Back in the 50's, if you wanted to watch I Love Lucy or Fulton Sheen's Life Is Worth Living on your Zenith, Philco, or Dumont, you often had to resort to your TV's vertical and horizontal knobs. Sometimes the image was blurred by wavy lines running from the top to the bottom of the screen. The vertical knob was used to tame those lines. At other times, the picture wavered across the screen, from side to side. The horizontal dial was supposed to take care of that problem.
The trick was to use both dials so as to get the picture in perfect adjustment. If you used one without the other, the picture remained blurry or kept rolling.
Well, that's how it is with us. To get in focus during the season of Lent, we may need both vertical and horizontal adjustments.
Let me explain.
The vertical adjustment refers to our relationship with God. After all, we usually think of the Lord as being "up there," at the highest point, the vertex (more commonly known as "heaven"). We think of ourselves as being "down here" (on earth). So theologians and spiritual writers sometimes speak of our relationship with God as a "vertical" relationship.
Now, if we're honest, we may have to admit our need of major vertical adjustments. Here are some signs of "vertical" trouble:
- A non-existent prayer life.
"Prayer," as Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach us, "is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God." If it's been a while since you've done that, then your life is not focused on God. It might be focused on your work, your ambitions, your problems, or your pleas- ures, but not on God. And since we're made in God's image and likeness, a life not focused on God is completely out of focus.
- A life-less prayer life.
Are you praying more and enjoying it less? Do you find prayer akin to watching a boring documentary on the migration habits of sparrows? Do you find you don't seem to be "connecting" with God when you pray? It bears looking into. Authentic prayer, while absolutely necessary, is not always exciting. But if you're always just "going through the motions," it's best to find out why. Sometimes guilt and shame are the culprits. When we know we're guilty of un-repented sins or trapped by sinful habits, we might have a hard time "raising our mind and heart to God."
- Absence from church on Sunday.
It's easy to give excuses for not going to church on the Lord's Day. After all, we're tired, the weather is bad, the weather is nice, the priest isn't my favorite, the homily could be better. But nothing will un-focus your spiritual life quite like a prolonged absence from the Eucharist, which consists essentially in the living Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ offered for our salvation.
- Ignorance of the faith or doubts about the faith.
When we really don't know our Catholic faith or we harbor doubts about the faith without asking for help, then we shouldn't be surprised if our image of God fades.
Honesty also demands that we acknowledge our need of "horizontal" adjustments - adjustments in our relationships with other people. After all, Saint John teaches that, "One who has no love for the brother he has seen, cannot love the God he has not seen" (1 Jn. 4:20). So here are a few signs of "horizontal" troubles:
- Persistent grudges.
When we reduce a spouse, a family member, neighbor, boss, or co-worker to an object of resentment or scorn, we lose our focus on their God-given human dignity. The longer we hold the grudge, the more difficult the adjustment becomes.
If we can't see beyond our own noses because we're so focused on our opinions, wants, and needs, our problems and our pains, then we should make a "horizontal" adjustment. We can do this by consciously focusing on the needs of others - especially those who sick, aged, poor, confused, rejected.
- Prejudice and racism.If we think we're superior to others because of our race or ethnic background, we had better readjust our focus. God doesn't see it that way!
This column is credited to Fairfield County Catholic monthly magazine.
back to top | home