Who told you Lent is all about being miserable?
For most of my adult life I have entered the season of Lent with mixed feelings. Unlike Christmas where the bug gets you by November this is one season you might find yourself shoved into kicking and screaming (speaking metaphorically). One can be sympathetic, even forgiving of those who don’t shout Alleluia when you hear that Lent is fast approaching and ironically even that word is drawn into silence through the Lenten period.
Lent seems to be all that Christmas is not. No lavish food, no décor, hymns that border on dirges and even the colour purple seems to take on a shade darker. The reality is that even though one may truly spiritualise the inner disciplines and joy that Lent invites you to, the external feeling is one of overall gloom. So why is the season of Lent such a wet blanket?
I guess it is the way the season of Lent has been presented to us either by some of the clergy or by local catholic customs and traditions. The former English translation of the Roman Missal had as its collect (opening prayer) for the first Sunday of Lent, these words. “Lord we thank you for this joyful season when you renew our hearts and minds.” Interesting is it not? The prayer speaks of a joyful season. So why is it that this ‘joy’ is hard to find on the morning of Ash Wednesday?
The joy of the season comes from the many things that we can do in Lent. Yes, you heard it right. Contrary to how we have lived our faith in Lent, the season of Lent is not merely a list of what you can’t do or what you have to give up but rather a list of things that you can do.
This is primarily a season (like all Christian seasons) to love more; Christ being the object and subject of that love. To love him more would mean to focus a little less on ourselves. That love can be lived out tangibly in those around us; to love him in the poor as he said in Matthew 25, “what so ever you do to the least of my brother that you do unto me.” So, to put in other words, the season is not so much about what you can’t eat but about whom you can feed.
In order to change our mindset towards this season you need to plan Lent like you plan Christmas and you need to do it at least five days before Lent begins. Sit down with pen and paper.
1. List things you want to do; like pray a little more. Determine a fixed time and fixed place. This will help you be committed to the discipline. Like all disciplines (exercise included) it is hard to start but when you do make that beginning the rewards are sweet. However, you need to change your mindset; prayer is not a punishment it’s a privilege. We have the right to call God OUR FATHER and enjoy calling out to him as many times in this JOYful season.
2. Make a list of people you need to love more; perhaps even people in need of your forgiveness or just your presence. Spend a lot of time with people and if you must use your phone to chat make sure you pick someone who needs your love and attention and not someone whose attention you seek.
3. Make your Lenten Sundays joyful by visiting the sick or lonely. The ‘other’ should be the focus of your Lenten resolutions.
4. Gather friends, family or community and organize a party for the needy; call it a Lenten Lunch.
5. Reach out to a member of the community who could do with something you don’t really need (that’s also counted as almsgiving) If you feel pushed more by that inner spirit, dig deeper. Remember, God loves a cheerful giver.
6. Smile more this season, it improves your face value and makes the world a happier place.
Most of all remember the mandate that Christ himself gave you when he commanded you in Matthew 6:5 1-8. It is call to give up hypocrisy, a call that reminds us that this season is not a time to draw attention to our piety but to HIS love.
EnJOY the season.
Fr Warner D’Souza