25 February 2009

I have never had much love for Wednesdays. It always seems too far into the week to remember what happened last weekend, and it is just not near enough to next weekend to feel good about! I don’t like the end of February or early March either for the same sort of reasons, too far away from the last holiday, Christmas, and not near enough to the next one, Easter. On top of all that the weather is so unpredictable. Just as you think that you are on the way to Spring, it snows again, and then there is the bitter north easterly wind. No, not the best time of the year!

Despite that, in a few minutes I am going to sing to you, yes, sing from the preface of Lent – Each year you give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed. Lent is a joyful season according to the mind of the Church. In other parts of the world they do not call this season Lent, but the name is based on the fact that it is a period of 40 days of preparation to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and hearts renewed. So in Spanish it is called Cuaresma, in Italian Quaresima and in French Carême. In English, however, it is Lent, which comes from an old English word Lencten. If it sounds something like Lengthen to you, then you are not wrong. In English we turn our minds to the coming of Spring, the lengthening of the day, the sprouting of the seeds and the slow growth of the crops pointing towards the eventual Harvest.

Lest we get carried away and think that summer is just round the corner and that the Harvest is already done, we should remember that to get to the joy of all that, there is a lot of hard work and slog. It is a long journey between planting and harvest and a lot of work is demanded. The same goes for Lent. Yes, it is a joyful season as we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery, but we need to be renewed in mind and spirit if the image of Christ is to be made perfect in our lives. Traditionally the Church has always placed before us a spiritual package, as it were, to help us on our way through Lent and life – Prayers, Fasting and Almsgivings.

Of these three spiritual weapons, St Peter Chrysologus writes: Fasting is the soul of prayer; mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself. (Sermo 43). Fasting is something which has been very much misunderstood in our day. People use the term, but what they are actually doing is slimming. And there is a difference although some of the effects might be the same. Both are good for us, but fasting brings such lasting effects that that they reach even into eternity!

Another great Saint, and one of my favourites, Augustine of Hippo said that denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to the Lord and to be fed by his saving word. Through fasting and prayer we allow the Lord to come to us and enter into our lives so that he can fill and satisfy that deep hunger that all of us feel; the hunger and thirst for God. You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts will find no rest until they rest in You.

Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving also help us to realise that we are not on our own during this journey which we call life and of which Lent is a symbol. We can only journey with the grace of God and in company of our brothers and sisters. Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving teach us that we are dependent on God; we are in essence creatures, part of God’s magnificent creation. He has called us to enter into a very privileged relationship with Him through the life, death and resurrection of his Son. In Baptism, through the gift of the Spirit, this relationship is sealed for ever. We are also part of his people, the People of God. We walk through life side by side with many brothers and sisters. Those who have gone before us hold us in prayer, through Christ before the face of the Father. It is in this way that we journey on in a spirit of loving reverence for our Father and of willing service to our neighbour.

So, we are ready for the Journey, we have everything that we need. All that remains now is that we put one foot in front of the other and join our brothers and sisters as we move towards that new life in Christ. Walk with me; let us go together, in joy, in reverence, in service, moving forward to Life and Him who is our Life, Jesus Christ Our Lord.

As the days lengthen, and earth spends longer in the light of the sun, grant that we may spend longer in the light of your presence, O Lord. And may those seeds of your Word, long-since buried in our hearts, grow, like everything around us, into love for you and your holy people. Grant, O God, that this Lent may be a spring-time for our lives in Christ. Amen.