15 Aug 2022

The empowerment of Lent

The empowerment of Lent

Ronan Scully

Lent is upon us, a time of prayer, reflection, and unity with God. But sometimes we miss important aspects of this holy season while we are in the midst of it. For me the season of Lent is an attitude of honesty and humility and a time where I reflect on where I find God in my life and especially during this worrying time for  us all as we battle against the  effects of the Coronavirus and where we are doing all we can to support our healthcare staff and frontline workers in caring for our sick and unwell. It is an opportunity to reassess, reflect, review, readjust, realign and re-empower our hearts to Jesus this Lent.

But Lent is also an attitude of relief and joy, knowing that our sins have been forgiven, that we have the chance as Pope Francis said, "To get back on track and re-calibrate" and that our slate has been wiped clean as we seek to serve our God with our lives. Jesus tells us that Lent is a time of self-denial, a time to give up something, a time to repent. But Jesus isn’t concerned with you giving up chocolate or not listening to your favourite song; he’s concerned with what’s going on in our hearts. Lent is that man who stood in the back of the temple, looked down at the ground and prayed. “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Lent is a time for us to be like that man, to give up our sinful habits, our sinful attitudes, to repent and to stand before God and to ask him to forgive us, to wash our sins away, and to empower us to turn away from our sinful past and to live new lives that are dedicated to God and to helping and loving others especially those in our societies who genuinely need our help and care at this worrisome time.

A Cross to carry
Each year the Lenten season offers us a moment in time to take the opportunity to consider the deeper meaning of life. We are all from time to time on our journey through life given a Cross to carry. Many would say that this time of worry because of the Coronavirus where so many have lost their lives and so many are sick is a huge cross for us all and especially for people that have lost a loved one over the past year or at any time. So let us during this Lenten season keep in our prayers all those who wake up this week who carry a heavy burden especially anyone affected by the Coronavirus. Sometimes we can see clearly the Cross of sickness, bereavement, a broken relationship, other times some of us carry a hidden cross of pain, stress, loneliness, addiction, depression and if we look deeper into life we never really know what people are going through in silence. So let's make the rest of Lent be lending a hand, lifting a heavy load. Lent can be a smile on a cloudy day.

Lent can be a crust of bread to the poor, giving shelter from the storm. Lent can be a thought, a poem, a blessing, a prayer. Lent can be showing support, care and enthusiasm. Lent can be helping or caring our loved one who is affected by the coronavirus or by any illness at this time. Lent can be listening quietly while someone else has something important they’d like you to hear. Lent can be a friendly hug, a smile or a warm embrace. Lent can be offering your time. Lent can be sitting silently beside someone to watch the sun behind a silver sea. Lent can be wiping a tear. Lent can be chasing the moon at night. Lent can be a whisper, a word, a soft touch at the right moment. Lent can be a telephone call, text, email or a letter, closing the miles. Lent can be a kiss on a fevered brow. Lent can be the gift of a flower.

Lent can be teaching with kindness and love. Lent can be sharing the depth of a powerful silence. Lent can be wishing you were somewhere when you must be someplace else. Lent can be a time of healing and a time of forgiving. Lent can be taking someone’s place when they must be somewhere else. Lent can be walking, running or driving through the blazing brilliance of the seasons of nature. Lent can be just holding hands or looking into one another's eyes. Lent can be waiting out the tough times. Lent can be touching God through the heart and soul, and let His will be done. 

There’s something attractive about Lent beginning in the middle of an ordinary week, catching us in the midst of our daily occupations and asking us to take time out to find God there. Lent doesn’t take us away from our ordinary lives, but rather it invites us to bring a new and holy attention to those activities. This should be the way with all of our spiritual practices. We take time apart in order to return to our daily activities with new inspiration. God will always surprise us with possibilities when we least expect them. Let this Lent be one of those surprises.

Works of Mercy
Lent offers us a chance to consider prayerfully our relationship with God. And Scripture offers a few suggestions for how we might do this. Some of the most powerful are the corporal works of mercy. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that those who will inherit the kingdom are those who gave him food when he was hungry and drink when he was thirsty and those who visited him in prison. “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me,” he advised (25:40).

The corporal works of mercy are feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting and caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned and burying the dead. These actions are powerful for a number of reasons. One is that these works force us to recognize Christ in our neighbors—even in neighbors we may not like or may be wary of. They remind us that Christ is found in unexpected places and unlikely or vulnerable people.

The works of mercy reminds us that we must be open to the God of surprises.  Second, these works remind us that Christ works through us. We are called to reach out to others and, through God’s grace, to build the kingdom of God on earth. It is easy to think that we will do these things eventually, that we can start to serve others when work settles down or our lives become less busy. But the Lenten season calls us to make time now and to start, even in small ways, paying attention to where Christ leads us. Third, the corporal works of mercy remind us that we can grow in our relationship with Christ by building up and being part of an active community of loving, giving people here on earth. These works remind us that we are part of the body of Christ and that being a part of that community comes with both great gifts and great challenges.

