Sunday, 18 February 2018
The Joy of Lent, 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B
This Ash Wednesday I started Lent with a great sense of joy.
At least one person saw me and said this was odd, “Shouldn’t we be miserable in Lent?”
Actually, the liturgy of the Church refers to Lent as a season of “joy” (Lent Preface 1).
But WHY is it joyful? I’ve given up alcohol, and I’m supposed to SMILE about it?
The joy of Lent, it seems to me, is a HOPE-filled joy, a hope that sees what I can DO to improve
-improve myself, improve my life, come closer to God.
This sense of what we can DO is not about SELF-improvement, but about seeing the tools that GOD has given me, given me in this holy season, the threefold remedy for sin:
prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (giving to the poor).
Now, before I say anything else, I want to note that these three remedies go together. Yet again, I heard someone say this: “I’m not giving anything up for Lent, I’m doing something positive instead!”
-the problem with such a statement is it becomes either/or whereas it should be both/and. These three things go together, work together, and we need a LITTLE of EACH of them in our Lenten practice.
What is Lent? Above all, it’s being with the Lord Jesus.
Not with Him in glory and ease, but with Him in His 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert.
There is a time for feasting, but this is a time for fasting.
ALL the religions of the world fast -everyone except our over-rich, over-fed, over-comfortable Western culture.
Fasting changes me.
It helps me grow in self-control and self-discipline.
It helps me detach myself from worldly pleasures and so remember the ultimate pleasure of life in God.
It’s different from mere dieting in that it is a prayer, something I offer up to God.
When we resolve on various small acts of “Giving something up for Lent”, we are choosing some small act of fasting that we will resolve upon for the next 40 days. And often, going without chocolate or beer becomes BIG not by being for one day, but by the 40 days extended together.
Then prayer. In order to make our “Giving things up” a spiritual act, not just an act of human willpower, we need prayer to go with it.
So it’s very important in this season to add some additional prayer. Maybe as small as a daily extra ‘Hail Mary’, maybe Friday Stations of the Cross, maybe reading from the daily Lenten booklets in the porch, maybe adding a weekday Mass to your usual Sunday Mass
-there are many possibilities, but they all are about union with the Lord who went to pray and fast.
Finally, if I am praying, if I am fasting, this should be changing me in a way that changes how I relate to others. This is why almsgiving is intrinsically linked as the third piece of the puzzle.
Today, our Lenten collection is for our parish SVP Sudan fund,
But there are many other small, or large, “positive” acts we can take up in this season. Children might volunteer for an extra household chore for Lent; adults might need to look for some hidden act of kindness.
To return to where I began, Lent should be a joyful season, a hope-filled joy.
In the first reading, God saved Noah by water, from the flood.
In the second reading, we were told this was a symbol of the re-birth of our baptismal washing.
In the Gospel, we heard of the Lord Jesus in the desert, fasting and praying. If we go into the desert with Him, then the rebirth of Noah, the rebirth of baptism, can start afresh in us again too.
“Prayer, almsgiving and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other. Fasting is the soul of prayer, almsgiving is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you do only one of them or not all together, you have nothing.” (St Peter Chysologus, as quoted by the Church in the Lenten liturgy [Lent Wk 3 Tues Office Readings]).