Wholehearted Lent

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

February 5, 2008


            Twenty seven years ago, I was studying for the winter sitting of the District of Columbia Bar Exam. It took over my whole life.

            For six weeks, night and day, I devoted myself to study. From the moment I got up in the morning to the moment I went to bed at night, my life was focused on passing the Bar exam.

            So badly did I want to be a Washington, DC, lawyer, that I gave up everything for at least six weeks. I didn’t go out to dinner or movies. I didn’t have any social life.

            My apartment was taken over by my study. I wrote out legal definitions and quotes on index cards. I taped them up all over my apartment, on cabinet door, mirrors, lamp shades, windows, and light switches. Everywhere I went I was memorizing the “statute of frauds,” the “rule against perpetuities”, and the elements of a contract.

            Nothing broke my concentration. I went off to the library right after breakfast. I came home late at night. I didn’t answer my mail. I didn’t pick up the phone. I didn’t watch TV. I didn’t read anything that didn’t have to do with passing the bar exam.

            It was as close as I have ever come to a single focus in my life. It was, of course, impossible to sustain for very long. At the end of six weeks I was ready to collapse.

            But I did it. I passed. At the end I was changed. I was a lawyer.

            What if I wanted to be a disciple of the Lord just as badly?

            Every year we begin Lent reading from the prophet Joel, “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart.”

            What does it mean to do something with your “whole heart?”

            When I think about “wholeheartedness” I think about the Bar exam.

            Imagine if for the six weeks of Lent I focused on the Christian life that way I once focused on passing the Bar.

            What if I made prayer, fasting, alms giving the exclusive focus? What if I wrote out Bible verses and quotes from the saints and taped them up on my mirror and cabinet doors?

            What if I spent every spare moment in spiritual reading, prayer, and devotion?

            What if I turned off the TV, stopped going out to dinner, stopped movies and other distractions so that I could really make a great leap forward in my spiritual life?

            What if I tuned out every distraction for six weeks so that I could focus only on learning and growing in my spiritual life?  I think that at the end of that time I would be a different person. Just as if I had spent six weeks exclusively exercising or dieting. I would be changed.

            It would be a wonderful experiment. Perhaps it would be impossible to achieve. But it would be a grand experiment.

            People would find it hard to understand.  They would find it hard to accept that I wanted just to concentrate prayer and charity.

            As I grow older, I realize that there are so many pointless distractions. It would be nice to be focused on the real final exam. The accounting we will have to make to the Lord.

            When Mary, the sister of Lazarus, sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to the Lord, her sister Martha objected because Mary was not helping out. Martha thought she was not engaged in life the way she should be.

            But Jesus said, “Martha, you are busy about many things. But only one thing is required. Mary has chosen the better part and she will not be deprived of it.”

            Just once in my life I would like to do that. Choose the better part. Sit at the feet of the Lord and listen.

            I would like to do it with my “whole heart.” Maybe this Lent.