I am sure it doesn’t feel like it, but sheltering ourselves in place can really help us—not just physically, by avoiding or spreading the virus. Best of all, sheltering can help us spiritually, with our Lenten discipline. For, really, what is Lent about? It’s about cleaning our spiritual house by increasing our prayers, by working on self-control, and by living less inside ourselves and more outward toward others. When we are safe-at-home, we can do that: by spending less time on our self-serving passions, and by spending more time in prayer and in reaching out to others.
Cleaning our spiritual house: that’s what today’s Gospel describes. For Jesus doesn’t simply heal a man. He casts out a devil. And when the devil is cast out, the man is healed. Or, to say it another way, Our Lord re-calibrates the man and cleans out the spiritual clutter the devil brings, so that this man may now live more fully focused on and devoted to the Lord.
And if we use these weeks wisely, if we use them as a Lenten exercise, Our Blessed Lord can help us achieve the same: re-calibration with a more focused, more devoted life in Him.
To do that, we need to see these days not as a nuisance but as a blessing; not as something that keeps us away from our normal routine, but as hours and days and weeks that allow us to pull closer to Christ. Not as minutes and hours and days that need to be filled, but as more time for prayer, more time for spiritual reading, more time for developing good habits, and more time to live outside ourselves.
But there are two dangers. The first is that we’ll agree with the sentiment but fritter away the time. And that will happen if we see this as a vacation. Or if we get wrapped up in our fears and anxieties. Or if we wonder why others aren’t doing what they’re supposed to. When we do that, we’re wasting our time on things that do not edify or strength us spiritually.
Let us, instead, spend our energy on reading the Scriptures, on praying with our family, and on making ourselves available, as much as our situation allows.
The second danger is that we’ll actually see these days as a great blessing, we’ll actually immerse ourselves more and more in prayer for others, we’ll actually grow closer in our relationship with the Lord—and then we’ll go back to business-as-usual once the crisis passes.
That’s the greater danger. And it’s the danger Our Lord warns us about in today’s Gospel. For He tells us, in effect, that Lenten house cleaning should be done not for its own sake, but to make more room in our daily routine for our Lord. For when we do Lent just because it’s Lent, then we’ve actually made things worse. For then it’s one step forward during Lent, and two steps back after Easter.
One response to this danger is to say to ourselves, “So, why even bother beginning? Why do Lent at all if there’s the possibility that we’ll backslide? And why make meaningful, spiritual use of our sheltering time if I already know that I won’t keep it up when life gets back to normal?”
The better response, however, is to establish a new normal: where more prayer becomes the new norm; where living for the end becomes our new way of living.
When we do that—when Lent becomes our way of life—then Christ, the Stronger Man, not only overthrows the strong devil; Christ Jesus also then moves in and makes His home in us. Which is what we should want. And what we should aim for, especially now as we have the time, the blessing of time not spent on the freeways, the blessing of time to say more prayers and live more in love with our Father.
These sheltering days—they really can be a blessing if we use them wisely, in prayer and attentiveness to Our Lord, to those who suffer, for those who are first-responders, and in supplication for our city, state, nation, and all humanity.
Through the prayers of the Holy Mother of God, and of all the saints, may our Father have mercy on us and, by His grace, lead us in these days closer to Him; who lives and reigns with His Son, our Hope and Salvation, together with His all-Holy and Life-Giving Spirit; now and for ever, world without end.