BEFORE THE CROSS | Cultivate the graces received from Jesus

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

We have three full weeks of Lent behind us, and three more weeks until Easter. In the Gospels this week, Jesus is performing signs. How do these signs help us intensify our preparation for Easter in the second half of Lent?

Reading about the signs that Jesus did in the Scriptures helps us reflect on the signs that Jesus is doing in our own lives. Perhaps we saw something in the news that brought us not only joy or sorrow, but brought us to prayer. Perhaps a child or a friend said something that encouraged us to do the right thing, or brought us to repent and apologize for having done the wrong thing. Perhaps we found ourselves in a difficult situation and received the grace of courage, gentleness or forthrightness to handle it. These kinds of events are signs that Jesus is working in our lives. In the Gospel of John, the signs point to Jesus' identity. In our lives, the signs point to His plan for us.

Reading about how people reacted to the signs that Jesus did in the Scriptures helps us to reflect on how we respond to the signs He's doing in our lives. For example: after recounting the signs He does on Monday and Tuesday, the Gospels for the rest of the week are an extended treatment of how people rejected Jesus. How do we respond?

We're less likely to reject Jesus' work, and more often guilty of neglecting it. That is to say: While we experience His grace, we may do nothing to cultivate and cooperate with it. What we're called to do instead is to cultivate the graces Jesus gives us, and cooperate with His plan for our lives.

What does it mean to cultivate the graces we receive? First, we can treasure them rather than take them for granted. Second, we can recall them rather than just let them fade away. Third, we can ask: Is there anything in my life that prepares me to receive these graces more frequently? Is there anything I can do to cooperate with grace more deeply when it comes?

Take an honest inventory of your day. Are there any habits of sleeping, eating, reading, drinking, praying and so on that help you to receive the graces Jesus offers more frequently, or prevent you from doing so? What are the habits that help you to stay with those graces when they come, or draw you away from them? What would be a plan to put grace more in the driver's seat over the next three weeks?

Jesus gives us those graces as signs. They're meant to foreshadow how He wants us to live. They're also meant to show us that we can begin to live that way even now. But what Jesus first gives as a gift, He then asks for our cooperation in preserving and cultivating. Our spiritual life, as C.S. Lewis says, is like our physical life: in the beginning it's given to us as a gift, but after that we're called to cultivate it, and we can lose it by neglect.

Jesus is performing signs this week — in the Scripture readings, and in our lives. How are those signs being received? We may not be guilty of rejecting Him. But, especially as we enter the second half of Lent, let's not be guilty of neglecting Him either.

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