Some time ago I purposely started losing weight. Quite soon the result became pretty noticeable and people began asking me about my ‘miraculous’ diet. I surprisingly discovered two things. First one was that almost everybody appeared to be a diet specialist, suggesting for me the best ways to lose weight. The second one was an easiness of finding reasons (or more truly: excuses) for themselves to do nothing about their weight. My conclusion was simple: we, people, are masters of excuses.
As far back as human memory can reach the past people tried to understand their own poor condition, their liability to do evil, their inclination to selfishness. The most ancient poems and myths were looking for the origins of death, misfortune, inequality and so on. Today’s first reading also is such an attempt. We understand that this story is not a record of one particular event in the past, concerning a particular couple of people. It’s a symbolic story of each one of us. I assume we remember well what happened next. God asked the man why he had ignored his ban. The man blamed the woman. Then she blamed the serpent. Only this poor creature had nothing to blame.
We have an astonishing ability to justify our own faults, to blame others for our failures, to excuse our selfishness. Every aggressor has given reasons for attacking neighbouring countries and nations; every tyrant has justified cruelty by ‘greater values’. These days the idleness of the West lets Colonel Gaddafi murder Libyans. It is not much better at our local level. Every row is an exchange of blows, not arguments; in every row we want to humiliate the opponent; we don’t look for compromise. For centuries we have been servants of personal importance, possessiveness and lust. The form might have changed, but not the essence.
This ‘natural’ inclination to evil we can only overcome by our very personal effort. Lent is a special time to restart. We are led by the Spirit to the wilderness to square off against the demons; to tame our fears and anxieties; to find goodness and selflessness. There are three tools to overpower our demons: prayer, fasting and charity.
Prayer helps us to realise that each one of us is really precious in God’s eyes and there’s no need to seek worldly importance. Fasting sets us free of excessive fear about our lives. Charity lets us see our lives in the right proportions and turns us from selfishness. Maybe these three tools are not a cosmic technology. But they are always effective. When used.