Moral conversion occurs in ordinary experience when we hit a wall or break through one. In other words, moral conversion can be ignited when we reach our limits and experience failure or finitude, or it can be ushered in when we transcend our limits and go beyond the self. We transcend the self by falling in love and/ or following the prompting of conscience at the cost of our own ego.
The traditional disciplines of Lent— prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, as well as communal worship— aim at fostering or preparing a person to welcome such limiting or breakthrough experiences. Most importantly, we are prepared to receive the truths known in these experiences, since we can rarely, if ever, orchestrate them. More than likely, we are taken up into such experiences, and our preparation beforehand can enhance our acceptance of the truths they carry.
(In regards to communal worship) …We usually imagine worship as a break in our secular lives, or sometimes even an obstacle to achieving other goals. With this attitude, worship is sometimes simply seen as “time out” from what is really important. Without denying the importance of secular realities for the laity, could we look at worship in another way? Worship is not an obstacle to daily living; it is not time off from more vital realities. Worship is, in fact, the great doorway into all that is both secular and holy. It is our way into real living. In worship, we find the great integration of the simple, ordinary, and plain (people, bread, wine, words) with the holy and transcendent (paschal mystery, incarnation, grace, transformation, salvation). The call of the laity is to carry into each day of work and domestic commitment the truth that the ordinary and the holy are not opposed. Only sin and the holy are opposed. Lenten worship services help us bring this truth to the world.
The more we come to see the presence of Christ in worship as a presence that permeates our being in the world, the more we will hunger to participate in worship as the source of our moral witness in everyday life. The Eucharist primarily is our participation in Christ’s Paschal Mystery, which is his self-offering to the Father, both in his life and upon the cross, and is also the Father’s response in raising him from the dead. Christ came to us; he came to dwell upon Earth and take on created goodness so that all in creation that is not good (sin) may be transformed by his presence, by grace. We too, in communion with him through the grace of the sacramental life, fill the ordinary world with his presence and become witnesses to this salvation through virtue and grace cooperating in moral activity.
Deacon James Keating, Ph.D., is a professor of Spiritual Theology and serves as a spiritual director at Kenrick Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, MO.