Lent as I said is a time of reflection, a time to slow down, to look deeper, to give some things up, to take some things on, not for the sake of deprivation, but for the sake of making space in your life, so that God might yet again have a bigger place in it. To put it in the language and practice of today, you might say Lent is the annual reset button in the church calendar. As in all of life, we can become torn, and pulled in many different directions. As the year progresses, the stresses and demands of life can fill more and more of the time we have.

Lent affords us, indeed invites us to reset, to "recalibrate". Lent invites us to remember, and at the beginning of Lent, we are especially invited to remember that "we are but dust, and to dust we shall return.” That invitation can seem harsh, or even morbid, but thought about long enough we all know that life, the life we have, the time we have, the blessings of people and opportunities in our lives, are made much more important, much more meaningful, when we are in touch with the fact that all of us get a limited time to savor them on earth. Through that yearly exercise we reconnect with our belief as Christians that everything we have, all the blessings of our lives, come from God, and so our thanksgiving should be directed toward the One who gives us life. The mark of ashes, the ashes of the Palms from last year, living things used to welcome the Lord, now turned to ash, and used to trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads, the sign made at our baptism, an outward and visible sign of what we believe to be an inward and spiritual grace.

A Fresh Look
Lent brings with it changes in weather, sending many of us outdoors hopefully all going well more regularly. We get to experience bright, sunny days that are often quickly followed by torrential rains and cooler temperatures and then sunshine a bit like four seasons in one day, a type of thing. As we move to the interiors of homes and workplaces for refuge it’s also a good time to consider the interior of our hearts and minds. God is present with us at all times, of course, but Lent invites a fresh look inside to see where God stirs. As the leaves start to blossom on the trees, we are prompted to watch their slow ascent to the air, seeing how at times, a burst of strong wind can blow off half the leaves from a tree in an instant.

How well do we watch the movements of our spiritual lives and how often do we reflect on what the slow breezes or strong gusts of wind signal? Here is a beautiful humorous story that I found in my Nana Scully's prayer book called Repaint and Thin No More! "Paddy, the painter, often would thin his paint so it would go further. So when the Church decided to do some deferred maintenance, Paddy was able to put in the low bid, and got the job. As always, he secretly thinned his paint way down with turpentine to save on costs and make more of a profit for himself. One day while he was up on the scaffolding -- the job almost finished -- he heard a horrendous clap of thunder, and the sky opened and its lashed rain. The downpour washed the thinned paint off the church and knocked Paddy off his scaffold and onto the lawn among the gravestones and puddles of thinned and worthless paint. Paddy knew this was a warning from the Almighty, so he got on his knees and cried: “Oh, God! Forgive me! I am sorry for thinning the paint. What should I do?” And from the thunder, a mighty voice said out loud: “REPAINT! REPAINT! AND THIN NO MORE!”

Thought for the week
As your thought for the week, always remember that each one of us has a purpose and a place in the world. Each of us experiences pain, tiredness, loss, sadness, the effects of the Coronavirus, joyfulness, love, and hope and many other feelings and emotions associated with our human conditions. If we look more intently this Lent at the people we encounter on a typical day, we will see who they truly are, persons loved by God and an opportunity for us to love God in them. Regardless of appearance or situation, the woman, man, or child before you each of the days of our lives are brimming with holy possibility. Consider that you are gazing into the eyes of God and understand that Jesus comes to us in many faces and places and it's there we will find God in our lives. Try doing something good to make things better for yourself and those in genuine need of love and care in our families, our communities and our world.

Therefore during Lent we should as the poet William Arthur Ward said, Fast from fear; Feast on Faith! Fast from despair; Feed on hope! Fast from depressing news; Feed on prayer! Fast from discontent; Feast on gratitude! Fast from anger and worry; Feed on patience! Fast from negative unkind thinking; Feast on kind and positive thinking! Fast from bitterness; Feed on love and forgiveness! Fast from words that wound; Feast on words that heal and give real Life! Fast from gravity; Feast on joy and humor! So this Lent in the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could harden our hearts, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of God’s boundless love, to taste his tenderness.

Here is a beautiful Prayer for Lenten Days I love to pray, "God of the seasons, there is a time for everything; there is a time for dying and a time for rising. We need courage to enter into the transformation process. God of Lent and Easter, the trees are saying hello to their green, letting go of what has been. We, too, have our moments of surrender, with all their insecurity and risk. Help us to let go when we need to do so. As we see the patterns of our own growth, may we learn from them. God of misty days and harvest moon nights, there is always the dimension of mystery and wonder in our lives. We always need to recognize your power-filled presence. May we gain strength from this. God of Spring seeds wagons and fields of new sown grain, many gifts of growth lie within the season of our surrender. We must wait sow the seeds and then pray for a harvest in faith and hope. Grant us patience when we do not see the blessings. We yearn for insight and vision. God of flowers touched with spring frost and windows wearing white designs, may your love keep our hearts from growing cold in the various seasons of Life. God of life, you believe in us, you enrich us, you entrust us with the freedom to choose life. For all this, we are grateful. Amen". Happy Lent everyone.

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