine- my chosen devotional for this liturgical season. On my lunch break, I listen to a podcast of the daily Mass readings & sometimes crack open Shorter Christian Prayer for an abbreviated taste of the Liturgy of the Hours. On my way home, I typically pray that day's mysteries of the Rosary & am still attempting to incorporate a nightly examen to cap off the night. Doesn't that sound pious of me?
One day, I realized my daily prayers, scripture readings & other devotions didn't seem to "work". I was still running headlong into sin as far as my thoughts & words were concerned. I eventually began avoiding Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Obviously, something was wrong. I tried lingering in prayer a little longer, but extending the routine wasn't able to offer the salvation I thought it would. When I realized I still wasn't being transformed for all my effort, I began to take a closer look. I thought having a daily routine would somehow help grow goodness in me. What a joke. It only proved to reveal the true tenacity of my sinful nature.
As I continued to nudge God for an answer, the Ten Commandments reappeared on the scene. Francis De Sales said, "A man who does not observe all God's commandments cannot be held to be either good or devout." I remembered Jesus saying that if you secretly think this thing or look that way, you've already committed sin (Mt 5:21-48). Hmm. Yeah, that sounded like me. I began to recall how different people in the past had called me prideful & selfish. Was I really? Am I still? I admit, I find it very difficult to exist in this world... to say nothing of loving others. I tend to isolate outside of necessities like work & the occasional errands. When I do come out of hiding, it's usually not long till I say something dumb or something I don't mean... The concept of loving God with all my heart & my neighbor as myself gets thrown out the window because I will more often choose anger over meekness. Like James 1:14-15 says, my sin ends up giving birth to my own spiritual death (& no doubt contributes to spiritual death in others rather than the life of Christ).
I choose to hide because all these negative things come tumbling out from a place in my heart that remains dark & steeped in sin. This really bothers me, and it should. But I know its not enough to be "bothered" or to cloak that discontent with routine. I keep thinking, I wish God would "hire" a couple people with an excavator & a dump truck to just haul this crap out of me... but then I get the sneaking suspicion that He'd be more apt to bring in a gaggle of people armed with sledgehammers & wheelbarrows instead... faster isn't always better & less isn't always more cost effective in His economy.
So what's the takeaway here? Can't I say that my routine HAS changed me- is changing me- simply because I recognized the need for change? Maybe. But I think the bigger point is the realization that try as I might, I just can't make this journey on my own. Change has to happen in communion with Christ as well as a community of people. There is no "either/or" option. The Commandments are entirely community oriented & can only be observed within community. What a horrifying thought. I can't continue to hide behind my routines, avoiding people & trying to pass it off as a relationship with God. It just doesn't work.