WelCom February 2018: When invited to reflect on Lent – where do I to start? I was taught at Palmerston North Boys’ High that to reflect on something you start at the meaning of the word. When I began to reflect on Lent for this article I realised I didn’t know what ‘Lent’ meant. I know all about Lent, and the 40 days of preparation for Easter, the time of fasting, penance, and service of the poor; the immediate preparation of the Catechumen; but the word itself, what does it mean?
So I went and looked. And it really helped. It is a word that means ‘the spring season’. A time of preparation for the new life that will arise from the darkness of night, from the fallow.
Lent, the time of spring [in the Northern Hemisphere], the time of new life. The time of preparation. How do we prepare for the great feast of Easter?
The first thing is we return to the fundamentals. We have had a lot of focus on ‘doing without’ to the extent Lent has traditionally started with a feast of the rich things on Mardi Gras (also known as Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday).
“Traditionally Mardi Gras is an annual festival held in France on the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Mardi Gras is French for ‘Fat Tuesday’ – meaning it is the last opportunity to eat rich food before the fast of Lent begins.
But the essence of Lent is a return to what we know makes us Christian: prayer; fasting so as to have a focus in our prayer; and resources for the third element, service of the poor and the needy.
Our Friday fast, ‘going without’, is to have a positive focus; it brings us to the heart of the Christian message: go and meet Christ in the stillness of prayer, in the feeding of the hungry, visiting the imprisoned and welcoming the stranger.
More, the Catechumen [those under instruction in basic Christianity] and the community walking with them are brought to their immediate preparation for Easter. They will be welcomed into the Body of Christ, by going onto the cross of Christ, being buried with Him and rising to new life; all in the waters of baptism.
This is the origin of the 40 days. As the people of Israel were 40 years in the desert, as Christ went into the desert for 40 days, so we too go accompany those preparing for Baptism by 40 days of prayer, fasting and facing the heart of our commitment. This is accompanied by ‘a full examination of conscience’: where am I, where are we as a family, parish, school, college, Catholic mārae, as those now living our Catholicism in a strange land, with strange ideas and practices? Where are we at? And what do we need to do to be able at the Easter Vigil to recommit and say, ‘Yes I believe!’.
Let this Lent, be a time of ‘spring’, new growth and rebirth from the fallow land. Let it be a time in which we give the half hour to prayer, visit the person we need to visit, but more be in a place to say, ‘Yes Lord your servant is listening; I come to follow you, I come to do your will, ANEW’.
Mark Richards is Pastoral Services Manager for the Diocese of Palmerston North.