When I was asked to produce a few hundred words about Lent, my thoughts turned to the daunting task of coming up with something sparkling new and, to this moment, giving an unheard insight about Lent. It quickly dawned on me that the wonder of Lent is that it’s a very old part of our beautiful Catholic heritage. Its ancient beauty is its charm and power. I have always found Lent to be a personal favorite of all the various seasons of the Church year. Lent takes me back to grade school days when zealous Franciscan nuns drummed into pliant brains and spirits the merits of putting aside candy and other delectables for forty days and, eagerly, we did it. Over the years, other things have taken the place of jellybeans and Hershey bars as the tools for potential practices.
To my mind, Lent is a wonderfully hope-filled season. On one level, it is the obvious move to the springtime of the year. The sights and smells of winter gradually but surely fall away to the sights and smells of springtime as Lent moves along. On another and deeper level, there is the experience of larger gatherings of the faithful for Sunday and weekday Masses, rosaries prayed, and Stations of the Cross. From ashes on a Wednesday to an empty tomb on a Sunday, there is a rhythm to the season, ancient but ever new. And I find I need rhythm in life along with most people I know. “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.”
Lent asks my willingness to submit myself to old-as-the-hills stuff like fasting, almsgiving, prayer, penance, and by those acts, to open myself to a mysterious presence, which slowly penetrates and offers the thrill of a rise from darkness into the wonderful light of Easter Day. The days of Lent are like a quiet knocking at the door of our smothered souls inciting us to take the risk of stepping forward toward God’s mysterious presence.
I love Lent because it is so wonderfully old fashioned and so politically incorrect in our self-promoting times. In an age of self-promotion, Lent urges humility. In an age of self-forgiveness, Lent begets the Sacrament of Penance. In an age when the average American looks at a screen 7 – 8 hours a day, Lent urges us to look at the tabernacle. When we fill our time with entertainment and noise, our Lord calls us to time in silence and prayer. Lent is counter cultural and politically incorrect in our day, and therein lies its grace and power.
May we all experience a rich, old-fashioned Lent!