The following is from the collection of early Christian writings entitled The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers, translated by Sr. Benedicta Ward, SLG.
An old man was asked, “How can I find God?” He said, “In fasting, in watching [giving up sleep for prayer], in labors, in devotion, and above all, in discernment. I tell you, many have injured their bodies without discernment and have gone away from us having achieved nothing. Our mouths smell bad through fasting, we know the Scriptures by heart, we recite all the Psalms of David, but we have not that which God seeks: charity and humility.
These brief, profound insights on the Christian life remain some of the most penetrating in our tradition. Here, an unknown monk—likely from the monastic world of fourth century Egyptian Christianity—reminds all who fast, pray, and labor for the Kingdom that our external efforts, while important, are always a means to an end, never the end in themselves. That end is charity and humility.
Our ascetic devotion must be about the acquisition of the Love of God the Holy Trinity, in response to what the Ash Wednesday liturgy calls “the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.” This is an exercise of Christian discernment. When this is so, our labors are blessed by God and are holy. Otherwise, they are empty, futile, and likely very damaging.
May this Lent lead to a true growth in such love, such humility, so that God may be glorified, the Church enlarged in compassion, and each one of us shine with the love of Christ.
A Holy Lent to all!