My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
My greetings and prayerful good wishes to you as we begin our season of Lent.
Pope Francis is his Lenten Message to the Church this year invites all the faithful into a Lenten Journey. He draws on the the image of the uphill journey to the Transfiguration that Jesus makes with Peter, James and John. The Gospel account of the Transfiguration is offered to us every second Sunday of Lent. Pope Francis invites all to journey to “deepen our knowledge of the Master, to fully understand and embrace the mystery of his salvation, accomplished in total self-giving inspired by love, we must allow ourselves to be taken aside by him and to detach ourselves from mediocrity and vanity. We need to set out on the journey, an uphill path that, like a mountain trek, requires effort, sacrifice and concentration”.
I look back on the Covid Pandemic times, still lingering with us, and the many ways that it bore a Lenten character. It was a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, it was an imposition on our lives, our movements and accustomed way of being and functioning. We had to take on the disciplines of keeping distances, wearing masks, sanitizing and accessing vaccines. The Covid times pressed us to communicate in new ways, to do business and provide education through new means. In the process of adapting to changes many paused and reviewed their life; its value, its meaning, the things that we took for granted, the things that were unimportant and even frivolous and therefore a rethink of what mattered and what needed more attention. I frequently heard the remark “it will never be business as usual”. If we were to make the most of our Lenten time we should also be able to say “it won’t be business as usual”. Ideally our days of Lent ought to bring us to a place of renewed commitments, outlook, relationships and deeper sense of self.
In Covid times, even though we had to close our churches and limit the physical attendance there is evidence that there was an increase of prayer. The most searched subject on the internet was “Death” as people wrestled with illness and the threat of illness, as they saw loved ones suffer and die. In our Lenten time we are invited to bring something more to our prayer. It is not imposed and something we resort to in desperation but rather something we choose as a discipline lifting our heart and mind to God with openness and desire that we can come to some new insight, fuller awareness, a deeper respect of self and others and to ponder the mystery of death and mortality. Our particular focus on Our Lords Passion and Resurrection, in Pope Francis’ words “accomplished in total self-giving and inspired by love”, is to expose ourselves to these mysteries so that these mysteries can become ours.
In Covid times we fasted. This too was imposed. Some people literally had less available by way of food and medicine. All of us had to do with less movement, less freedom, fewer options for gathering and socializing. Now that we can assemble and travel and participate in communal events, hopefully we do so with a deeper appreciation for what is available to us and deeper appreciation for those with whom we share the spaces and the moments in life. Our forty days of Lent are not imposed but they do invite us to fast, to pause and ponder and refrain so as to better value all that God does for us and makes possible for us.
Almsgiving too was a component of Covid times. The distancing, masks, sanitizing and vaccines were mandatory and the primary purpose was to protect others. That is what almsgiving is; recognizing the vulnerability of our brothers and sisters and engaging with them in such a way to give them protection, relief and hope. The mandate of our Lenten counsel to give alms is not mandatory in the sense of an instruction from outside of ourselves but it is a must in so far as, in the footsteps of Our Lord, we desire to grow in our awareness of and compassion for our brothers and sisters neglected or in some way disadvantaged.
May our forty days this Lent be true to the Biblical “forty” (years in the desert, days of the flood, Jesus in the wilderness …), in that by our choice and resolve we set out on a way that leads to new covenant, fullness of life, new creation, being more responsible, acting in ways befitting our human dignity. It can’t be business as usual.