I’m having difficulty getting into Lent this year. If the truth be known, that’s pretty much the case every year.
One could conclude that that’s not a very pious position for a priest (please don’t let my bishop know about this)! I just have trouble with the somberness of Lent.
By my nature I avoid the dark and gloomy and much prefer light, brightness, and joy – in other words, a party! Talking about Lent as a “party” might appear at first glance to be heretical, and if that’s your reaction, put this article down – if not, read on.
Lent starts with Ash Wednesday and the imposition of ashes made from dead leaves from last year’s Palm Sunday celebration. With the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” we receive a somber reminder of the unavoidable end of our lives.
Over a 12-hour period this past Ash Wednesday, I had ashes imposed on my forehead several times, and in the course of three services imposed ashes on several hundred others.
I was struck this year at the number of people who were crying – just as I was.
Did they feel grief at the death of family and friends, or were they crying for their own mortality? Perhaps it was a mixture of both, but death nonetheless.
Our culture seems to deny death, and modern medicine might have contributed to that unrealistic position. For the past 51 years, death and I have had many battles as I have fought against him on behalf of others. Some day it will be just me and him – it should be interesting.
It is well that Lent begins by reminding us of our own death, because what those ashes – in no uncertain terms – really proclaim is: “Life is short!” What is not said, and most important of all, is – make the most of it! The original purpose of Lent was and is just that.
The 40-day Lenten season has a triune function, but is singular in purpose. Lent was a time for preparing newcomers for entry into relationship and community – baptism.
The second purpose of Lent was a time to reach out to those who had gone in other directions. It was a time for repairing relationships within the community of the faithful. To quote my mother, “It’s time to welcome the ‘backsliders’ back home.”
The third purpose of Lent is the one that, in current practice, we give the most attention. Lent calls us to disciplines and routines of self-meditation and reflection, with the ultimate goal to restore us to life in community.
All of these three converge in a singular purpose: preparation for companionship – life together. With that in mind, it seems to me that we should take Lent as a time to get closer together.
Perhaps instead of individual Lenten discipline, why not give up something or take up something with spouse or family or friends? When we are together it gives us the opportunity to repair damages honestly and face-to face.
Forgiveness seems to come a little easier when we are together at a party.
A funny thing happens when we celebrate together – God celebrates with us when we serve him out of pleasure instead of duty and guilt. The writer, Sam Portaro, sums it up best for me, “Maybe we need more parties in Lent, so we will know Easter when we see it.”