I have a bit of a confession to make. In the midst of the uncertainties, anxieties and events of the past few weeks I have almost forgotten that we are in the heart of one of the most important and personally challenging times of the Churches year – the season of Lent. Lent is supposed to be time when we stop amidst the business of life and take time to take stock, to reflect on who we are and where we are going and maybe even to pray. It is a time when we prepare for the most significant event in the lives of Christian people – the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
I have to admit I haven’t been as reflective or as prayerful as I could have been. My mind is consumed by daily events, activities decision and interactions, all of which are very important, all of which support my family and my community. The question is do they support me in my growth as a whole person made in the image and likeness of God?
I think sometimes the busier we are and the crazier life appears to become, the more important it is to stop, to take a breath, to discern and to pray – whatever form that may take. And we’re lucky because the season of Lent provides us with that opportunity to renew and refresh. The challenge is not purely in terms of the desire to engage in a little introspection and contemplation but perhaps more so in knowing what to do and finding the time to do it.
Fortunately, Lent provides us with some clues or sign posts which might help us to navigate our way through this valuable time. When I was a boy these sign posts were called prayer, fasting and alms giving. But what do they really mean for us today?
The great American theologian Ron Rolheiser once said, even the act of thinking about praying is praying. Prayer doesn’t have to be formulaic. Just taking time to stop every now and then to count your blessings, to think about a loved one in need, to pray for those around us and around the world who are not as fortunate as we are. Basically, Lent is asking us to search and discover our own peace and quiet. We need sometimes to separate ourselves from the chaos and surrender ourselves to our interior life through silence and through prayer.
This is an old-fashioned concept which needs a bit of a modern twist. Years ago, fasting meant giving up something for lent. This could still form part of our Lenten routine but I think there is a bit more to it than that. We hear the word sacrifice a lot during Lent which conjures up images of giving something away or denying ourselves of something. Lent should raise our awareness of the things we take for granted. The love of family and friends, a roof over our head and food on the table. During this season, we should be reflecting on what we have and on what we can give but also on what we need to change in our lives.
In our house we have always had a project compassion box on the kitchen bench. I used to think that this box was purely meant to remind me to donate money to those less fortunate than ourselves. These days it reminds me more about the Gospel message of love, mercy, hope and compassion and how I should be living it out through my daily interaction with everyone I encounter. Lent should initiate our awareness of those who need the most attention. There are many people who live in our community that require our immediate care. The lonely need to hear the voice of compassion. The sick demand our companionship. The alienated call out for friendship. Our broken relationships need the assistance that only the love of Christ can repair. We are the face of Jesus to our community and we draw on his example of unconditional love in all our actions and interactions.
The great and humble Pope Francis offers this little prayer for the season of Lent.
“May our Lent this year be a journey along that same path, bringing the hope of Christ also to creation, so that it may be “set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God,” the Pope prays. He urges the faithful to “Leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption”.
May we too take a little time over the next couple of weeks to stop and look inward and outward; in support of our own interior life and outward with compassion and love to those in great need.
Mr Mark Murphy