During Lent, let us reflect on all that we have been given, on all that makes us fully human, and ‘pay forward’ those gifts to others, writes Veronica McCluskie SGS.
Often when I think of Lent, I am reminded of a story that I heard when I was a child. It went something like this:
The day was cold and windy. An old man was struggling against the wind as he walked down a street in Dublin when, suddenly, a stranger jumped in front of him brandishing a knife and demanding his wallet.
As the man started to reach for the wallet his coat opened, and his clerical collar came into view. The assailant stopped in his tracks and said: “Oh, so sorry Father, if I had known you were a priest, I would not have held you up”.
The priest, being a wise old man, reacted with gentleness and got into conversation with his attacker. “Come,” he said, “Let me buy you a coffee”. The attacker replied, “Gee, thanks Father, but no. You see I’ve given up coffee for Lent!”
This story stays with me, I believe, because it is so easy to get caught up in a faulty understanding of this amazing season of the Church’s year. Linguistically, so I’m told, Lent is derived from an Old English word meaning springtime. This might not be as relevant to us in the southern hemisphere where we are moving into autumn.
However, in Latin it means ‘to lengthen, to slow’. This meaning works better for me. When I think of slowing down what comes to my mind is something Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr AM shared at a Mission Conference I attended. It was a sharing about her culture and her understanding of ourselves.
Miriam spoke of dadirri, an inner, deep listening and quiet, a still awareness. I believe Lent calls us to develop a little more of this deep inner reflectiveness; a reflectiveness about our relationship with ourselves, with God, with others and with creation, of which we are a part.
St Benedict in his wisdom reminds us that, while at all times the lifestyle of the monk ought to have a Lenten quality, during the actual 40 days of Lent, monks “all should work together at effacing, during this whole season, the negligence of other times”.
To help us do this the Church calls you and me to conversion through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I hope that I do not, like the man in the story, fall into the trap of following traditional practices without thinking about the purpose of such practices.
As we prepare to enter this season of Lent, I invite you to join with me in some extra prayer, in whatever form that might be for you, with the aim of listening to a personal invitation from God to become more and more the person we somehow know we are meant to be … our best self. Let us call to mind that this invitation is from a God who loves us so much that even in the face of rejection, will not stop loving us!
Let us embrace willingly some form of fasting, and in the emptiness that fasting creates, look at ourselves with a little more honesty, where those traits, actions, additions or behaviours which make us less than our best selves can be named for what they are. Then, hopefully, with the grace of our fasting, we can move further along the journey to wholeness. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our fasting could help us to somehow capture something of that spirit of dadirri, that ongoing listening to God, to ourselves and to all around us.
In times of fires and floods we see almsgiving in practice. It is not new to any of us. We see it in the aftermath of all sorts of disasters when those who have been helped want to give back in return.
During Lent, we desire our almsgiving to be more than just giving to a worthy cause out of our resources. Let us reflect on all that we have been given, on all that makes us fully human, and then to ’pay forward’ those gifts to others.
Yes, we want to share our resources, but can we also aim to accept others with generosity and care, no matter their skin, sexuality, beliefs or country of origin, not just in times of disaster, but always.
Why, you might ask, am I inviting us to this kind of Lenten journey?
Our Lenten journey aims to prepare us to celebrate the heart of our faith, that is, the celebration of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In other words, Lent prepares us to enter more fully into the gift of God given to us in the person of Jesus.
We will continue to celebrate this great gift over the Easter season brought to its fullness in the celebration of the feast of Pentecost, with the gift of the Holy Spirit. So why not prepare earnestly for such encounter with our God?