HOLY LENT: Re-Arranging the Priority of Our Affections

Father James Chelich

The first task of Lent is to re-arrange the priority of our affections. Far from an exercise in religious sentiment, this task is a bold one. It requires rigorous honesty and perhaps an uncomfortable confrontation with yourself. To do it you need to sit down and make a list of the people and things you love. Write them out on paper. Make it as complete as possible by asking questions of yourself such as: To what or to whom am I most devoted? To what or to whom do I find myself giving the best portions of my time, my attention and my energy? Now rank the items on your list in order of priority, not as they somehow “should” be, but as they actually are. Be thoroughly honest about the ranking. Now insert Jesus into your list (if He is not already listed). Don’t be embarrassed if you forgot Him. Embarrassment is not our objective. Do not piously place Jesus at the top of your list if, in all honesty, He does not really fall there. It is very important to this exercise that you place Jesus in the rank of priority of your affections where He actually lies. Now look at the names of the people and the things that you have on your list above Jesus. Say to yourself: “I love these more than Christ.” It may be hard in the saying, but say it none-the-less. The saying of it makes it “objective” and brings you to a confrontation with yourself. Now ask yourself: “How blind have I become in my affection for these people, activities or things?” “How deaf have I become?” How mute have I become?” “In the name of ‘love,’ how much of their character or behavior do I simply not let myself see?” “How much, in the name of ‘love,’ do I simply not let myself hear.” “How many times, out of fear of alienating their affection, have I remained mute and not said what needed to be said, not challenged when a challenge was called for?” Press your self-reflection further. Ask yourself: “At what point, in the name of ‘love’, do I no longer see anything of what they really are, or hear anything that they really say, or have anything at all really to say to them?” “At what point in all this does ‘love’ become nothing more than an emotional co-dependency?” These questions should give you good reason and urgent motivation to return to you list, pull Jesus out from somewhere in the middle of the pack of your affections and place Him at the top of the list — not just on paper, but in your heart. Jesus Christ is a light unto loving and a light unto living. He said: “I am the Light of the World. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness; no, he shall possess the light of life.” (Jn 8:12) In His light, you get your eyes, your ears and your voice back. In His light, you see what you are supposed to see and hear what you are supposed to hear. In His light, you find your voice again. In Him, you find not only the light but the courage to speak when you are supposed to speak, challenge when a challenge is called for, forgive when it is time to forgive, and support in ways that are genuinely up lifting. From Jesus you learn the compatibility of truth and com-passion. He will teach you to be both persevering and faithful in love. Jesus is a light unto real love. The light He sheds in His teaching and his life makes the real thing possible: a love that gives life, a love that forms character, a love that has a future. So Jesus is now written in at the top of your list, but have you really restored Him to first place in your affections? How can you tell? Let me ask you one last question: Can you say the following to each person, activity or thing on your list of affections (be it spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, children, parent, friend, job, career, profession, employer, hobby, etc.)? I love you… But I must tell you: I love Jesus Christ more than I love you. Because unless I love Jesus more, I will love you less and less each day. If you can say this to every object of your affection, then truly Jesus is in the first priority of your affections — truly you have your feet on the solid ground of reality, truly you “love” them, and truly you are moving along the path to life (Lk 10:41-42).

“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:11