Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Lent Begins

A friend of mine emailed me from Brazil last week. Noise from revelers enjoying Carneval kept her from getting a good night's sleep. It seems that some of her neighbors dreaded the idea of Ash Wednesday and the 40 days of Lent. Lent signifies a springtime. Maybe those folks celebrating Carneval never heard that there are three main aspects of practicing Lent: prayer, fasting (refraining from some legtimate good, or from an addiction); and alsmgiving--which means to help those poorer than ourselves.

In our hemisphere Spring is coming, although the grass here in Toronto is again covered with lots of heavy snow. Experience tells us that one day the sun will shine, the grass will turn green, and we can enjoy the outdoors without donning boots, heavy jackets and hoods.
In our spiritual life, we are headed for the greatest feast of the Christian year--Easter--the celebration of Christ's Resurrection from the dead. One writer said that C. S. Lewis once commented that nothing that has not died can rise. Jesus said "unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies" it just remains a grain of wheat and never sprouts into a sheaf of wheat bearing much grain. We are made to live, and I for one, am not delighted at the prospect of death--naturally speaking. However in Lent we are not speaking of the purely "natural" but of the next level up--the life of grace, the spiritual life each one lives. Some persons have been working on their spiritual hygiene for a long time. Others are just beginning, and still others perhaps have not begun to address the health of their souls. For me Lent is a time to renew my purpose in life, to give more time to essentials which include prayer, reflection and deeper reading of the Word of God.
In our center here in Toronto, I was edified at how many people have come in to select reading to help them spend a better Lent. About a week ago a family of three, husband, wife and adolescent daughter, spent time browsing and choosing reading. Each one toted one of the baskets we provide for our customers. They were seriously preparing to spend the best Lent ever. Others came in for booklets on the Way of the Cross, or books for daily Lenten reading.
Yesterday I received an email with Lenten suggestions from a priest of the Society of St. Paul in Italy. Father spends much time in giving retreats and helping Paulines with spiritual direction. Father reminded us that Lent is a good time to renew the resolution to work on practicing the virtue that is the opposite of our outstanding vice--or to put it more gently--our "specialty." That is the one tendency in us which pulls us away from God--this could be inordinate pride, or a nasty quick temper, or selfishness, or addiction to eating too much. The list can become a litany. The seven capital sins are the roots of these specialties that each one may experience. Practicing their opposite is a real "hands on" way of living Lent. It is translating the teaching of spiritual masters to "die to yourself" so as to live more as Jesus would. It is making space in our egos for God to be in control. Since many of you may have watched the Super Bowl, Lent is a time to let God be the quarter back calling the shots and we the one who catches what he sends. As in football (American football), sometimes yards are gained slowly and painfully, so it can happen in our spiritual journey. We gain territory only after a lot of effort, sometimes we drop the ball, or we even get out of bounds. Lent calls us to direct our efforts toward God. It can mean fasting from food; fasting from outbursts of anger, or criticism; fasting from the Internet; or fasting from some media that is pulling us away from virtue. As one seven year old girl told me today what she is going to give up: "I guess I will give up being mean to my older sister." That was a good guess!
Whatever be your specialty and your remedy for it, I offer you my prayers that your Lenten journey will be a happy one. Lent is not something we "go alone" on. We travel it with millions of others, and Christ travels with us.

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