February 2013

Lent: Why I won’t be giving up this year

Resilience is needed to enter into Lent, to dive in deeper than the immediate, chocolatey surface and live the 40 days of commitment, writes Alice Priest.

BY Alice Priest

Lent is increasingly out of place, or so it seems, as the shops move directly from the seasonally adjusted chocolate Christmas bells to Easter eggs, literally without a day of rest or time of transition. There is a growing irony that as the practice of organised religion becomes increasingly redundant, the trappings of its traditional festivals and celebrations become increasingly commercially available, skimmed off like cream from the milk that produced it.

And, like a kid who’ll tell you that milk comes from a carton rather than a cow, the idea that hot-cross buns and Easter eggs come from the death and resurrection of Jesus seems even more remote. This Lent it’s very easy to give up trying to reconnect them.

Lent is meant to be something of a desert time, a stripping back, a contemplation, a return to the Gospel, and a preparation for something. Resilience is needed to enter into it, to dive in deeper than the immediate, chocolatey surface and live the 40 days of commitment. This Lent, when Easter came to the supermarket on January 1(or was it December 26?!) it’s very easy to give up the waiting till March 31 for its coming in your heart.

Lent is intended as a time of prayerful awareness and confession of faults and frailties, poverty and honesty, humility and forgiveness, of letting light in to expose our secret darknesses. Each day now the voices of the Royal Commission tell another story of the Easter People’s sustained perpetration of sexual abuse, of wrongs hushed up, of arrogance, of refusal to live their own Lenten creed of love. This Lent it’s very easy to give up all association with the Church.

In my own case, it’s less easy to give up chocolate, which I enjoy and am surrounded by at this time of year. I’d like it to be a small act of resistance against the commercial exploitation of symbols I try to take seriously, but much more importantly, this little Lenten fast from the super-abundance of chocolate will be a clear and constant reminder to me of the deeper commitments I will make with my God.

Each time I have a pang of Cadbury desire (in my case, lamentably regular), or see the bunny-filled shelves, it will be a cue to me to remember what I’m more seriously taking up in the way I want to better live my relationships, and to grow in gratefulness and generosity. There will be a lot of reminders!

I’ll need a lot of reminders. I am grateful to the Church for its pattern and cycle of holy days, seasons and ordinary time. While the Ash Wednesday invitation to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”, does not just pertain to the next 40 days, but to every day of the Christian life, it does bring out something different, un-ordinary, in me.

My New Year’s resolutions never last 40 days and my sternly made promises-to-self at other times of the year get cheated on. Joining the flow of a like-minded and like-faithed community who for millennia have lived this paschal ebb and tide of days is a powerful thing. It’s powerful, but it’s not magic.

Just an hour a week at Church, with its purple cloth, priestly pep-talk and missing Alleluias to tell me of the penitential season, doesn’t leach quite far enough into the living of my week. I have to apply some of my own cues (the chocolate) and take up some outward habits in order to give up some inner habits if this is to be truly lived as un-ordinary time.

I’ll endeavour to make it to a couple of nights at the parish Lenten group, to fill the Project Compassion box on the dining room table, and to keep just a few minutes of a daily prayer journal.

I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus Christ reveals the Paschal pattern that is the mystery at the heart both of my personal being and of all creation. The Paschal pattern is life, death and rising again – transformation by love into new life. It is the mystery that understands that the shape of our lives is parabolic, a constant turning of love that will take us to both suffering and joy through the axis of the Cross.

Lent offers me time to enter into this mystery, to know it, feel it, live it and to bring that which is deathward within me to be transformed by God’s loving power once more.

So, in the 40 Lenten days ahead this year, I won’t be giving up reconnecting the meaning of eggs with the promise of new life, or doing my best to prayerfully examine my life in the light of my faith, or taking the journey to resurrection on March 31 in the company of my Christian community.

Alice Priest

Alice Priest is a religious educator with more than 20 years’ experience across a range of settings – from the classroom to youth ministry and teacher education. She has lived and worked in Catholic school systems and ministries in Italy, Germany and Australia. Alice is currently working at Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College in Sydney, where she teaches religion and English, and is head of faith formation and liturgy.

If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.