Monday, March 15, 2021

The Necessity of Lent.

Why is there Lent in the life of the Catholic church?  Aren’t we, above all, an Easter people?  After all, so many of our separated brethren in the Protestant churches hardly give much emphasis on the 40-day lead up to Easter, and this is visibly noticed in the way that their crosses displayed in their prayer spaces only feature a bare cross.  It could be their way of conveying that the Christian faith leans heavily on the resurrection and the empty tomb.

Of course, this is our Catholic kerygma as well.  That Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and through the resurrection, has conquered sin and evil in a definitive way is the basis of our faith and will always be.  Yet, a strong visible difference in our churches is that while the Protestants have a cross, ours is distinctively a crucifix with a corpus attached to it.  It serves as a visible and constant reminder that the price paid for our sins and the key that opened heaven’s door to us poor sinners had such a high price because the offence of sin against God could only be pardoned by a God-sized sacrifice.


I have come to realize that this truth is a lot to take in.  In fact, this truth is so deep in mystery that many fail to enter seriously into this truth.  But when we do, it changes us from within.  It is truly hard for any serious Christian to do is to admit the truth that it’s not just sin in general that had Jesus going the distance from heaven to Calvary, but each and every particular sin that we have committed and can ever commit in life.  It’s not just the Roman soldiers, Pontius Pilate, Judas who caused Jesus to die in such an ignominious way.  It is a sum total of all those, plus your sin and my sin.  


When we come to that point in our lives that we can honestly admit this truth, we come to the brink of a serious conversion.  The spiritual journey necessarily includes this onerous task which no one outside of ourselves can do for us.  It is not possible to ‘outsource’ this to someone else like the way many things in life can be outsourced.  This is because conversion isn’t a ‘thing’, as life is not a ‘thing’.  


Lent and its traditional disciplines serve to till and soften the hardened ground of our hearts to enable this reality to honestly faced by us.  Of course, we are an Easter people, but we also cannot side-step the fact that each of our lives is lived with the harsh reality that includes an admixture of pain, sorrow, anxiety, suffering and grief that come from loss in so many forms.


These, when left unreflected, unexamined and unprocessed can leach out of the sealed containers which we may have stored in the recesses of our heart.  The effects of such ‘leakage’ are the numerous dysfunctional relationships that we have with those whom we call our loved ones and our ‘enemies’.


Lent helps us to get in touch with our brokenness within, and see afresh how Jesus is the true and only way through all this messiness in life.  This is not the same as saying that Jesus is the true and only way ‘out’ of the messiness.  Jesus didn’t come to get us out of our sinful world but rather to give us a means through which we can face the challenges that come from being in a sinful world.


We want a superman in Jesus but God’s answer isn’t in a superhero.  His answer comes in the form of an empty tomb.  The effects of evil will always be with us, and so will evil’s natural end, which is death.  From looking at the corpus on a crucifix, we can see the reality that God doesn’t intervene to stem evil’s wickedness, but that he does let his loved ones suffer and die.


But this doesn’t mean that God isn’t doing anything either.  


The empty tomb gives us the assurance that despite appearances, love does triumph over fear and hatred, and forgiveness will trump bitterness.  Good and God will ultimately have the last word, and justice will triumph.  Just not in this life, or at least not when the powers of this world seem to be influencing the majority of the human race.


In its depth, Lent reminds us that because the tomb was empty, that it is not naïve to want to still trust and place all our bets on truth.  Fr Ronald Rolheiser’s inimitable phraseology is weakened if I paraphrase him, so I will just end this reflection with a quotation from him verbatim.  This came from one of his great insights on his reflection on the empty tomb.


“What Jesus taught is true:  Virtue is not naïve even when it is shamed.  Sin and cynicism are naïve, even when they appear to triumph.  Those who genuflect before God and others in conscience will find meaning and joy, even when they are deprived of the world’s pleasures.  Those who drink in and manipulate sacred energy without conscience will not find meaning and life, even when they taste pleasure.  Those who live in honest, no matter the cost, will find freedom.  Those who lie and rationalize will find themselves imprisoned in self-hate.  Those who live in trust will find love.  God’s silence can be trusted, even when we die inside of it.”


May you, dear reader, enter deeply and meaningfully into the depths of your heart the remaining days of Lent and appreciate with a new freshness the empty tomb of Easter.





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