In the early years of the nineteenth century Napoleon Bonaparte was the emperor of France and the architect of a vast empire.  With military might and genius, he conquered all of Europe, and had dreams of ruling the world.  But that was not to be.  On June 18, 1815, Napoleon was totally and finally defeated.  His army was conquered by British forces under the command of the Duke of Wellington.  That battle is one of the most famous in history.  Everyone knows about the Battle of Waterloo.

Less well-known is the truth that Napoleon’s downfall began three years earlier.  In the spring of 1812, he invaded Russia, and marched slowly but steadily to Moscow.  By that time his supply line was stretched to the breaking point.  His soldiers were tired and hungry.  The summer was past, and the Russian winter was coming on.  Napoleon decided it was time to retreat.  But the decision came a bit too late.  His retreating army was assailed by bitter cold and drifting snow.  He had stared with 420,000 men.  He got home with only 120,000.  300,000 of his best soldiers died of starvation, disease, or were killed or captured by the Russians.  History might have been different if Napoleon had known when to retreat.

We are not concerned with leading armies into battle.  But the real sense, life is a battle, and inevitably, there come times when we need to retreat.  We cannot fight effectively for very long until we learn when and how to fall back and regroup.

If we stay too close to anything for too long, the picture becomes distorted; and the problems get blown out of proportion.  Once in a while, we must pull away and stand apart in order to see people as they really are. 

Lent is such a time.  There comes a time when we can’t do anything for others until first we have done something for ourselves.

For most of us as Christians our emphasis is on giving, serving and doing.  And this is well and good for this is what Jesus asks of us.  But we must not stop with that.  This cannot be our total emphasis.  We must take into account the truth that it is worthless to keep on writing checks unless we take the time to put some money in the bank.  It accomplishes nothing to keep on drawing up the bucket after the well has run dry.

Before we start giving ourselves to the world, we should, first of all, see to it that we have a self that is worth the giving.  Otherwise our lives become frail and thin.  Our efforts become futile and frantic; and our message becomes uncertain and unconvincing.  Jesus never allowed that to happen in His own life and ministry.  He mastered the art of retreat.  He got away from the world in order to return to the world, renewed, revitalized and ready to serve.

How urgently we need to learn that same lesson.  Some problems cannot be handled, some challenges cannot be met by mere energetic enthusiasm.  We need insight; we need wisdom; we need courage; we need spiritual reserves.

This Lent spend more time in prayer, in reading the Bible, in receiving the sacraments, in making Holy Hours, in making the Stations of the Cross, in more quiet visits to the Church – in spending more time with Jesus.  Then you will be able to see people more clearly, love them more deeply, and serve them more effectively.