I warned on Ash Wednesday that it wouldn’t be long before I had more thoughts about Lent–and now it’s only Friday! (All thoughts will keep for later use, though.) If you need some more encouragement to value this solemn time of the year, here are three things to keep in mind as you enter deeper into this penitential season:
- Lent is a retreat into the wilderness. BUT–in that wilderness we will find, with the Chosen People in the desert after they left Egypt, that time in the wilderness is a time of privileged intimacy with God. On Sunday our wonderful priest told us this in his homily–and I thought it was amazing. Yes, we are separating ourselves from things we enjoy (meat, sweets, etc.), and doing more prayer and reading, as well as fasting and almsgiving, but in this time we are going to be closer to God BECAUSE we are making more room for him. He is always near, but our souls, our lives and our daily routines are so full of junk that in order to know His Presence we have to give something up to let Him in. Lent is the time in the Church Year that we all do that at the same time, together. What an incredible blessing! We are following the example of our Blessed Lord, who did the same thing. In order to get closer to His Father, He retreated into the desert to pray. The desert seems like a bad place–even the worst place, but it is the very best place to find God. As the Ven. Fulton Sheen says in his remarkable Life of Christ, “Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.” The desert is that place that is empty of everything—except for the Divinity, Who is waiting there for us with His mercy and grace.
- Lent is a time to meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries. For my New (Church) Year’s Resolution, I committed to praying the Rosary every day. During Lent, I learned yesterday, Catholics generally pray the Sorrowful Mysteries each day until Easter. Wow! That’s a lot of time to spend over the next several weeks meditating on the Passion and Death of Our Lord. A few years ago a friend gave me a coffee-table book of paintings of the Passion and Crucifixion by many of the great masters, from Tiepolo and Rembrandt to Bosch to Ruebens. I will be using it! This is my favorite way to pray the Rosary: with art to aid my meditation. If you have never liked praying the Rosary, get an art book with paintings and sculptures based on the Mysteries, and pray with them during the Rosary. During Lent it will help you pray with Our Lady, engaging you in prayer with the incredible Sorrowful Mysteries of our Redemption.
- Lent is a time to go into the past for ideas. This, actually, is one of the underlying themes/purposes of the St. Catherine Center in every season. I am going to ransack the treasure house left to us by the Age of Faith* to bring out into the light of day whatever beautiful and sacred prayers, traditions, ideas, and attitudes that I can find, and I will post them here. Trying to live as a Catholic and to love Our Lord and His Bride, the Church, is indescribably difficult in our age. Only if we replicate what already worked in the most civilized and devolped Christian culture can we have what they had. During the season of Lent I will be studying the culture and liturgy of that time to see what we can use and do to make our Lents better in the 21st Century. Thankfully, the Church is in time, but Her wisdom is Timeless.
In the past, the only season I liked less than Lent was Ordinary Time–and that was because O.T. seemed to be purposeless filler. (Good news! Due to my preliminary research on the Church Year in our tradition, I am finding richness even in that strange season!) But Lent is always the most difficult season, as it requires the most from us. While you consider the sufferings that all the penance brings, I hope you will also keep in mind my dear priest’s words about the glorious closeness to God we are privileged to experience during the season of Lent, and know that it will prepare you for the coming of the High Feast of Easter as nothing else really can.
*Elsewhere people use the term “Middle Ages,” but I eschew that term–the Middle Ages weren’t the “middle” of anything, unless you are trying to discredit them in comparison to Classical civilizations and the Renaissance. Those times were the Age of Faith, the age of the greatest and widest faith in our Faith that humanity has ever known, and in thousands of ways the model for what we need now, today.