For the common, average Catholic, Lent calls to mind 40 days of “not being able to do something.” This sounds like such a drag. To the non-Catholic, Lent can be seen as yet another big “NO” from the Church. However, this mindset is one of the most common misunderstandings about the beauty of the Church’s teachings. The world would have us think that this practice ties us down when in reality it breaks us free.
This breaking free is known as “detachment.”
St. John of the Cross speaks a great deal about detachment in the spiritual life. In one of his writings, Ascent of Mt. Carmel, he writes:
As long as this attachment remains, it is impossible to make progress in perfection,
even though the imperfect be very small. It makes little difference whether a bird
is tied by a thin thread or by a cord. Even if it is tied by a thread, the bird will be held bound…
it will be impeded from flying as long as it does not break the thread.
(St John of The Cross, Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book One, 11.4)
St. John of the Cross illuminates a commonly overlooked part of anyone’s spiritual life. When someone makes the decision to follow God, and ultimately surrender to His will, that person must be willing to truly surrender ALL to the will of God. As human beings, this frightens us a little bit. The fear creeps in as to make the Christian believe that giving everything up will lead to unhappiness, much like the idea of making a big Lenten sacrifice leaving us miserable and bitter. However, if we look at the above quote, those fears can be put to rest.
Is a bird more free and happy when he is able to fly or when he is stuck tied to a thread?
There are things that tie us down in our lives and the first step to becoming detached is to identify those threads and cords that keep us from flying. Some are obvious while others are a little tricky to put a finger on. It will take some time to identify and let go of these burdens, obstacles, and hurdles, however, it can be done. Lent is a perfect time to look at ourselves and find out what are the things that keep us tied down.
Lent is a great time to look at the vices and “little gods” in our lives. When we become attached to something through a human desire—food, chocolate, coffee, internet, alcohol, working out, shopping— it is easy for other things to creep in and take the place of God in our lives. Detachment and sacrifice go hand in hand. By sacrificing these little things and detaching ourselves from them, we learn to not become slaves to our desires and when we are not slaves to our desires, we can allow our desire for God, our desire for Heaven to grow.
The Lord calls each and every one of us to sainthood.
He calls each of us to strive for holiness, to be all that He created us to be, and to ultimately be with Him forever in eternity. He created birds to fly. He created you for greatness, for holiness, for Heaven. However, we know that there would be no Easter Sunday without a Good Friday. There would be no resurrection without the crucifixion.
Matthew Higgins is the Assistant to the Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Newark. He received his Master’s degree in Systematic Theology from Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University. His 10+ year ministry experience includes Junior High Faith Formation & Youth Ministry, Young Adult Ministry, and Campus Ministry. He has also spoken at various youth retreats, parish events, and conferences for college/graduate students at both Catholic and secular institutions. Above all, Matthew is proud to be a husband and father.