Spring is in the air. The weather in Worcester this last week has been delightful. Snow drops are giving way to daffodils, it feels warmer, the mornings are brighter and the days are getting longer. It is a welcome joy! It almost seems a shame that it is Lent.
As we see the natural world come to life, we begin Lent by having ashes placed on our heads reminding us of our own mortality:
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.
It can put a damper on a glorious spring day. Rather than rejoicing in the beauty around us, Lent seems to be that time of year when we are more prone to crankiness as we attempt to get through each day without the comforting treats that we have given up. In reality, however, this is the perfect time of year for Lent.
The word Lent come from an Old English word meaning ‘spring’ but if we go to the Germanic roots, it means ‘the lengthening of days’. In the book of Deuteronomy, we read, “Loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and clinging to him… means life to you and length of days.” [Dt 30:20]
The world around us gives life to the season of Lent, it encourages us to lengthen our days. Not by adding more hours in a day but to use this sacred time to lengthen the quality of each day, to make each day count.
More than that, Lent, the lengthening of days, prepares us now for the Eternal Day of heaven.
Have you ever thought about when Easter Sunday occurs? It is the Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Sounds confusing! In other words, when the days are getting longer and, during the shorter nights, when the moon is as full as possible. It is as if it we celebrate Easter on a never-ending day.
The priest or deacon at the Easter Vigil sings, “This is the night of which it is written: the night shall be bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, full of gladness” and goes on to sing about the Paschal Candle, “May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star: the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who, coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns for ever and ever.”
Lent is never that tedious time before Easter but a grace filled opportunity to lengthen the quality of our days now and to begin to be ready for the eternal day of heaven. It is a season of life, and life to the full (Jn 10:10).
So, how can we embrace Lent better? The Church gives us the three traditional activities for Lent to lengthen our days: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
For a lot of people fasting and almsgiving is the extent of their Lenten challenge. Give up cholocate, give to charity, Lent: done.
Does that lengthen the quality of your day? Does it prepare you for the Eternal Day?
These Lenten activities are for life and they invite us to give in an intentional way.
Give your heart to Jesus (prayer).
Give your distractions up (fasting).
Give yourself to others (almsgiving).
The key to these three Lenten activities is prayer. As we heard in Deuteronomy, “Loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and clinging to him.” When we make an intentional effort to stop and cling to God in times of prayer and carry on clinging to Him throughout the day our restless hearts can rest in His love.
His divine life gives us life! When we begin to get a taste of His life in our hearts we want more. That is when we begin to fast, to give up our distractions because these things prevent us from loving God. Often, we find fasting difficult because we ‘must do it’, but this is life-giving fasting, we want to do it, we can do it, because it is for a greater love.
Almsgiving becomes more than giving to charity – that is too easy. It becomes the natural and beautiful consequence of prayer. To bring the new life we receive through our relationship with God to others. To be Jesus’s hands in the world. To help those around us lengthen the quality of their day now, and help them prepare with us for the Eternal Day of heaven.
One of my favourite quotes of Pope Benedict, words that he shared with young people here in the United Kingdom on his in 2010, is, “the world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”
New life is springing up around us as winter draws to a close encouraging us to allow Divine Life to grow in us through the season of Lent. Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving we are invited to enjoy “length of days”; to increase the quality of our days now – let them be for God, to be prepared now for the Eternal Day of Christ’s victory.
You and I are made for life and life to the full. Please, do not have a comfortable Lent.
Have a great Lent!