Lent and Our Five Senses
Taken from my March 18th post Mass reflection:
“Wash yourselves clean!” I promise you that this admonition, found in today’s first reading, is not a Church practice limited solely to Lent!
Smell apparently chief among them, the five senses do play a role in our spiritual lives as those readings remind us. If we listen to music replete with foul language, then we ourselves are more likely to use it. If we watch shows that are full of infidelity and scandal, then we ourselves may get desensitized to sin around us for example.
This train of thought is evidenced in today’s daily Mass readings, where the Church chose two readings and a responsorial psalm that link so clearly the senses and our relationship with God. In the first reading, for example, we are implored to “Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes.” Then in the responsorial psalm we are reminded, “to the upright I will show the saving power of God.” Finally, in the gospel when describing the Pharisees we hear that “All their works are performed to be seen.”
Our eyes must be fixed on the truth, and we must show sincerity to others through our actions. In the season of Lent, where our senses and appetites are challenged each time we fast, these readings give us a glimpse into how Lent aids in our spiritual growth. They also remind us that the first stage in spiritual growth involves the senses.
In outlining such stages, Dominican priest Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange draws upon the thoughts of St. John of the Cross. According to Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, the first step in our journey to holiness requires that we traverse “the purgative way”. This step requires mortification and sacrifice. Aimed at purifying the senses, the purgative way is a sort of spiritual rehab.
If you have ever heard of “the dark night of the soul,” then you are familiar with the term coined by St. John of the Cross to describe our efforts to purify our appetites. Garrigou-Lagrange draws on this notion because, as the term “dark night” suggests, efforts made to order one’s senses towards the good are for us humans extremely difficult. For example to have custody of one’s eyes while seeking purity is not easy in a world where we are inundated by inappropriate videos and music. But we must do it because, as Garrigou-Lagrange points out, it is the first step in our growth towards holiness.
By Ryan Bilodeau