Empty-Handed

No one shall appear before me empty-handed.  –Ex 34:20

That photo on your desk at work. Or on your nightstand. Or on your lockscreen. It obviously means a lot to you, but how often does it actually make an impression on you anymore? How frequently do you really notice it?

The Word of the Lord…
Go in peace…

Ever think about how often we thank God at Mass? The response to both of the above statements is, of course, Thanks be to God.

 

When the celebrant invites us, Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, we reply, It is right and just. It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give Him thanks—but how often is that thanks genuine?

Or, to put it another way: how was your breakfast this morning? Even if it wasn’t memorable, there is probably someone somewhere suffering from an awful cold, and he or she awoke yet again today only to discover they still can’t taste anything. It’s frustrating to lose something you always have and totally take for granted. Only when it’s taken from you do you gain a real sense for how to appreciate it. Those first few meals after a cold taste great, no matter what you’re eating, precisely because you can taste what you’re eating again. The experience inspires gratitude.

One of the prefaces for Mass during Lent draws attention to this dynamic between things being denied and thanksgiving being offered. The celebrant proclaims:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
Always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.
For you will that our self-denial should give you thanks…

Our forms of self-denial during Lent help us remember that we are not God, and that all good things—particularly the ones we take for granted—come from God. At the same time, self-denial makes us more like God the Son, who “emptied himself” in order that we may come to “be like him” (Phil 2:7; 1 Jn 3:2).

At my solemn profession last month, a number of people thanked me for the sacrifice I was making. I balked a little at this. Hearing such sentiments expressed made me think about how much more I’ve received than I’ve given. The graces given far surpass the self-denials made. And so, it made me more grateful.

“Who receives a favor gratefully has already begun to repay it,” says St. Thomas, quoting Seneca (ST II-II 106.3 ad 5). This is the only way to live Lent. It is the only way to live life. When emptied, we no longer appear empty-handed before the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Dominicana and is reprinted here with kind permission. 

By

Br. Jordan Zajac entered the Order of Preachers in 2013. After graduating from Providence College, he earned an M.A. from the University of Virginia and a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, both in English Literature.

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