Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Welcome to the heart of Lent!
For the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent, the Church gives us the option of using the Gospels for the “Scrutinies”: the Woman at the Well (John 4), the Man Born Blind (John 9), and the raising of Lazarus (John 11).
These Gospel readings are used when a parish has adult catechumens (who are seeking baptism) or candidates (who are seeking full communion through confirmation and first Communion) who are preparing to receive the sacraments at Easter. Each of these Gospel episodes follows the same pattern: there’s a deepening revelation of Christ in someone’s life — He shows them more, and a deepening illumination of that person regarding who Christ is — they understand more.
These Gospels are used in these weeks because they reflect what has happened to the catechumens and candidates. Jesus has shown Himself more deeply to them. They have grasped more deeply who He is, and they are preparing to make a definitive commitment to Him in their lives. As they slow down to think and pray about that relationship more deeply, we’re all invited to do the same.
One way I propose we take up that invitation in these middle weeks of Lent is to ask ourselves: do the details matter?
When it comes to our coffee order, we certainly believe the details matter! When it comes to filing our taxes, we want an accountant who believes the details matter. When it comes to car maintenance, we all want a mechanic who believes the details matter. And if we have to have surgery, we want a surgeon who believes the details matter!
What’s curious is that when it comes to spiritual and religious life, our culture proposes that the details don’t matter. I think that’s a psychological and spiritual blind spot that needs healing. If the details matter in our everyday life — with coffee, and taxes, and car maintenance, and surgery and a hundred other things — then how do we end up thinking, “But in the spiritual and religious life, it’s enough to have good intentions?”
I’m not saying good intentions don’t matter. They do. But if, in every other area of life, we know that good intentions alone aren’t enough, and attention to detail matters, then it’s something of a double standard to say that when it comes to the spiritual and religious life, good intentions alone are enough and details don’t matter.
We don’t want to become modern-day Pharisees who overemphasize the details. But if an over-emphasis on details was one of the prevailing errors in Jesus’ day, then a double standard about details is one of the prevailing errors of our day. Both errors need to be addressed.
Perhaps, as we enter into these middle weeks of Lent, we could take our own period of scrutiny. For the next two weeks — from the third Sunday of Lent to the fourth, and from the fourth to the fifth — let’s ask Jesus to show us, more deeply, the ways in which the details of our relationship with Him matter. And let’s consider how we can engage those details more deliberately, in response to the love He’s given us.